Why Kim Kardashian has made it okay to get your boobs out.


How do you begin to dissect fame like that of Kim? Where do you make the first cut in such omnipresence? Because it’s not just about her, the flesh and bones woman, any more. We exist within her vast show, literally and figuratively. Even if you don’t actively choose to follow her movements, she’s there. Inescapable.

We should start with the unavoidable: the sex tape. In the mid-00s Kim wasn’t famous like her friends Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton, for whom she was a stylist. Richie and Hilton were catapulted into the public eye with their feckless and fantastic reality show The Simple Life, blasting a tsunami of velour Juicy Couture and Von Dutch trucker caps into society. They giggled and pouted on every red carpet and magazine cover going. But this kind of fame eluded Kim, despite her notorious parents and her social life. Until, that is, her sex tape – recorded in 2003 with her then-boyfriend Ray “Ray J” Norwood – was “leaked” into the public domain.

However, there are some claims that the tape was a total set-up to bring Kim fame. The tape was released in 2007 and now here we are in 2017: Kim has both monetised fame and created a new definition thereof. As the inveterate clarion call goes: she is famous for getting her tits out and for, well, just… being. Stepping out of her car. Being famous.

But can it really be that simple? Hilton, too, is famous for a sex tape, (and has also denied any involvement in its leak) and her fame is but a faint stain on Kim’s now. What other questions should we be asking? In trying to unlock why Kim continues to occupy us so intensely, should we not also be examining ourselves?

First, let’s look at the facts: in 2015 Forbes suggested Kim’s net worth was $52.5m. Her fortune is attributable to clothing lines, iPhone games, emojis, appearing on her family’s reality shows – and, no doubt, the financial rewards that come from being a one-person advertising agency to her multimillion Twitter (43.9m) and Instagram (67.4m) followers. She is, to put a finer point on it, “doing OK”.

It’s not just Kim’s businesses that ensure her celebrity continues to swell. It’s not just her marriage to Kanye West, one of – if not the – world’s most controversial and brilliant recording artists. It’s not just the selfies, the nakedness or the conversations she generates in real life and online on a daily basis, from the vast feminist soul-searching to the constant, kneejerk slut-shaming. It’s not “just” anything. Her fame is, within the context of fame itself, brand new. It is multi causal and hugely complex, and it is ours as much as hers. Why? Because, whether we love or hate her, we cannot get enough. We can’t get enough of people knowing we’ve had enough. The snake eats its tail.

But is Kim’s bare body “wrong” because it’s bigger and occupies more physical space than, say, an adolescent model with exposed nipples on a catwalk at Paris Fashion Week? Is it wrong because she doesn’t fit with the “proper” fantasy women images of your – the blonde, Caucasian, all-American Pamela Anderson types that would be stuck to bedroom walls?

It seems we just cannot bear the idea that a woman might really enjoy getting her tits out because they are her own, wonderful, luminous orbs of maternity and desire. We can talk about the patriarchy and the male gaze until we are blue in the face, and we should, of course we should, but the fact remains: Kim chooses to get her tits out. She wants to, even though she doesn’t “need” to. That so many of us can’t stand it while she continues to do so – although not really, on social media, because they’re blurred out – keeps her suspended in conversation. Even those who view her trajectory into fame as a symptom of everything that’s wrong with the world today and those who assume she is stupid, who claim some kind of moral or intellectual superiority, keep talking about her. It is absolutely fascinating.

Such is Kim’s fame and the way she chooses to present her body, it’s only natural for us mere mortals to want more than she gives us.

Kim’s family may also occupy the press on a daily basis, but she manages to retain an alienness that her sisters, her mother and Caitlyn Jenner don’t have. Such is her fame and the way she chooses to present her body, it’s only natural for us mere mortals to want more than she gives us. I’ve often wondered what Kim’s gums look like close up. Does she have the same little blonde spirals of hair on her neck that I do? What do her toenail clippings look like? I’ve no idea because she is in control of how I see her, and yet part of me wants to zoom in more. Then part of me wants to examine why on earth I do, and so on it goes, and I’m still thinking and talking about Kim.

