As part of The Queerness’ Music Month, Dónal Murray Ferris discusses his love of Steps- one of the biggest 90’s pop groups to come out of the UK and just how they influenced his current music tastes.
Back in 1997 when five gobby girls known as The Spice Girls were throwing their girl power all over us, Tony Blair was Prime Minister, we were all going mad for Tamagotchis, and people around the world were throwing on their cowboy boots and stetsons and joining the Line Dancing craze.
Steps were formed by Steve Crosby & Barry Upton and Tim Byrne. Their aim was simple: to get five fun and energetic 20 somethings to be the people to make Line Dancing cool with track ‘5,6,7,8’. After a series of open auditions in May of that year we met Claire, Faye, Lisa, H and Lee and they gained a respectable number 14 in the UK charts and a Number 1 in Australia with ‘5,6,7,8’. As a result of this decent success, they were signed to Jive Records and music mogul Pete Waterman (the man you have to thank for Kylie Minogue, Jason Donavan, and Bananarama) got involved. The original plan for the group was for them them to be a Line Dancing group with a choreographed routine to go with each single release. This did not bode well with the members and after Faye made her feelings clear about this Steps the Line Dancing group ceased to exist and they returned in 1998 with a cover of Bananarama’s song ‘Last Thing On My Mind’ which peaked at number 6 in the UK. They then went on to become one the biggest groups of their day, jet setting around the world, touring with Britney Spears and cranking up more and more hits- everything the group dubbed as ‘ABBA on speed’ touched turned to gold. Until the fateful day of December 26th 2001 and Steps split for, at the time, unknown reasons.
At the risk of embarrassing myself, the 16 year old me was very upset at this event. Up until that point Steps were pretty much my obsession. Every birthday and Christmas I would get their latest single and album from my family and I would not rest until I could do their routines with my eyes shut (a skill as a flourishing gay in the early 00’s helped me out a lot). They may have been cheesy and let’s face it ‘5,6,7,8 ‘ was an awful song (so awful when they reformed in 2012 they didn’t sing the song on tour and have publicly said they never liked it). For whatever reason, they were important to me. There had never been a group up until then who had resonated with me as much they did.
To this day, I can guarantee my mood will be instantly improved by putting on my Steps Spotify playlist. I thrived on their “we are cheesy and we don’t care” attitude and I found dancing to their routines at school discos the most fun I had ever had. They really helped me get comfortable with who I am and there was just something so infectious about them that no other pop group before or after really managed. They managed to make cheese acceptable and those who jumped on the bandwagon (mainly 4 piece and future Eurovision entrants Scooch) just didn’t have this knack. They were the perfect mix and even though their history has now been a little bit tainted with stories of jealously over lead vocals and scandals involving favouritism from management, they made such a mark on pop history that is still present today.
At the risk of embarrassing myself the 16 year old me was very upset at this event. Up until that point Steps were pretty much my obsession.
Often dubbed as the modern day ABBA, Steps knew who they were and had no shame about it. ABBA were unashamedly camp and cheesy and over 40 years later you cannot escape their hits whether it’s by watching ‘Mamma Mia’ after too many mince pies on Christmas Day or watching your Nan bust moves to ‘Dancing Queen’ at your cousin Barry’s wedding. Pete Waterman was extremely clever with his management of the group and the songs they released. My favourite Steps song ‘One For Sorrow’ was true ABBA, so much so I often find myself singing the lyrics of it to ABBA song ‘The Winner Takes It All.’
They really helped me get comfortable with who I am and there was just something so infectious about them that no other pop group before or after really managed.
It was only on the split of Steps that I began to discover “real” music. I was 16 when Steps split and while I enjoyed the music of groups like S Club I just couldn’t find someone that had the same appeal and I also wanted to fit in a little better. This caused me to transition to a more mature artists and I fell into the love of groups like Linkin Park and Evanescence and it was in the same year Steps split I discovered P!nk.
I remember when P!nk released her first album Can’t Take Me Home in 2000 and there was a strange story circulating that she was one of the original members of Destiny’s Child. I wasn’t a fan of the album and found the songs to be quite bland and not different from another female singer of the time. It was on the release of her follow up album Missundaztood that I fell in love. It was at this time I was really starting to come to terms with my sexuality and was having a few personal difficulties with school and relationships with my family and I found her album really spoke to me on a way that no other album had and it was hearing this album that has really formed my music taste as an adult. For the risk of sounding cheesy, P!nk’s second album really got me through a very dark time in my life and she is an artist I continue to adore and respect. She is such a fresh and honest artist in a world otherwise filled with X Factor and American Idol artists who have the talent to churn out a few number one’s before dropping off the face of the earth.
It was only on the split of Steps that I began to discover ‘real’ music. I was 16 when Steps split and while I enjoyed the music of groups like S Club I just couldn’t find someone that had the same appeal and I also wanted to fit in a little better.
In a similar way to Steps she has many people who have tried to reproduce her sound- Avril Lavigne being the best example. Avril is a good artist in her own right and across the years has produced some good songs but she is not in the league of P!nk and there are very few who are. Famously P!nk had a falling out with Christina Aguilera for cashing in on her determination to produce a personal album and her collaboration with Four Non Blondes lead singer Linda Perry– a feud that has since been resolved but also was the inspiration for some great album tracks that may or may not have been about Miss Aguilera. P!nk truly is an artist who has the potential for longevity and her song writing skills, musicality and conviction to her personal beliefs make her a once in a lifetime type of artist.
What is most important for me now is artists who love what they do and have a real passion for what they do and the music they produce but that being said there is always space for a bit of fun in music and don’t be afraid to inject a bit of cheesy pop in your life.
Follow Dónal on Twitter (@simplydonal)