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Michael Stipe has sometimes been rather apologetic about his 1991 pop pastiche, Shiny Happy People. I’m not an R.E.M. fan but I admire the few works I’ve heard, so until comparatively recently, when I spoke to my sister who is a great fan of theirs, I didn’t even realise there was any controversy over this beautiful song.
I probably first heard it on The Chart Show one Saturday in 1991, when I was working in North East England and raising a young family. I’ve always loved intelligent, satirical writing so the idea of having a fundamentally sad song with upbeat lyrics and music attracted me. As a sixties pastiche it works well, and Stipe’s delicious, tortured voice gives the performance the vital edge that explodes the myth of the words and music.
I’ll admit that I still don’t understand why it is regarded by so many fans as a mistake of any kind. It’s a song that works as pop and as satire, finely judged and perfect.