My dad asked me recently what I thought someone like Kim and her fame represented to a 12-year-old girl, who is just beginning to become aware of her body and its place in the world. Exploitation and consent are vital subjects to explore with young women, but Kim is a fully consenting adult woman. Personally, I can’t help but think that she shows us that we don’t all have to be the same kind of woman. Some of us like science, some of us like lip gloss, some of us like growing our body hair out, some of us like offal, some of us like taking naked photos. Hell, some of us like all or none of those things. Instead of asking why Kim is famous, we should be thankful that she is, because she gives us the chance to have a conversation about difference.

Could you become a social media influencer? Or are you that bothered?



The world is now divided between ad agency marketers and social media influencers. And there is little love lost. The Mad Men branding the influencers as ‘sad and pathetic’, describing the role as posing, twitching in your seat as you continually check your social media feeds. Whilst the influencers hit back, branding their pay masters as ‘out of touch soap vendors’.

So, what is the job of a social media influencer? The job of a social media influencer is to write, analysis trends, interview and meet deadlines. While the business model itself is not that complex, brands pay you. And if you’re really good you get yourself an avatar and an agent who negotiates on your behalf. Plus, you get to call yourself an expert. And if you’re like me the dress code is low key, jeans and a black sweater, with hair in a bun. Plus, it helps if you read newspapers in English.

At that moment, your life plan becomes build a brand along the lines of Chiara Ferragni, who has built a personal brand worth an estimated £10m.

Then being an influencer is easy. Brands pay you to endorse their products. An agent negotiates fees. Basically, they look at what a regular model would get paid, and at what a top celebrity would get paid, and pitches you somewhere in the middle. A brand will send you images or samples of a new products – it could be a mascara or a piece of jewellery – and if you like the brand and it fits aesthetically you will select pieces your happy to endorse. But many posts are unsponsored, these reinforce your aesthetic and voice, and build following.

The resistance of the establishment to you as an influencer is one part anxiety (the salesman always fear becoming obsolete), and their ethical suspicion that there is something compromised or false about the influencer role. This last part is tricky? How to unpick what authentic means for you.

A tiny example: halfway through your day, a post appears on your account of you in a cafe, captioned “much-needed coffee between interviews”; but you haven’t stopped for coffee. In the run-up to busy periods, you will often prepare posts so as to have appropriate content ready to go. That the photo wasn’t taken on the day doesn’t strike you as in any way fake. Your social media isn’t a logbook of life events, it’s a contemporaneous brand-strategy document. And that means it’s authentic.

But being independent of commercial alliance is not aspirational. A generation who have grown up dreaming of becoming personal brands do not treat brands with suspicion. Now that every man and woman is her own brand, The Man is the bogeyman no more. If the designer of a dress you like will pay you to wear that dress, that’s not a compromise, it’s win-win.

Your business model is resolutely digital, and it’s a numbers game: if an influencer has to choose between talking to the thousands of people who are with her on social media or the three people in her taxi, you will naturally prioritise the thousands.

But I’m not going to pretend it’s glamorous. What you don’t see of influencers is the behind-the-scenes effort: the months of meetings beforehand, the Google doc full of contact details for journalists, agents and intermediaries. And shoving protein bars into your mouth between appointments.

I love understanding the effect and cause of events. So, as a wanna be influencer, you simply look at events and emerging trends, and you decide what you think people would like. Becoming a social media influencer is about being independent. It’s not about the brand. It’s about you as a journalist.

Prince Harry has made it okay to be depressed. So now I can come out.


Failure is powerful, transformative, enhancing and causes more than a third of teenage girls to suffer depression and anxiety.

Heck, I would know. I have failed a lot in my life so far. Last year, I applied to 50+ crappy jobs. Every single one rejected me. I went home and cried after each interview, convinced there was something intrinsic wrong with me. How could I ever do creative work if I was considered ‘under qualified’ to wait tables or sell cinema tickets?

I have started 3 blogs. The first failed because I was 13 and had no idea what I was doing. I tried to code my own site and that failed. The second, a few months later, was quite successful (in part because my age made me a novelty.) Then my motivation dwindled and I began posting less and less.

