Image Pop-UpS Club 7.
Described as a latter-day incarnation of the Monkees, S Club 7 was put together for a BBC television show aimed at the "tweener" marketudding pop music fans between the ages of eight and 12nd their slightly older siblings. Selected from auditions for their dancing, singing, and acting abilities, each member in the group's final lineup brought several years of show business experience to the project, even though the oldest member at the time was only 22. The members of S Club 7 were also selected for their distinctive personalities and photogenic appeal, as manager Simon Fuller freely admitted. "The girls are gorgeous, and the guys are cute. But they're not supermodels," he told the Dallas Morning News in July of 1999 shortly before the debut of S Club 7 in Miami on American television, adding, "Hopefully, they look brilliant, but they're kind of real, too. You can believe them. Not too gorgeous. Obviously not ugly, but that's because they have to be photographed every second. So they need to be comfortable in the way they look."
When he came up with the idea for S Club 7, Fuller had just parted ways with one of the most successful pop groups of the 1990s, the Spice Girls. He had put the group together and helped take them to the top of the charts around the world before the group abruptly dumped him to get a greater say in managing its own affairs. Reportedly, Fuller got the idea for a new teen band of boys and girls the very day he parted ways with the Spice Girls. Despite his track record, however, many observers were skeptical of his new project; although the teen-music market ruled both British and American airwaves, few mixed-gender pop groups had achieved any notable success since the heyday of Abba in the 1970s and Ace of Base in the mid-1990s.
After a series of auditions and rehearsals, Fuller finally settled on the S Club 7 lineup. Tina Barrett, the oldest member of the group at 22, was a professional dancer who had performed on shows such as the British institution Top of the Pops. Paul Cattermole came from a show-business family and had performed with the National Youth Music Theatre. Jon Lee, the youngest, had starred in the title role of the musical Oliver! and made appearances on popular British television shows such as Eastenders and Mill on the Floss. Bradley Macintosh was the son of musicians who themselves had scored some minor hits with the 1970s band the Cool Notes. Jo O'Meara, who would take over most of the lead vocals on the group's albums, had already enjoyed some success, including a hit single in Germany, with another pop band. Hannah Spearritt had acted in numerous stage and television productions as a child actress and later joined the National Youth Music Theatre. Rachel Stevens worked as a model and studied fashion before she turned her attention to a career in music.
Like the Monkees before them, S Club 7 was envisioned as a complete entertainment package, with albums to follow the hoped-for success of its first television series, S Club 7 in Miami. The show debuted on the BBC1 network in April of 1999. The simple plot group of friends ends up working various jobs at a crumbling Miami resort hotel after being signed as performersas merely an excuse for the S Clubbers to engage in horseplay and friendly banter before bursting into song and dance. The show was an immediate hit and became the number one-ranked children's show for the year in Britain. The group's first album, with songs featured on the show, was equally popular. The first single and theme song from the series, "Bring It All Back," went to number one and eventually the album went double-platinum in Britain. It sold more than 300,000 copies in America.
The band quickly became staples of the tween- and teen-oriented music press with regular columns and features in Top of the Pops magazine. Typical photo layouts portrayed the band in motorcycle gear, as mannequins, or having a dinner party, and the accompanying interviews revealed the members' thoughts on dating, maintaining friendships, and dealing with their parents. The group also signed numerous endorsement deals, including promotional work for Cadbury's chocolate, Quaker Oats cereal, and a clothing line for Woolworth's department store. Fuller explained the marketing aspect of S Club 7 in an interview with the Dot Music website in March 1999: "Pop music is about celebrity and not just about music anymore and people haven't quite figured it out yet. Pop stars should be icons. S Club 7 will take the extreme end of the pop industry that is dominating the charts and make it more accessible and broaden it out, taking it out of pop music and spreading it out across entertainment."
Its second BBC series, S Club 7 in L.A., continued the group's search for show business success as they worked a number of odd jobs to pay the rent in a beachside apartment. While this plot was just as implausible as the first, the series solidified the band's status as one of the leading pop groups in Britain. The new theme song, "Reach," hit number two on the pop charts and was followed by the hit "Natural" from 7, their second album. While S Club 7 may not have won too many critical plaudits September 2000 Q review concluded, "A chirpfest of summer love proportions which never leaves the confines of teen friendship, 7 is a brilliantly meaningless record that will make a lot of people happy"ts commercial success was undeniable. The group's profile got another boost when it won the British Record Industry Trust (BRIT) Award in 2000 for Best New Act.
