Reach For The Stars by Michael Cragg – Review

This oral history of British pop is a long-overdue celebration of an era that has never been given enough credit.

The book cover, featuring retro fonts and the full title in an array of bright colours.
Reach For The Stars – 1996-2006: Fame, Fallout and Pop’s Final Party by Michael Cragg (Nine Eight Books, 2023)

For those of us lucky enough to be raised on a diet of 90’s and noughties Smash Hits and Top of the Pops, soundtracked by the Spice Girls, S Club 7, Steps, 5ive, Mis-Teeq, Atomic Kitten, Jamelia, The 411, Hear’Say, and many, many more (I can keep going all day) Michael Cragg’s book is quite literally a ‘must-read’. Taking the form of an oral history featuring interviews with all the major players of the era, both in front of and behind the mics, it gives the inside scoop on a truly unique time in the UK music scene, as told by those who were there.

At over 500 pages it’s a hefty tome, but you’ll find yourself devouring the tales of the Sugababes skipping school to record their iconic hit ‘Overload’, what really happened when Kerry left Atomic Kitten and how Craig David’s late-career revival is no less than he deserves (to say nothing of the fate of Leigh Francis’ always-racist project Bo’Selecta, now thankfully erased from streaming platforms).

It’s a page-turner in the classic sense: more than once I found myself ripping through it after midnight on a school night. That Cragg has collated more than 100 interviews into a cohesive and compelling story is impressive in itself, but, more seriously, this book feels like it is long-overdue. It is a well-deserved celebration and vindication of a genre that has never been given enough credit – or column inches – by the ‘real music’ establishment who have often looked down on music loved by gays and girls. Viva Forever!

And yes, it comes with a pop-tastic playlist.

Author: Jodie Manning

Hello! My pronouns are she/her and I am an enthusiastic opinion-haver, mostly-amateur writer, once-published poet, and the person who makes 99% of the Taylor Swift references on The Phase.

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