Ain't no anniversary like an S Club anniversary: Celebrating 20 years of an underrated pop sensation
Bring it all back to when pop music got a little more sunny with the release of S Club 7's peppy debut
Anne-iversaries is a bi-weekly column by writer Anne T. Donahue that explores and celebrates the pop culture that defined the '90s and 2000s and the way it affects us now (with, of course, a few personal anecdotes along the way).
In October of 1999, one of the greatest moments in music history happened: S Club 7 released S Club.
And yes, you read that right. The flawless debut album from the criminally underrated group went on to become their most successful record in Canada — partly because it was chock-full of jams, and partly because in some circumstances, Canadians really do have wonderful taste. Of all the truths that have emerged from our enduring celebration of the 90s and early-00s, the one we ignore most is the brilliance of S Club 7.
They were a group that championed no particular narrative; were the obvious product of pop mastermind Simon Fuller, who assembled the group immediately after being fired by the Spice Girls; and boasted a name that is as confusing to this day as it was in 1998. (As of this typing, the backstory behind dubbing the artists "S Club 7" has still never really been confirmed.) But that's exactly why S Club deserves its dues. Where artists like the Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC and Britney Spears were forced to toe the line with music that reflected particular mindsets and ideologies — girl power, non-threatening boys in love, whatever Ms. Spears's label and management forced her to be — S Club 7's message remained one of no real rhyme or reason. They were marketed as seven British best friends who lived together in Miami, could carry a tune and perform relatively easy choreography, and delivered music about what pop-consuming teens tended to care about — simple as that.
The thing is, without them, our musical landscape would look a lot different. Or, more specifically, it'd be a lot bleaker. After all, S Club 7 were a group defined by positivity and friendship and by championing a brand of peppy pop that laid the groundwork for their musical successors. Plus, they were a blank canvas on which you could project almost anything: you could apply their lyrics to love, to heartbreak, to pals and to parties (of the S Club sort) and they would make sense, which was a gift to wee baby millennials who tended to articulate their feelings via song verse (and usually on MSN Messenger).
Which isn't to say pop was miraculously reinvented come the arrival of S Club 7, nor will I claim that S Club dramatically changed the industry. But the group did do something valuable: they sang earnestly about topics like positivity ("Bring It All Back"), relationships ("Two In a Million") and weekends ("Friday Night"), and they asserted themselves as pals before anything else (I don't think many of us shipped anybody with each other). Plus, because they consisted of both young men and young women, they sang music that wasn't reserved for only one gender. Anybody could be anybody's baby, anybody could be the subject of a song and anybody could be half of somebody's two in a million. S Club's music was yours to define as you saw fit, even if you weren't sure what an S Club party even was. (Note: I still do not.) And that's pretty special in a 90s-era musical climate where there wasn't a lot of wiggle room for music about anything outside of wanting it That Way™ sung by a group of guys walking through an airplane hanger in slow motion. (Though, for the record, that song is a jam and I will always cherish slow-dancing to it with my crush Steve at grade eight graduation.)
I went out of my way to claim that I hated the band and only knew the lyrics and dance moves because everybody knew them and they were both inescapable. But in reality, I liked — and even needed — the slice of positivity S Club gave me.- Anne T. Donahue
Looking back, songs like "Bring It All Back," "S Club Party" and "Gonna Change the World" paved the way for jams like One Direction's cheery "Up All Night" and "Gotta Be You" (which makes even sense when you remember that 1D also got their start at the whim of a powerful music man and charmed audiences via television first). And S Club 7's earnest, "Let's go, team!" enthusiasm arguably also helped make the multiple soundtracks of High School Musical more digestible. Hell, even early Justin Bieber and Jonas Brothers can thank S Club 7 for helping usher in a subgenre of super-peppy, occasionally saccharine pop jams — particularly since Bieber's first single ("Baby") boasts the same feel as any S Club song that championed love without specifying anything outside of words that add up to easy-to-memorize lyrics. And to pop purists, this might make an act seem "bad" or less than, as if room for interpretation connotes a lack of thought or intention. But those purists are wrong: S Club didn't lack artistic intent. Instead, they cultivated a space in which listeners could consume something shockingly wholesome.
Of course, we know S Club 7 didn't last, and we know that pop music has gone on outgrow the formulas that rang in a millennium. But none of that negates the importance of S Club, a group as unique as they were memorable (read: very). In ninth and tenth grade, I went out of my way to claim that I hated the band and only knew the lyrics and dance moves because everybody knew them and they were both inescapable. But in reality, I liked — and even needed — the slice of positivity S Club gave me, and vowed that should I finally master the dance steps to "S Club Party," I'd win back the attention of Steve from eighth grade, who'd gone on to like girls who didn't tape music videos off their TV sets.
I mastered those steps, but won only my own self-satisfaction. But that's fine. Bringing it all back (to me) is exactly what S Club 7 taught me. Being one in a million was way more special, anyway.