14
Jul 14

MELANIE B ft MISSY ELLIOTT – “I Want You Back”

Popular38 comments • 3,352 views

#802, 26th September 1998

melb iwyb This ought to be something special: the most outspoken member of the biggest group in pop teams up with the most exciting new female MC for years. Instead, the first solo Spice No.1 finds Missy Elliott barely in attendance and Mel B flailing as she tries to carry a song that plays entirely to her weaknesses.

One issue – and it’s the one that seems to sum “I Want You Back”’s puffing mediocrity up – is that Mel B is a fairly woeful rapper. The opening minute is like an excruciating pro-celebrity golf match, with Mel and Missy trading rhymes and Mel struggling to find any variety or charisma against even the most softball lines from her bored-sounding co-star. “How can you ‘beep beep’ with no keys?” indeed.

The recorded evidence for Mel B as an MC at this point was half of the rap break on “Wannabe” – and in a mic duel with Geri Halliwell she just about made it through. But it’s hard for me not to feel that this single is evidence of a wider problem which affects all the Spice Girls in the abstract and Mel B very specifically: you have a group whose appeal is all about a bond between strong, individual characters. The individuals are readymade for solo success, but what replaces the bond? It’s telling that while we directly meet all but one Spice on Popular – an unheard-of spread of solo success for any band since the Beatles – they have a real struggle sustaining solo careers. The goodwill was there, but was the material?

In the specific case of Mel B, there’s another wrinkle. It is unusual for black women to be marketed as straightforward pop acts, particularly in the US. I have no inside knowledge of how Mel B’s debut was planned or of Mel’s own ideas about it. But she had the opportunity to launch her solo career with a collaboration with Missy Elliott on an American film soundtrack – an exciting idea and ideal exposure. It seems plausible that her label wanted her to stress her R&B and hip-hop side for that American audience – despite there being nothing to ever hint she could make that kind of music well. And so we have a song where pretty much any kids’ TV presenter in Britain could have made “I know it might sound wack” sound realer.

Almost nothing about this song meshes well. Vocally, Missy Elliott limits herself to the odd “Yowww!” after the intro, but she’s also behind the mixing desk, and gives “I Want You Back” the kind of tense, spartan production she’d been putting together with musical partner Timbaland. It’s not a brilliant example of the style by any means – it lacks the found sounds and micro-hooks that were making Timbaland’s R&B productions stand out so far in 1998, and it’s missing the thick, bubbling low end detail that made Missy Elliott’s own tracks so tactile. But it’s atmospheric, the kind of backing you might build a song about nagging internal tension around. Except Mel B poleaxes any idea of it being that song with the blunt, hurried, “in fact I want you back” at the end of her first verse. Ambiguity over.

And that’s the other baffling thing about this single. Of all the records to showcase Mel B – the wild one, remember, the Spice Girl most likely to terrify interviewers, jump on tables, raise girl power hell – this is a song about being rendered powerless by a good shag. Only once in the track do we get a hint of the Mel B we might have paid to see – the “drinkin’ all night at the barrrrrrr” break, where she sounds angry, and lairy, and – yes – maybe a bit scary. It’s also the point where the song best syncs with the mood of its own taut backing, and, no coindidence, it’s the moment she gets to sing.

3

Comments

  1. 1
    mapman132 on 15 Jul 2014 #

    The first “solo” Spice #1 and surprisingly it isn’t by Geri. Wikipedia claims this made #25 in the US, but I think this is bogus: I have no memory of it and billboard.com doesn’t seem to either. Hearing it for the first, and probably last, time, I pretty much agree with everything Tom says including the 3/10 mark.

    Side note: Surprisingly Missy Elliott has never had a US #1 as a credited performer, although she did make an uncredited appearance on a US #1 she produced that we’ll eventually encounter here.

  2. 2
    Mark G on 15 Jul 2014 #

    I think the major mistake that most ex-pop-band-members make when breaking out on their own is: It has to be better than people are expecting. This is why Robbie and Mel C did OK, and Gary B and Mel B didn’t.

