In which Catholics and Kiki Dee fans have something in common.

Printed 01/10/09.

Guilty pleasures. When did they come out of the closet?

It used to be a simple distinction – good taste, by and large, was what we were aiming for. It was the route to happy personal relationships, good jobs, and generally not ending up alone watching QVC with 12 cats. Taste was the target.

Meanwhile, guilty pleasures were rationed to one or two units per genre, and banished to private quarters, hen nights and wedding receptions. You could listen to Chris de Burgh, wearing legwarmers, eating a pop tart and reading Take a Break, but only in your own bedroom, and only when you’d finished the whole of Dostoevsky. Guilty pleasures were time off for good behaviour. They were the recess of taste, a happy holiday from eating healthily, watching Newsnight and pretending to enjoy jazz.

But then something shifted. The waters got muddied. First Abba started being lauded as songwriting genius by people like Noel Gallagher. Then they started bringing back old Saturday TV, having realised that despite several decades of technological development, entertainment actually peaked around the time they thought to make a quiz show out of televised darts. Then, (and this is the crucial one), then, DJ Sean Rowley started playing 80s MOR hits on his BBC radio slot, started a nationwide club night, and turned Guilty Pleasures into a national phenomenon.

So, when the hottest party in town involves an obligatory Neil Diamond singalong, old-fashioned good taste gets relegated to a dusty shelf. Suddenly anything that doesn’t involve spandex smacks of pretension… on merit of being too, er, good. Because who wants to nod along to somebody earnest with a guitar when you can drink a cherry Panda Pop and do Agadoo without judgement?

The worry is this though: where does it end? I can’t quite believe that the guilty pleasures realm has become the bad taste free-for-all it professes to be – surely there must be rules, secret rules, just to maintain a status hierarchy in the midst of all the chaos? They say bad equals good, and we can all do the power-fist-hair-flick to our (Total Eclipse of the) Heart’s content, but you know that at some point they’ll whip the rug out from under your feet. Possibly when you request Las Ketchup, definitely when you take the school disco vibe to its logical conclusion, and actually start crying.

So when I was invited to a Power Ballads theme night last week, I didn’t reach for my rhinestone Stetson with a whoop of joy. I hesitated. Actually, I thought, while there are a handful of power ballads that I like really rather a lot – T’pau’s China in your Hands, Ultravoxx’s Vienna, Shakira’s Underneath Your Clothes – there is a significantly larger number that I really rather hate. Songs that I’d rather just not have in my evening. Because, and this is the important bit to remember, they’re bad. Some music is a pleasure, some a guilty pleasure, and some is the background music they play in a Harvester restaurant. Which is maybe where it should stay.

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Achievement of the week: for the first time, I know what Nick Clegg actually looks like.
Yes, lodged carefully in my cerebrum is a clear picture of…no, hang on, I’ve forgotten again. Drat. It’ll come to me in a minute… no, that’s Princess Michael of Kent…Ah, got it. Brown hair and a face. There we are.

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Awesome pub quiz moment of the week:
“Which bird is also a common office employee?”
“I think it’s Secretary Bird,” say I.
“Don’t be stupid. It’s clearly… Sandwich Boy Bird.”
“Or Temp Bird”
“I really think it’s Secretary Bird.”
“Nahh, Managing Director Bird. Cleaner Bird. Security Guard Bird”.
“Seriously folks. Secretary Bird. I’m writing it down.”
“Vending Machine Technician Bird! Head of Human Resources Bird! BOSS BIRD!”

“Question 14: the answer is… Secretary Bird.”

I am the queen of all knowledge.