You might not recognize that name. It’s ok. Lots of people don’t!
But you definitely are aware of his work. Oh yes. For better or for worse, British moneyman Simon Fuller became the driving force behind radio-swallowing pop music titans two times over: the Spice Girls and American Idol.
The names are recognizable, obviously. These are two commercial entities that were both massively popular in their time (although Idol’s ratings have been dwindling more than a little in recent years) and the subject of constant debate and scorn from anti-pop music snobs across the globe. But it’s all too easy to undermine their impact on pop music as a whole. The Spice Girls were maybe the first teen pop group of their kind to meet massive success in America in the late-90s, allowing for like-minded boy bands and pop idols to shape the sound of radio pop for the following five years or so. And right when that initial teenybopper pop thrust began to wane, the UK’s Pop Idol hit our shores as American Idol in 2002 and generated more chart-dominating stars than can be named.
So in more ways than one, it does not matter if you don’t know Simon Fuller’s name or the name of his (former) production company 19 Entertainment. Because he owns you. Completely. He is Your Pop God.
…well, alright, that’s an exaggeration. But he is a very rich man who has managed lots of popular music groups. So that is something.
But let’s talk about me for a second. Hi, I’m Sean Rose. Hey. I’m handsome and great. And for me, Mr. Fuller’s strangest and most interesting pop creation has to be the group he cobbled together in the years between the Spice Girls’ string of hits and American Idol’s TV domination: UK’s very own S Club 7.
According to lore, sweet Simon stumbled upon the idea of S Club almost immediately after he was fired by the Spice Girls. While I am personally not aware of the details surrounding his ejection from the Spice Camp (although I can take a guess), I like to imagine that Fuller stormed out of the recording studio, got piss drunk at a local pub and, in a Guinness-fueled haze, scribbled the following on a pub napkin:
(Digital Get Down – your one-stop shop for hilarious napkin gags)
Of course, this less-than-modest goal was eventually scaled down to “RULE THE UK (AND MOST OF THE REST OF EUROPE) WITH A REASONABLE AMOUNT OF CHEER.” Unlike the Spice Girls, S Club were never a Big Deal in America, having to settle for one lonely top-10 hit and a reasonably popular TV show on Fox Family. Call it bad timing; by the time of S Club’s creation in 1999, the American teen pop machine (ironically brought to life by Fuller’s own Spice Girls) was in firm control of the airwaves, and nary a European pop act could squeeze their way in. Not to mention that S Club’s happy-all-the-time-every-day image fell in stark contrast to Britney Spears’ and *NSYNC’s more aggressively sexual image. America, it seems, cannot be ruled with happiness alone.
This was not for a lack of trying on Fuller’s part, however. Looking at the members of S Club 7, one sees maybe the most carefully-calculated group of cute teenagers ever assembled in all of Pop History. If I’m being honest, I don’t think any one member of S Club was chosen for the group based on their talent or personality, but on their look. Image. Fuller obviously wanted to create a pop group to appeal to anybody and everybody, and in a way, he succeeded.
And so on the surface, S Club 7 were a microcosm of everything big in teen pop in the late-90’s, like an ungainly Frankenstein’s monster. I mean, it’s one thing that they’re maybe the only pop group from the time to feature both men and women – that is, indeed, a thing. But beyond gender lines, S Club members were clearly chosen to appeal to various sub-genres of pop music at the time. Jo O’Meara and Rachel Stevens, the lead ladies of the group, fit into the outgoing Britney/Christina mold; Bradley McIntosh, the lead dude in the crew, is there to appeal to the R&B/hip-hop crowd (as is his unfortunate obligation as the token black member of the group). Tina Barrett and Hannah Spearritt both look like they could have been in the Spice Girls; Jon Lee and Paul Cattermole both look like they could have been in Westlife (although Paul tried to push a nu-metal image later on in his career that did not work out for him). Everything about S Club is so perfectly, meticulously calculated that I don’t know whether I should admire Mr. Fuller or fear him, deep in my soul.
But again, this is all just image. If we’re talking about actual personality, none of this matters. Despite having seven fucking members, it is impossible for me to discern a single personality type for any member of S Club 7 outside of “impossibly happy human being.” Maybe it’s my fault; they did have a pretty popular TV show, after all, and I guess they MUST have had discernible characters onscreen. But as I’ve never seen an episode of their show (which ran for four full seasons) or any of their movies, I see S Club 7 as a bunch of smiling happy kids who enjoy dancing and brightly colored clothing.
This extends to their music, too. Vocally, the only two discernible singers (for me) are Jo and Bradley. But even then, most S Club singles – S Club songs, really – are sung by Jo, making her the One Voice in the group despite having six whole other members to choose from. Bradley does eventually get more lead vocals later on, but in the beginning he didn’t contribute much more than anybody else. I mean, I’m sure that giving seven members their equal share of vocal duties all the time isn’t an easy thing, but it’s strange that out of such a large group only one singer would end up making any kind of musical impact, with the rest relegated to glorified back-ups.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s all me. Maybe I just need to learn more about S Club. Maybe they all have deep, well-crafted personalities and I’m just not seeing it. I haven’t seen their show! Apparently it’s a lot like The Monkees, and boy to I like the Monkees. Gosh, maybe Paul’s like the goofily dumb Peter Tork of the group. Or Tina’s the rascally Mickey Dolenz. I just don’t know.