    There was another thing, I remember seeing a Spice Girls rehearsal, and you can see they all worked very hard, whereas the TOTP performance of “Word Up” by Mel B was with herself sitting on a large throne on which she moved around from one side to the other while a dance group did the actual routine. It was too easy to slack off…

  3. 3
    weej on 15 Jul 2014 #

    As special as the SGs were, it was on their own slightly-shonky British terms. Mel is trying to imitate something she just sort of *isn’t* – and however hard she tries, there’s a better record elsewhere that she isn’t making – and a better one that Missy Elliott could be working on. Guess it was worth a try, though, just to hear some decent-ish R&B production to put the competition (especially the All Saints) in their place. A 5 for me, just for that.

    Incidentally this is both (a) the first number one I have no memory of at all since the 80s (there are many to follow) and (b) the occupier of the #1 position as I started university. These two things may well be connected.

  4. 4
    Doctor Casino on 15 Jul 2014 #

    Listening to this for the first time – feels very “album track.” Not bad as such, but just meant to be track 8 or 9 somewhere in the middle of an album with bigger, hookier, more fleshed-out songs. Certainly doesn’t make me eager to hear more from Mel B. How was Missy doing in the UK at this point? Was this useful to her, career-wise, or had she already made it?

  5. 5
    lonepilgrim on 15 Jul 2014 #

    very little to say about this that hasn’t been said already – it’s a bit dull, innit?

  6. 6
    punctum on 15 Jul 2014 #

    The first and greatest solo Spice number one, “I Want You Back” signified a swift, dazzling and (at the time) shocking fast track into pop’s future (much as another “I Want You Back” had previously done), and since it is also the only number one to date involving Missy, we should relish and reiterate the latter’s greatness. Every knowing body’s jaw fell open at “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” the year before, its calm rage, its wintry discontent, the resituating of Ann Peebles’ swamped lament into a mutter of chicka-chicka-exegesis, a deep and nearly fathomless well whose grief and complaints would immediately have been familiar to those who witnessed Vera Hall’s turn of the century plantation field hollers and yet also sounded more authentically 21st century than anything else around at the time; this shadow, this Timbaland, forming the other half of the greatest black woman/man relationship since Billie Holiday and Lester Young. Missy took no shit even if she knew well she was marooned waist-deep in it.

    And it all – and that might still mean “all” as in “all pop” – reached the extraordinary apex of its magic mountain with 2001’s “Get UR Freak On,” pop’s most unanswerable argument in favour of staying alive; avant and rootsy, downhome and alienified, there and here, yesterday and tomorrow, right here and never more right now. In some ways I am paradoxically relieved that “Get UR Freak On” stopped at #4 here since it is one of those records which would require my locking myself away for a whole weekend to do it adequate justice; like “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane” or “Wuthering Heights” it is one of those singular singles which offers a wholly formed and holy new world for popular music.

    The key elements are all there in “I Want You Back”; the frazzled but firm beats which stumble into purpose, the hint of the Other in the pointillistic Klezmer violin refrain, that “Overcome” major/minor seesaw again, the rock guitar crunch which remains properly in the middleground and is used with acute sparingness, those chicka-chickas everywhere like a battery farm embarking on imminent rebellion – and in the midst of it all Mel B, still giggling from the revelation of, and delivery from, her unexpected Spiceworld escape hatch, hating the man (or even the group: “I’m tired of you/Runnin’ over and tellin’ me what to do”) but she’s audibly smiling and she needs his catchy sickness: “I know it might sound wack/But damn-I-think-I want you back.” Missy alternately cheerleads and interacts through the rage (the sudden eruption of her exhausted “Sittin’ all night at the BAR!!!!!!!!!”) and the teasing, though all that is left at the end are the robotic “uh”s and then the beat, beating to itself alone. “I Want You Back” is sufficiently staggering to make one regret that the Spice Girls didn’t hire Missy and Timbaland to oversee their final album since that may conceivably have proved the greatest of all pop albums (and they had certainly previously hinted at potential moves in that direction; see “Naked,” the penultimate track on Spice). Viva the future forever, laughing and unapologetic. Damn, I think we got it back. 9

  7. 7
    JLucas on 15 Jul 2014 #

    While the unique alchemy of the Spice Girls was certainly something greater than the sum of its parts, what made them such a fascinating proposition as a girl group was how distinct and integral each of those parts was to the whole. Before them, girl groups tended to follow the Supremes mould of a lead singing ‘Diana Ross’ figure, and pretty but interchangable backing vocalists. With the Spice Girls you had five highly distinct but complementary personas, what was really interesting was how they took those personas and channeled them into their solo ventures.