In addition to filming a number of specials for the BBC network and the Fox Family Channel, the group shot a third television series in 2000-01, S Club Wild. Unlike the earlier shows, this one allowed the group's members to appear as themselves as they filmed documentaries on endangered animal species around the world. Meanwhile, the group enjoyed its biggest success in America when "Never Had a Dream Come True" started to climb the charts in early 2001; eventually, the track became S Club 7's first American top-ten hit. The group also announced plans for a live concert tour in Britain; before the tour got off the ground, however, S Club 7 faced its first major controversy and possible career setback.
On March 20, 2001, the three male members of S Club 7 were arrested after being found smoking marijuana near Trafalgar Square in central London. Taken into custody, police verified that the trio possessed a small amount of the drug. Given a caution (or warning) by the police under the Misuse of Drugs Act, they were soon released to face a media frenzy. The men offered an immediate apology to their fans, saying through a press release, as quoted in the London Times on March 22, 2001, "We have been very stupid, we know we've made a mistake and we're very sorry."
The male half of S Club 7 then conducted a round of television appearances ranging from MTV to morning chat shows to reassure the public of their remorse. Although the band lost its Quaker Oats endorsement deal, other advertisers stood by the band. Yet some observers were disturbed that a youth-oriented band would get into such trouble in the first place. As London Times columnist David Sinclair wrote on March 23, 2001, not long after the bust, "The problem is that while older fans (by which, God help us, I mean twelve-year-olds and above) may be capable of making up their own minds on the subject of whether or not to take drugs, the pre-ten-year-oldshich is where a group like S Club 7 is likely to find its most willing and enthusiastic audiencere at a uniquely impressionable age and stage In the same way that celebrities of all persuasions now tend to avoid smoking on TV or turning up drunk to receive an award, pop stars, and particularly the squeaky-clean brigade, do have a responsibility to keep their less salubrious habits out of the public eye."
With another S Club 7 series and album in the works, the controversy threatened to derail the group's success. The mid-2001 release of "Don't Stop Movin'" from Sunshine, the band's third album, seemed to be a make-or-break moment for the band. As Paul Cattermole told New Musical Express in a website interview, "[Our arrest] is a matter that's been dealt with. Obviously people are going to bring it up and talk about it but we feel we'd like to move on." He added, "It was stupid. As I've said we want to move on and the path's just greener. Hopefully this single will do well and we can get on with promoting that."
Fortunately, "Don't Stop Movin'" hit number one and became the band's biggest single to date. In addition to its continuing commercial success, the band received positive reviews for its first live concert performances on an 18-date tour throughout Britain. A London Times reviewer called the group's London appearance "a likable and contagiously spontaneous show," while the group itself appeared "in danger of giving manufactured pop a good name." The band still looked forward to matching its British success in North America, however. Even though S Club 7 had far outpaced rival teen-oriented acts from the United Kingdom and Ireland such as Steps, Westlife, and Five, Jon Lee told Billboard in a May 2001 profile of the British pop scene, "Our place isn't set [in America] Although things have improved loads, not a lot of British acts are making it there."
S Club, Interscope, 1999.
7, Interscope, 2000.
Sunshine, Interscope, 2001.
Billboard, May 19, 2001, p. 1.
Daily Variety, February 11, 2000, p. 10.
Dallas Morning News, July 22, 1999; October 27, 1999.
Marketing Week, September 20, 2001, p. 6.
Q, July 2000; September 2000.
Times (London), March 22, 2001; March 23, 2001; May 29, 2001.
Top of the Pops, April 2000, p. 16; July 2000, p. 78; November 2000, p. 76; December 2000, insert; January 2001, p. 24; April 2001, insert; January 2002, p. 14.
New Musical Express, http://www.nme.com/features/25745.htm (February 7, 2002).
"S Club 7 Total Entertainment Package," Dot Music, (February 7, 2002).
S Club 7 Official Website, http://www.sclub-usa.com/bios/home.html (February 7, 2002).
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