Around that time, I fell into depression and failed at the simplest things of all. Getting out of bed, having conversations, writing, looking after myself, eating and sleeping all became challenges I could not overcome. I remember feeling genuine pride at having got out of bed and made it downstairs to make coffee and toast by 6pm.

I failed at these basic life skills with enough consistency to land me an appointment with a doctor. Wow, I thought, this has got to be the ultimate failure. Well done me.

Treatment for depression in the UK is built psychologically on physical force and threats until some sort of survival instinct kicks in. It doesn’t always, though. I met many girls – smart, beautiful, wonderful girls- who hadn’t spoken or walked or been outside or done anything not forced for years. Some got better. Some are still stuck like that. For a while I kept failing and failing and failing. After a few months, I began to make small wins. A combination of therapy, proper nutrition, sleep and intense friendships with other girls chipped away at the black depression. I remastered the art of doing the basic stuff needed to function.

Then I started writing again. I wrote more than ever before. Every 10 days, I filled a Moleskine notebook. On bad days, I drew and made collages, turning images into eventual words. It began with drivel, which turned into stories, rants, letters never to be sent, plans. I wrote about the home, family, friends and college which I ached to return to. From the writing came hope, and from the hope came fewer failures.

During that time, I had failed a lot, though I was lucky to have somehow remained at the middle of the bell curve. Enough failure to make me push myself harder than ever before. Not enough failure to make me give up and resign myself to a life in bed.

At the wrong end of the bell curve is consistent, crushing failure. The kind which forces so many people to give up on their creativity. Maybe the ability (honed through deliberate practice) is not there. Maybe the world isn’t ready. The world is often not ready. Or you are not ready for the world.

It’s a scale which varies from person to person. Some quit after one rejection by a publisher, jeer from an audience or critical comment on a post. Some continue to the point of bankruptcy, isolation and ill health.

Between lies that crucial balance. Enough failure to keep you driven and realistic. Enough success to ensure you maintain the discipline to keep going.

I have written before about my thoughts on reacting to criticism of your work. In my opinion, not giving a fuck is the wrong way to go. I believe you should care deeply and embrace negative reactions. If you can feel the pain of failure deeply and still continue then that’s a good sign.

Stephen King hung each rejection letter he received from a publisher on a nail in his study. When the nail got too full, he got a larger one and kept writing. Again, if you have been living under a rock, he has since sold over 350 million books.

To cap off this post, here are some of my mental models for handling failure.

1 – Imagine it as a training montage. You know those scenes in countless films where we see the hero go from hapless loser to cool superhero? My favourite is from Mulan. After much struggle and practice, she climbs a tall pole and impresses everyone. I like to picture myself in one of those whenever I suck at something. I imagine a time lapse of me writing at my desk, culminating in me publishing my first book. With a lot of scrunching up paper and swearing. It is a powerful visualisation. I also use this when revising for exams or exercising. Mulan falling off the pole was the necessary initial step towards her climbing it. If she can do that, I can finish this essay and reach the stretch goals I am working towards. The basic stuff (like, you know, getting out of bed) doesn’t even make it into Mulan’s training montage, so it shouldn’t be part of mine.

2 – Expose myself to it until it looses it’s meaning. I was VERY unpopular at school. Unpopular enough to have chairs thrown at me, my work torn up and my books spat on. My means of handling it was to record insults and snide comments. I would then reread them again and again. Before long, those words lost their capacity to hurt me. I reclaimed control over my responses. And in the end, they are just words, you give them power when you cower. Failure is just a word. It is something subjective. Are the failures I have mentioned here really that? Who knows. It’s up to me (and you) to decide.

3 – Eradicate all traces of it and move on. This was the advice my older brother gave me once and it has stuck with ever since. Sometimes I don’t want to accept or rework. Sometimes I just need to forget and move on. Or fail early in life and get it all over with. Then you’ll learn to breathe again when you embrace failure as a part of life, not as the determining moment of life. Failure doesn’t always mean anywhere near as much as we imagine.

