Pop Essays #10: Annie, ‘Heartbeat’

Hello and welcome to this week’s Pop Essays, our weekly series of posts where we give new light to those lesser shined on gems from our Spotify library. This week: a boundary breaking cut of Scando electropop from the mid 00s…

  • Artist: Annie
  • Song: Heartbeat
  • Release Date: 07/03/2005
  • Writers: Anne Lilia Berge Strand / Svein Berge / Torbjørn Brundtland
  • Producers: Svein Berge / Torbjørn Brundtland
  • Chart Run: 50 – 84

There’s that age old adage that life happens when you’re busy making other plans. Such was the case for me 16 years ago this very month, when I had a near fatal bout of peritonitis just as I was about to take my GCSEs. I’ve written about it on here before, but I do believe it was life changing in many ways, even being in my mid teens.

Whilst recovering from my illness, it was then that I discovered, on our home PC that we’d just hooked up to the internet, the Popjustice website. For context, this was 2005, so what pop there was around (and there wasn’t a lot) you really appreciated: Girls Aloud in their imperial What Will The Neighbours Say? era, Sugababes‘ ‘Push the Button’, Gwen Stefani’s mind bending galatico solo launch with her Love. Angel. Music. Baby album, and Rachel Stevens about to release her incredible but overlooked second album (more on which here).

Rachel is the link to this week’s artist, because it was her work with Richard X on her single ‘Some Girls’ and Popjustice’s coverage of it that led me to discovering Norwegian electropop singer Annie. The same summer of 2004 that that had hit the charts, another song produced by Richard and written by Hannah Robinson caused all kinds of a commotion in the burgeoning music blogging world. It was Annie’s lead single from her debut album Anniemal, the all bubblegum blowing, spiky kiss off of ‘Chewing Gum’.

True, ‘The Greatest Hit’, with its frenetic disco beat and early Madonna sample, had been her debut proper some two years previously, albeit with a low key release here in Britain (it peaked at #100 in 2002). So teaming up with one of the country’s then hottest pop producers should theoretically have been golden for a relatively new artist. Alas, when it debuted and peaked at #24 that September, it was clear something hadn’t quite triggered.

Then again, time and context is everything here. There were still clear barriers and divisions in terms of genres of music. There wasn’t yet any cross homogeny. There was a lot of rampant elitism and snobbery amongst fans of one style of music over another – fans of indie rock bands, and the outlets for these (NME, Q) being the absolute worst culprits we would argue.

Unbeknownst to anyone, Annie was part of this movement to break down those barriers over the rest of the decade that followed with the dizzyingly fast march of technology and music. She was a pop artist but with an independent background, being signed to 679 Recordings, a label better known for bands who were the complete opposite of what she was doing like The Futureheads and Mystery Jets, who it is fair to say from her time with them really didn’t know what to do with her.

The Anniemal album however, has remained just as timeless and forward thinking a listen as it was back then for me, and nowhere is that more evident than on its second single. A collaboration with fellow countrymen Röyksopp, ‘Heartbeat’ is, we would argue, one of the most ground breaking singles of its time.

Annie has often cited the UK’s very own Saint Etienne and Sarah Cracknell as an influence – she even went onto work with them later on in 2008, co-writing their single ‘This Is Tomorrow’. It’s an especially good reference point here, because the song possesses the same kind of ethereal, dream like quality that their early material did in its verses.

But it hits the chorus, and suddenly the pace moves up a notch as it does, and it is a thing of beauty: ‘Feel my heartbeat / Drumming to the beat / Not the symphony / Feel my heartbeat / Drumming to the beat / Not the melody, come see’. It captures that wonderful feeling of love and longing that when done properly, can make a pop single soar to new heights.

Admittedly the heights of the UK charts wasn’t one of them when it got its release here in March 2005 along with the Anniemal album, but in critical terms it did succeed, with the then influential Pitchfork Media website crowning it their best single of 2004, stating in their review that it was a ‘deceptively simple and surprisingly beautiful articulation of basic human need, beautifully encapsulating every element of human excitement’.

Crucially though, what Annie did do was set the wheels in motion. Over the next four years that followed, and by the time she came to release her second album Don’t Stop in 2009, the charts were suddenly full of credible sounding ladies with a good pop sensibility she had undoubtedly paved the way for – Robyn, Lily Allen, Goldfrapp, Santigold, La Roux.

What a song like ‘Heartbeat’ proves is that genre – in the old sense of pigeon holing and projecting an artist – would slowly become obsolete the more the 00s progressed. In fact if there’s one advantage that has made it remain a truly special single is that the advent of global music discovery through streaming and other digital platforms means this still holds it own with the sounds of today.

Don’t forget to follow our brand new Pop Essays playlist on Spotify, which includes all the songs we’ve written about. What are your memories of this week’s featured song or band? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or message us on our Instagram.

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