1998 Revisited, Part 4: Aqua, Five, Billie Piper…

October 17, 2008

And so viewers, we reach the climax of our four part revisit to 1998. Seeing us out of our look back this week at the year where Bill Clinton lied like a rug about Monica Lewinsky and suckers for a love story everywhere weeped over Leo and Kate in “Titanic”, are a quintet of suitably cheese-tastic pop acts from this year who by all accounts were the biggest in their field, and one of them, rather like several others that year, was from Denmark, and that was the act who were the Marmite band of the year – Aqua. Chances are you were either jumping for joy upon hearing their Mattel bothering, plastic fantastic worldwide #1 smash “Barbie Girl” upon it’s release in November the previous year, or you were grinding your teeth in agony.


Still, it didn’t stop Lene, Rene, Claus and Soreen from topping the charts a further two times over the course of 1998 – first with their follow up single to “Barbie Girl”, February’s “Doctor Jones” (UK #1, video above), and then their rather good song from the soundtrack to Gwyneth Paltrow flick “Sliding Doors” – May’s “Turn Back Time” (UK #1), both of which were on debut album “Aquarium”. However, July’s “My Oh My” (UK #4) and November’s “Good Morning Sunshine” (UK #15) both failed to make the impact their predocessing chart toppers did, and after two more hits in 2000 with “Cartoon Heroes” (UK #6) and “Around The World” (UK #27) from their flop second album “Aquarius” the band appeared to fade from view. Or so they would have us believe, as they have since announced a reunion tour of Europe and the Far East, as well as a forthcoming greatest hits due out before this year’s end.


Brought to us by the father/son team of Bob and Chris Herbert, the same management team that were the first victims of girl power in the early days of the Spice Girls when aforementioned Spices walked out on them for their deal with Simon Fuller at 19 Management, Ritchie, J, Sean, Scott and Abs, otherwise known as Five, arrived on the popworld and filled in the big boyband spot left vacant at RCA/BMG Records by CBBC favourites North and South (who were dropped this year) with their eponymous, chart topping debut album in this year after a string of successful hits, which they repeatedly entered the top 5 with during 1998.

First, at the tail end of the previous year, was “Slam Dunk Da Funk” (UK #4, November 1997). Next was “When The Lights Go Out” (video above, UK #3, February 1998), swiftly followed by July’s “Got The Feeling” (UK #3), September’s Joan Jett sampling “Everybody Get Up” (UK #2) and November’s “Until The Time Is Through” (UK #2). However, like with All Saints, rumours of inter band strife continually dogged not only their public being, but also cemented their reputation as pop’s “bad guys”, something that would manifest further the following year after an alleged punch up with Westlife in a bar in Dublin.


However, this wasn’t the only drama surrounding Five – so too, was Ritchie’s relationship with a young lady who quickly became a hate figure for their target audience almost as quickly as she had become a figure of adulation (see her boo-ridden performance at that year’s Smash Hits Poll Winners Party for evidence). Hailing from Swindon, then ex-Sylvia Young graduate/former Smash Hits ad girl/Madonna devotee Billie Piper came out of nowhere to become the youngest female singer ever to top the UK charts with her debut #1 “Because We Want To” in July at the tender age of 15. Again, like Aqua, the song divided the nation – you either loved the playground chants of “Why you gotta play that song so loud?/BECAUSE WE WANT TO, BECAUSE WE WANT TO!” or you detested it with a passion.

However, the future Rose Tyler, assistant to Doctor Who, earned herself four more chart smashes off her debut top 20 album “Honey to the B” over the course of 1998 – October’s also chart topping “Girlfriend” (UK #1), December’s “She Wants You” (video above, UK #3, which was backed with a legendary cover of Wham’s “Last Christmas”), and finally, the album’s title track which also reached the top 3 the following March, and would then, thanks to recent chart rules about any song being eligible to chart if available for download, then creeped back into the chart in January last year at UK #17 thanks to a campaign by Chris Moyles’ breakfast show on BBC Radio 1 (for our overseas fans, that’s a bit of a big deal, depending on whether or not rasping beer bellies first thing in the morning are your thing or not.)


Girlbands and the world of clothes and fashion seemed to go ever more predominantly hand in hand in 1998. Whilst Posh Spice was tarting it up in a little Gucci dress, and All Saints were moodying it out in combats and Doc Martens, over in the corner marked “B*Witched” it was all about the denim for the four young girls from Ireland who set chart records over the course of 1998. Edele, Keavy (sisters of Boyzone’s Shane Lynch), Lindsay and Sinead saw their self dubbed brand of “Irish hip hop pop” take them to the top of the charts between May this year and March the following year a record four times.

First was “C’est La Vie” (UK #1, May 1998), then Rollercoaster (video above, UK #1, September 1998), then the heartfelt “To You I Belong” (UK #1, December 1998) and finally, “Blame It On The Weatherman” (UK #1, March 1999), all of which were from their self titled debut album and all of which came accompanied with a different style of denim for each of their videos. However, by the time their ill fated, Afro-celt inspired second album, 1999’s “Awake and Breathe” was released, the denim had gone, as had the hits, and Westlife had overtaken their chart record by 7 UK #1 debuts. Proof the charm of the Irish really does (and occasionally doesn’t) work wonders viewers.


But meanwhile, fashion wasn’t high on the agenda at all of 1998’s other big new girlband, sisterly, jester hat and goggle wearing trio Cleo, Zainam and Yonah, otherwise known as favourites of Madonna, Cleopatra. First coming to industry attention after winning a talent contest at Notting Hill festival in 1995, bigwigs at Warner Music took notice and had soon signed the girls up to record a debut album, and then go onto sign a US deal on the aforementioned queen of pop’s now ex-record label, Maverick.

The first fruit of their labour from their debut, catchphrase titled UK top 20 album “Comin’ Atcha” was February’s “Cleopatra’s Theme” which hit the top 3, to then be followed by two more top tenners with “Life Ain’t Easy” (video above, UK #5, May 1998) and an inspired cover of Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” (UK #7, August 1998). However, in spite of a successful Monkees style TV show on ITV1 the following year, and after flopping with their fourth single, the following February’s “A Touch of Love” (UK #29) and their comeback single, “Come and Get Me” which hit a dismal UK #27 in July 2000, they were all but no more. They did however, reunite for ITV1’s reunion themed reality series “Hit Me Baby One More Time” in 2005, only to be beaten by the likes of Tony Hadley and Tiffany, who would go onto win the show.

And that, as they say viewers, is that. Starting soon will be the next four part Revisited, where we’ll be going back to the more recent past as we relive what was one of the best years for pop so far this century – 2005. Make sure you don’t miss this one, it’s gonna be huge.




  1. I remember reading about the Richie5/Billie saga in her autobiography and being quite stunned and floored at how intense some of the hatred was towards her by 5IVE’s fans. A lot of it actually got incredibly frightening for the poor girl…

  2. Cleopata’s ‘A Touch Of Love’ went to number 24. And ‘I Want You Back’ was number 4. They had worldwide hits 2 number 1 tv series as well

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