4 – Focus on maintaining a growth mindset. My writing has come a long. The hundreds of blog posts which no one ever read, the rejected applications for writing roles, the ignored submissions, the burnt notebooks, the deleted Word documents, the scrapped drafts, the ideas which never even made it onto a page – they all contributed to where I am now. Along the way, I have learned how to hone my work and write stuff which people like to read. Some people. Some of the time. I still experience the same failures on a daily basis, except the wins are there too. That is what a growth mindset is all about.

I’ve had sex in a lot of various places but never in a restaurant. So does food improve your sex life?



The last time I had oysters was last year at a pop up bar on a French beach. Three hours later I was sick in a bucket and then I had sex with my girlfriend. So, the relationship between food and sex is maybe all it’s cracked up to be. Sure, a lot of sex happens after meals. Then again, as we generally eat three times a day, there’s always likely to have been a meal somewhere in the timeline. A lot of heavy manual labour and chiropody also happens after meals, but no one bigs up those connections.

The evidence to support the notion that a squelchy soft food stuff encourages arousal is negligible. That said, if food for a romantic evening is done really well, then sex happens. But after a 16-course tasting menu all you will really want from your bed is sleep. Indeed, someone who cooks a meal because they think it might get them laid, rather than out of a genuine instinct to feed, simply won’t end up doing either properly.

Second, there is only one truly ingestible aphrodisiac and that’s the grape, after it’s fermented. Oh sure, you can go on about pearly oysters loaded with zinc, about split figs and the pulling back of the skin to reveal the pink flesh within; you can murmur about the joys of sea urchins and the thrill of roast iguana with chipotle and oregano marinade or the Ecuadorian staple dish of guinea pig. But if sex did occur after any of these were eaten it would have everything to do with the booze that was slugged back alongside it and nothing to do with the food itself.

I’ve had sex in a lot of various places but never in a restaurant. However, it seems there is hardly an eatery anywhere in London – in the world – in which it hasn’t happened, except perhaps an Aberdeen Angus Steak House; only a pervert would find one of those a turn on. In all of these stories there was one constant. The participants were very well lubricated (stop sniggering at the back there). Without booze, there are legions of people who would never have got any sex at all. I know. I’m one of them.

And yet… and yet. There really is something about the process of eating a meal with a significant other that is sexy, but it has nothing to do with the food itself. It’s all to do with the intimacy of the act, its elemental nature. Eating, like sex, is something instinctive. Get it right, by which I mean do it with real enthusiasm and intensity, and immediately you are wearing your elemental self on your sleeve. And it is that – rather than oysters slurped from the shell, or raspberries fed to a lover by hand – which is truly the sexiest thing of all.

It cannot be denied that visually, clothes fall better on a slimmer frame, but there is slim, and then there is scary skinny.



Ultra-thin, young models used in fashion shows could become the “thinspiration” of young people suffering with eating disorders.

The fashion world says it takes the issue seriously and “wouldn’t want to use very skinny girls” – but it has come under fire for using very thin and young-looking models to showcase collections, with women’s groups and body-image charities calling for the influential fashion designers to use a more diverse range of body types in their shows.

I know that some young women suffering from eating disorders take these types of photos and put them inside their wardrobe doors, using them as a goal to work towards.

These type of images do not cause eating disorders but they escalate and exacerbate existing conditions. There is overwhelming evidence that points to these images having a very negative and damaging effect.

If the appearance is of an extreme body shape or extreme youth, it still sends out a message to young women that this is what you should look like. The fashion industry does not just sell clothes but a whole look and style – and people buy into that.

The models look uniformly painfully thin and the image that gives to young women in particular is quite damaging.

Society is understandably concerned about the issues surrounding body image and eating disorders, and the dangerous and unrealistic messages being sent to young women via fashion journals. When it comes to who should be blamed for the portrayal of overly thin models, magazine editors are in the direct line of fire, but it is more complex than that. Designer outfits are created around a live, in-house skeleton. Few designers have a curvy or petite fit model. These collections are then sent to the runway, worn by tall, pin-thin models because that’s the way the designer wants to see the clothes fall. There will also be casting directors and stylists involved who have a vision of the type of woman they envisage wearing these clothes. For some bizarre reason, it seems they prefer her to be young, coltish, 6ft tall and built like a prepubescent boy.