It’s ok. I’ll learn. There are still like, three more S Club albums after this one, right? Then there’s still time! Anybody got a Miami 7 DVD set they could loan me? Or a copy of that movie where they battle a clone-making evil scientist?? Gosh, S Club, I am so willing to learn. I am but a student, awaiting a teacher.
So, now that we’ve established that I don’t know nearly enough about S Club 7, allow me to judge their 1999 debut record.
JOY TO THE WORLD
Oh hi. You remember what I said earlier, about Simon Fuller wanting to rule the world with happiness? Well, by God, here we go.
If there is any one thing that separated S Club 7 from the rest of their teen pop ilk, it would be their constant, unfettered joy. God-damnit, you could not keep these kids down! Not even for a second. Not even on the slow ballads. Even in their later years, when shifting tastes in pop music were quickly making their joy-happy-fun brand of candy music obsolete, they refused to abandon their outlook. Considering that they broke up in 2003, that’s a four-year sustained period of constant unstoppable joy. Seven permanent smiles for approximately 1,460 straight days. I cannot help but admire that.
I mean, can you think of a single pop group nearly as irrepressibly happy as S Club 7? Jesus, they make the Backstreet Boys look like Joy Divison by comparison. No small feat.
Unsurprisingly, the best tracks on S Club are the tracks that play heavily into said joy. Honestly, I can’t think of a better debut single for these guys than “Bring It All Back”, an immediately upbeat ode to being yourself and destroying your problems with hourly smiles. It’s a perfect intro in more ways than one; not only does it crystallize everything about the group right from the get-go, it also gives each member their own little moment, a feat that they would never ever pull off again (even Tina and Hannah get part of a verse, for God’s sake!).
It was also the opening theme of Miami 7. God, look at that music video. Look at those zany antics!! Please, someone tell me this show is easily available on DVD. I am dying to see this show. I need this joy in my life.
And then we get some Motown tributes. I can’t explain why I love it when teen pop groups go for an obvious Motown vibe – it’s kind of a cheap ploy to appeal to oldies Mommies – but I do, I really do. Despite sounding like it was written with the “Uplifting” mode in Microsoft Songsmith, “You’re My Number One” is so wonderfully catchy that it might as well be my favorite S Club song. Oh my goodness I cannot resist that joy. I’m not made of stone!!
“Everybody Wants Ya” pays similar goofy joy dividends. “It’s A Feel Good Thing”, while not nearly as memorable as those two tracks, is a dead-ringer for late-80s Gloria Estefan which I guess has to be worth something. Heck, even the slower songs on S Club – the slick pop ballads “Two In A Million” and “I Really Miss You” – are infused with youthful enthusiasm.
Maybe they do go a little too far sometimes. “Gonna Change The World” features the S Club Dudes reaching for an awkward MJ “Man In The Mirror”/”Heal The World” vibe, and album-closer “Hope For The Future” follows suit. But nevertheless, the best tracks on S Club showcase these kids as a bunch of fun-lovin’ buds you’d want to throw a birthday party for you. Oh gosh, wouldn’t that be fun??
BUT THEN THERE WERE ALSO TERRIBLE PARTY JAMS
Oh jeez. Ok. Maybe not.
There’s – OK. Alright. The main problem with S Club is that there’s a bunch of party-hearty jock jam songs on it and they all stink like dogs. Out of every “self-mythologizing dance party pop group” song released in the late-90s, “S Club Party” easily beats out “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” as the most ridiculous one released. JeEEz, I mean – AAGH god.
“Hoochie mamas show ya na na’s”? I’m, wait-
Okay. I don’t know who’s idea it was to take a bunch of deliberately cutesy, cleaned-up teenagers and make them sing lines like “ghetto boys make some noise” and “there ain’t no party like an S Club parTAAAAY-HOOOO.” This doesn’t work. This doesn’t make sense.
I mean, it really bogs the record down. It does. “Viva La Fiesta” is forgettable dumb filler, “Friday Night” wastes one of Bradley’s only lead vocals on the worst melody ever. God, ugh. UGH. IT’S STINKY
Was this Mr. Fuller’s idea? Was this his way of competing with the waning success of the Spice Girls, who had cruelly rejected him just months earlier. Well, I guess it worked out. “S Club Party” was a #2 hit in the UK. The man knows how to crack that commercial coconut.
S Club is way more consistent than it has any right to be. Really. I mean, considering that 19 Entertainment poured just as much effort into producing their television show as they did for their music, I was expecting more of a standard “all filler no killer” teen pop album vibe.
Sure, those party songs stink. Sure, the production is kind of cheap. Sure, the happy songs are corny as all get out. Sure, these kids have very very little on-record charisma save for Jo and Bradley. Sure, they don’t have an absolute ace-in-the-hole producer/songwriter like Max Martin or Steve Mac. Sure, Simon Fuller might be pure evil. But S Club manages to overcome most of its obvious flaws with sheer guileless joy alone, and that is no easy task.
Kudos, S Clubbers. I look forward to spending time with each and every one of you. Really! And I look forward to finding your manufactured happiness less creepy with every album I review. I mean it!
Oh, and it looks like some Miami 7 episodes are on YouTube?!? ExCUSE me…