Jul 14

BILLIE – “Girlfriend”

Popular35 comments • 2,682 views

#804, 17th October 1998

billiegf “Because We Want To” worked by leaning on Billie Piper’s energy and nascent dramatic flair rather than her singing. For “Girlfriend” her voice is more central, which is a problem – it’s a mushy, gobstopper-mouthed instrument, prone to sliding words together so that every line sounds shrugged through. It makes “Girlfriend”’s chorus – Billie asking a guy out – sound really grudging and reluctant. The awkwardness doesn’t end with the vocals, either – like Peter Andre’s hits, “Girlfriend” is professional songwriters trying for cool and ending up with a supermarket own-brand version of R&B, clumpy and thin.

More by luck, I imagine, than judgement, those songwriters have hit on a theme which actually justifies some of this clumsiness. The song is playing with the idea of contrasting how easy romance is in your dreams and how difficult and embarrassing actually doing something about it is. There’s something authentically teenage about Billie’s yeah-whatever-doesn’t-matter-really-honestly-forget-I-said-anything diffidence here, which stops me hating the single. But it’s also just quite an unpleasant, nagging sound to be hanging around your ear.

One final thought: how much of a missed opportunity was Billie’s pop career? The next time we’ll encounter her, she’ll have a very different sound – and the record that made it inevitable she’d adopt that sound hits US radio just as “Girlfriend” begins its slide down the British charts. Listen to the earnest, gawky “Girlfriend” and the concept of Billie becoming a global success seems ridiculous. But records performed by teenagers, bought by teenagers, about the emotional and physical firepit of early teenage life are on the verge of conquering the pop world. I’m not going to talk in depth about Britney yet, or the wave of American teenpop stars that followed, but it’s worth keeping them in mind as a contrast here. The idea behind making Billie a pop star is with hindsight a canny one: the material and performer weren’t up to the job.



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  1. 26
    Stuart Webb on 21 Jul 2014 #

    My main memory of this is Live and Kicking, as part of their (IIRC, the name changed a few times) Cloud 9 feature, arranged Billie to come sing this at a surprise birthday bash for a small boy.

    As he was too young to appreciate the idea of having Billie Piper in his living room he spent the whole VT looking mortified that all his friends were going to see him having this music that only yucky girls could possibly like being mimed badly at him on national television.

  2. 27
    Vanja on 21 Jul 2014 #

    This reminds me so much of Robyn’s first hit (Do You Really Want Me – not sure if it was ever big outside of Sweden though). They were both destined for greatness, just not when they were 16!

  3. 28
    Steve Williams on 22 Jul 2014 #

    Thrilled at the reception Honey To The Bee is getting here, I think it’s a brilliant song. She Wants You suffered from coming out too close to Christmas when there were loads of other records vying for attention, plus also Billie had rather alienated the more rabid parts of her fanbase by going out with Richie from Five, to much jealousy, which also saw her booed at the Smash Hits Awards.

  4. 29
    ciaran on 24 Jul 2014 #

    I cant say i’m that fond of HTTB really. The interest in Stage 1 of Billle had waned considerably by then. Had a similar vibe to Your Still The One by Shania Twain for some reason and was sick of that by early 99.

    Girlfriend was a disappointent after the joyful BWWT. An R+B like sound but like Another level before them not really convincing. 4

    The video for this is just pure 1998 though. Combats, warehouse setting, trainers, skateboarding, vests. Probably the nearest thing to it by some amazing coincidence is Slam Dunk (Da Funk) by Five! At least here Billie looks a lot more sophisticated than in the video for BWWT.

  5. 30
    punctum on 25 Jul 2014 #

    Once again proving that where the boys who try sprightly midtempo R&B rarely end up as men – Peter Andre and Another Level sound so damned earnest, so desperate for credibility, that it undoes them – the girls just smile to themselves and each other and get on with it, “Girlfriend” is an exuberant sparkle of hopeful commitment or just the hope for communication. Around twinkling contours of scratches and distorted samples – mainly Billie on the other end of the ‘phone asking “Are you all alone?” – “Girlfriend” lights up like a well-funded Christmas church on the first Sunday in December, Billie’s surface confidence convinces herself enough to think that she has already won him over (“So I told my friends that I found a man”), and after hearing “you’re claiming you’re a certified man” – followed by a savour of her lips around the concept of “certified” – she skips into a bright, modified call-and-response children’s chorus: “Do you have a girlfriend?/You’re looking real cool/Can I have your number?” Her fantasy stops just short of sinister – “But I pictured us alone/And you’re kissing me in ways I can’t tell,” which she answers with an already-halfway-to-orgasm extended “no” (question mark optional) – but she betrays little doubt that she will win him; observe that emphatic, prematurely triumphant snarl of “You’re the one” halfway through. Feisty in a way which makes me think of Feist rather than bad ITV drama characters, “Girlfriend” bounces, scrapes, kisses and swings in a manner which confirms that the girls will rule; and in 1998, they certainly did. 7

  6. 31
    C on 27 Jul 2014 #

    “Honey to be Bee” was wonderful. Made my old band cover it.

    Met Billie once.
    1999 or 2000 or so, I think, when I was invited along to a Robbie Williams event in Boston (this was his big push in the States). Was chatting with her and she was talking about how she had just gotten a guitar (i think. maybe piano?) and wanted to write more for her next album. I was like “do it! how could that be a bad idea?”. haha
    As we’re talking, all of these super bright tv cams start closing in. Turns out they’re dragging Robbie over to meet her (was apparently their first meeting. IMPORTANT STUFF). They start interviewing the two of them, with me standing between… with me quickly realizing how unwanted I was in this footage.
    Ever so slowly, I shuffled away.
    Like I had something better to do.

  7. 32
    Rory on 31 Jul 2014 #

    The video for this at least minimises the feeling that we’re watching Billie Piper’s Doctor Who audition, unlike its predecessor; but I can’t say I like the song as much as BWWT, and I wasn’t a huge fan of that. 4.

    “Honey to the Bee”, though, is good stuff.

  8. 33
    Weej on 6 Aug 2014 #

    It’s funny how I never noticed Billie’s accent until reading this thread, and now I can’t un-notice it. There’ something very Wiltshire-Hampshire (where I was living in 1998) about the way she says “they’re” and “girlfriend” and the combination with the occasional faux-americanism “…ways I can’t tewwl” grates a bit. This sort of light entertainment hip-hop never really worked, especially when there’s a playground chant where the chorus should be.

    As for Honey To The Bee, yeah, it’s not bad, but I’ve never been able to fathom why it’s *quite* so well-regarded – it’s lovely enough, but ultimately just a bit too slight to leave much of a lasting impression, and some of her vocal tics are present there too – “a looove that’s mine” for example.

  9. 34
    Ronnie on 11 Aug 2014 #

    Count me in with Punctum on this one. Four weeks later, I find that this is one of the favorite songs I’ve discovered through Popular — this is actually really great, if admittedly undercut from some clumsy vocals from Billie which Tom accurately diagnosed.

    Wish I could say the same for “Honey for the Bee” but after the effervescence of “Because We Want To” and “Girlfriend,” can’t say it strikes me as anything but a horrible disappointment. Girl is not remotely convincing on that song.

  10. 35
    DanH on 7 Mar 2015 #

    The intro makes me hum “No More I Love You’s”. Only notable part of this song…

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