It is too simplistic to blame misogynistic men, although in some cases I believe that criticism is deserved. There are a few male fashion designers I would like to personally strangle. But there are many female fashion editors who perpetuate the stereotype, women who often have a major eating disorder of their own. They get so caught up in the hype of how brilliant clothes look on a size 4, they cannot see the inherent danger in the message. It cannot be denied that visually, clothes fall better on a slimmer frame, but there is slim, and then there is scary skinny.

Despite protestations by women who recognise the danger of portraying any one body type as “perfect”, the situation is not improving. If you look back at the heady days of the supermodels in the late 80s and early 90s, beauties such as Cindy Crawford, Eva Herzigová and Claudia Schiffer look positively curvaceous compared to the sylphs of today. There was a period in the last three years when some of the girls on the runways were so young and thin, and the shoes they were modelling so high, it actually seemed barbaric. And personally, I’m not comfortable witnessing teen waifs almost on the point of collapse.

Health can come in all shapes and sizes. And I do want to see diverse bodies around me reflected positively in media, advertising and, yes, catwalks, including all kinds of sizes, shapes, ethnicities, abilities and more.

When by chance I met Clint Eastwood on a hotel bar stool.



At a rather expensive hotel bar in the South of France my girlfriend and I where seated next to the actor Don Johnson famously known for the TV show Miami Vice. Not that I was with Don Johnson or his select group of friends. In fact, I was surprised that we weren’t asked to move away from the bar.

Then we found ourselves betwixt Don Johnson and his entourage and a young and famous actor who proceeded to talk to the Johnson entourage until the point came when it became so embarrassing that I said, ‘Okay, would you like to swap seats?’ It was that or slip away to the loo together and find our seats taken on our return. So much for being a gentleman.

After this silent game of musical chairs a couple proceeded to sit down at the bar next to me and both my girlfriend and I were, to put it politely, peeing ourselves with excitement. It was Clint Eastwood and a friend who we didn’t know.

Not wanting to appear like idiots, my girlfriend and I went into a quick ‘mind your manners’ huddle and tried our best to act nonchalant about this turn of events. So, I said, “Nice to meet you Mr. Eastwood.” At which point he smiled, and then happily engaged us in conversation about something and nothing whilst drinks were served.

I have always been a fan of a lot of his movies, but I was most impressed. He never once brought up the subject of the big ‘I am’. As he was leaving the hotel bar he shook our hands and then he mentioned that he would be screening a film of his for an event, and if we would like tickets to the screening, he would make sure that they were left at the box office under my name. I of course said that we would appreciate that, and it was a most kind offer of him to do so for us.

My girlfriend and I debated whether we should go to the Cinema and see if he kept his promise or not. We were afraid to go, because of the embarrassment and disappointment it might cause, to an otherwise fantastic memory of our encounter. After having a row about this issue, we arrived late to the venue and went to the ticket office and asked if Mr. Eastwood had left tickets with our name on it, expecting the worst. And lo and behold! He left us two VIP passes for us.

After meeting him I became an admirer of the man, and then the film-maker. Truly a nice gent.

Songs you feel you’d love to hear on vinyl.



The vinyl record format was supposed to have been badly wounded by the introduction of CDs and killed off completely by the ipod-generation that bought music online.

But the latest phenomenon (once again) in a notoriously fickle industry is one nobody dared predict: a vinyl revival. Latest figures show a big jump in vinyl sales in the first half of this year, confirming the anecdotal evidence from specialist shops throughout the UK.

So, deciding what songs everyone must hear on vinyl, is like films we must see in 70 mm it becomes a process of rigorous debate and insults. So, I’ve come up with twenty I’d love to hear on vinyl.

And I’m asking what’s missing for you? Songs you feel you’d love to hear on vinyl.

So here I go and in no particular order of preference.


If Jay-Z and Beyoncé were slightly coy about their relationship before this single, it was pointless being in denial thereafter. Producer Rich Harrison sampled the horns from Are You My Woman (Tell Me So) by the Chi-Lites for the infectious hook and the sexual frission between America’s first couple (pre-Obama) did the rest. Perhaps the greatest single of this millennium, it will still sound great in 50 years, and there aren’t many songs you can say that about nowadays.


Bowie’s greatest song concerns love’s ability to transcend anything, even the nuclear face-off between Nato and the Warsaw Pact. While recording the album of the same name in cold war Berlin, he glimpsed a couple kissing in front of the wall, finding inspiration in the juxtaposition of romance and barbed wire. Knowing the lovers helped: it was Bowie’s then-married producer Tony Visconti sneaking off with backing singer Antonia Maass.


The 1996 Fugees version was the bigger hit, but Flack’s original is far superior. Though she didn’t write it herself, she sings it as if her life depends on it, and the simple, piano-based arrangement underscores her quiet urgency. Flack started out singing jazz, and you can hear it here, in her restrained and elegant treatment. By contrast, the Fugees felt the song wasn’t complete without lumpen rapping, and their cover is well-nigh unlistenable.


Axl Rose could go back into hibernation for another 17 years and still not better the rock majesty of Sweet Child O’ Mine. Slash’s opening riff, which he originally dismissed as filler, defines the sound of a band who could have ruled the world, and for a year or two, pretty much did. Rose wrote his “first positive love song” about his then girlfriend and, beneath the bombast and bacchanalia of the band themselves, it displayed a rare, tender glimpse into Rose’s psyche.


The song that made a cult Canadian les country singer into a Grammy-winning crossover chanteuse never mentions love by name. But there are few songs that convey the essence of desire so seductively. As the acoustic guitars, piano, accordion and Byrdsian twangs find a midway point between swagger and swoon, Lang’s lush voice sounds like a giddy dream of love‘s rapture. “Always someone marches brave. Here beneath my skin,” she croons, and you feel the fear that keeps the dream at bay.


Classic pop ballads evoke that “Ooh, where have I heard this before?” feeling on first listen. Always a strong singles band, the Pretenders’ swelling tale of unswerving loyalty (“Nothing you confess. Could make me love you less”), co-written with Like a Virgin veterans Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, treads that fine line between wedding reception schmaltz and fist-in-the-air defiance with a consummate, understated ease. Even a Children in Need version by Girls Aloud couldn’t wreck this one, although they gave it their best shot.


A much-loved example of the Supremes’ irresistible innocence, this Holland-Dozier-Holland classic remains a staple of any self-respecting girl-group DJ set. The lyric makes the case for patience and the sound advice of a girl’s loving mum, but it’s also about Diana Ross’s unique ability to express youthful longing, and the peerless Funk Brothers rhythm section of Benny Benjamin and James Jamerson creating one of the most imitated up-tempo dance riffs in pop history.


Damon Gough’s early lo-fi EPs on the Twisted Nerve label he launched with Andy Votel had already made him a cult figure, but it was his debut album The Hour of the Bewilder beast that really signalled Badly’s arrival. On the opener, a cello and French horn give way to Gough’s acoustic guitar as he recalls meeting his girlfriend for the first time: “Remembering when I saw your face. Shining my way, pure timing”.


The Fab Four’s biggest-selling UK single remains one of the most exhilarating examples of pop joy ever recorded. A high point of Lennon and McCartney’s early, shared song writing, the harmonised “yeah yeah yeah”s and wild “ooh”s became the early Beatles’ most recognisable sonic trademarks. But the lyric – inspired by a McCartney idea to write a song in the third person – is intriguingly odd, slyly suggesting that the singer has been doing the dirty with his friend’s heartbroken ex.


It’s often suggested that only Americans can write songs using evocative place names. But Duffy’s debut single, Rock ferry, was an ode to self-imposed seclusion in grandma’s Wirral outpost and Warwick Avenue maintained this knack for giving her songs a sense of place. It’s a situation that’s easy to identify with – the writer running through her thoughts on a tube ride towards a meeting which will mean the end of a relationship – and Warwick Avenue has an equally familiar Bacharach-like swing. Thanks to a typically gutsy vocal, we’re left in no doubt that, for the song’s recipient, Warwick Avenue marks the end of the line.


Co-written with Kanye West, this languorous, amorous daydream of a song eventually finds its happy ending. Keys sings as a frustrated cafe waitress, yearning for a regular customer who is blithely oblivious to her very existence. After wishing her days away with dreams of first dates and sweet kisses, she finally plucks up the courage to call him and unrequited love blossoms into a beguiling fairy story.


Prompted by the personal intervention of monster US label head Clive Davis, Simon Cowell broke reality-show convention with Leona Lewis, eschewing his familiar convention of farming out winners to Scandinavian hit factories for an instant return on their recognition. Instead, he dedicated a year to turning her into an international star. The singer herself first heard Bleeding Love at writing sessions, under Davis’s direct auspices, with heavyweights in LA and couldn’t rid herself of its curious, thunderous hook. Was it about self-harm? Menstruation? Or the simple old wound of heartbreak? At her insistence, it became her first single, lending Cowell the one thing he had failed to secure driving a commercial juggernaut across culture: credibility.


Perry’s debut single carefully courted controversy: was it a shameless slice of tired homophobia or, as Perry would have it, a swipe at lame straight boys “wearing guy liner and taking emo pictures of [themselves] in the bathroom mirror”. While there’s a sense that – as with I Kissed a Girl – the shock-horror attitude is grafted on for effect, it did what all good pop music is supposed to so: get under people’s skin. Nice whistling, too.


The original version was sung by Brenda Lee in 1972, and Always on My Mind has since been recorded more than 300 times by a plethora of musicians. It’s the King’s version, however, sung with seductive intensity, that stands out. Recorded shortly after his divorce from Priscilla, there’s a mien of genuine regret running through the track like a silver thread. It’s the sort of confessional ballad that Elvis did so well. Pining, lovesick, full of sombre epiphanies but, here, he never resorts to sentimentality.


Though a song written with teenagers in mind, this stand-out ballad from the Automatic For the People album was an object lesson in how to attain universality without becoming vague or trite. Whether heard as a break-up song or an attempt to counsel against suicide (“When you’re sure you’ve had enough of this life – hang on”), Michael Stipe’s impassioned vocal offers a comforting shoulder to anyone lost and alone. The orchestra was arranged by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones.


A brooding, hypnotic song about the violence of love and lust – “On a bed of nails she makes me wait” – apparently inspired by repeated listens to Scott Walker’s Climate of Hunter album. It’s a deceptively odd song, with no clearly defined verse or chorus. Instead, the intensity slowly builds around a pulsing four-note bass pattern as Bono unwinds one of his most wracked vocal performances. An emotionally draining tour de force.


Knocked sideaways by what he called the “Shakespearean tragedy” of the death of his devoted mother following plastic surgery, and the split from his fiancée, West poured out his soul on his 2008 album, 808s and Heartbreak, showing glimpses of a hitherto unseen humility. In a complete departure, the rapper barely rapped on his fourth album, instead half singing, half talking, his voice given a cracked, ethereal feel by Auto-Tune, nowhere more than on the epic opening track Say You Will. It’s lonely at the top.


The second single from the Back in Black album is an unusual heartbreak song in that the disdain and bitterness is reserved for its author. “I told you I was trouble” she warns, before “little carpet burns” give away her infidelity when she is in the bath. The version of the song with Ghost face Killah, on his More Fish album, is equally good.


West Virginian singer-songwriter Withers was still making toilet seats in a factory when he recorded this first of his much-loved major hits. An elegant cross between down home folk-blues and uptown orchestral soul, Ain’t No Sunshine’s melancholy melody is perfect for its resigned images of a man alone in the dark, waiting for a lover who may never return. Withers repeats “I know” 26 times in the bridge because he hadn’t got around to finishing the lyric.


Wonder may have been in artistic decline by 1980, but he still possessed enough of his old brilliance to craft three-minute epics, if not flawless albums. Fuelled by his joy at Zimbabwe’s independence and his regard for his fellow great Bob Marley, with whom he had toured earlier in the year, this highlight of the patchy Hotter Than July is characterised by Wonder’s infectious optimism as he bids farewell to minority white rule over a thrusting, exultant reggae rhythm. Little did he know how Zimbabwe would later unfold.