    Tomboyish Mel ‘sporty’ C – the one everyone considered the most talented – reacted against her pop past and flailed for a while in unconvincing rock chick poses before finding a post Ray of Light sweet spot. Geri took the Spice with her and briefly looked like she might out-Kylie Kylie with a string of gay-friendly euro-flavoured hits. Sweet, quietly competent Emma segued pleasantly into melodic, radio-friendly MOR before hitting on the sixties revival just a couple of years before it exploded, while refined, slightly imperious Victoria had the right idea with dance music, but was hobbled by largely terrible material and the fact that she came across as the least relatable of the five.

    That Mel B would kick off the tidal wave of solo hits (eight number ones between them – not counting the two remaining group chart toppers, and twenty nine top ten hits), isn’t that surprising on the face of it – she was the only member of the group to rival Geri in force of personality, and she was the better, more distinctive singer of the two. But with the possible exception of Victoria, hers was also the least fruitful solo career. After this she scored just two more top ten hits, and she’s the only group member who never enjoyed a top ten solo album.

    By all accounts, I Want You Back more or less fell into her lap. Missy Elliott was a fan of the group and wrote the song specifically with Mel in mind. It was released as a one-off with no album especially in mind, and with Spice stock still extremely high, it naturally shot to number one.

    As Tom mentions above, although Mel seemed to be a sincere fan of RnB music, it wasn’t necessarily a natural fit for her. I like it more than he does, but the combination of Missy’s otherworldly beats and Mel’s flat, northern vowels (“Let me hit this one before I geeeeeeer”) is really quite the curious listen.

    Also, in 1998 the Spice audience was still young, and urban music was still quite a niche concern – Missy wouldn’t have a top ten hit under her own steam until 2001. The speed with which this song disappeared from the top forty after debuting at number one suggests it wasn’t really a crossover success.

    Mel’s next release – a Timbaland produced cover of ‘Word Up’ – another soundtrack single, replete with eye-wateringly expensive video – stiffed at #14, a disastrous showing for a Spice Girl in 1999. It wasn’t very good, and came over a year after this did. After that, there was another 12 month gap before she released another solo single – which is a strong indication of how scattershot her solo career was. I’ve always felt Mel B is among the least musically-driven of the girls, which accounts for the generally low quality of her material.

    The eventual release of her solo album was a complete disaster. After two expensive-sounding American singles, lead single proper ‘Tell Me’ was a cheap and self-indulgent dig at her ex-husband Jimmy Gulzar. It was also released in October 2000, just one month before the Spice Girls comeback single ‘Holler’. This was a marketing nightmare by any standards, and shows the general lack of commitment to the group at the time.

    ‘Tell Me’ charted at number four, and ‘Hot’ crashed out at #28 in the album charts. ‘Forever’ came and went, and was dead in the water by Christmas. Mel continued to plug her solo album through the new year with Feels So Good (#5) and Lullaby (#13), before low album sales and diminishing returns caused her to be the first Spice Girl to lose her record deal.

    She’s released sporadically since then – a disastrous second solo record in 2005 which ranks as one of the very worst albums I’ve ever heard, and charted at the dizzy heights of 453. Last year she released a random dance-single without record label backing – presumably because she was bored in between TV jobs.

    With a little more commitment and a strong guiding hand (Mel, while capable of being extremely warm and generous, is also notoriously bull-headed and arrogant, and many of the terrible decisions that marred her solo career can be attributed almost entirely to her own inability to listen to outside advice), there could have been something here. But at the end of the day, for this Spice Girl, making music always seemed little more than an incidental to the full time job of being Mel B.

  8. 8
    James BC on 15 Jul 2014 #

    Isn’t Mel B mentoring the X Factor this year? I expect she’ll make great TV but based on this, I wouldn’t look to her for advice on song choices or styles.

    I’m trying to think what sort of solo material would have suited her. Probably something with noisy, riotous production – the opposite of Missy’s minimal approach. Looking down the list of recent popular entries, maybe she could have got somewhere with Robbie Williams-esque material. A female Robbie with all the cheek and only 20% of the smugness.

  9. 9
    thefatgit on 15 Jul 2014 #

    I can only second Marcello in saying how wonderful it was to hear “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” fresh out of the box, so to speak. It was the click before the light came on. A record so much more forward looking, so much more toned, honed and focused than anything else around at that time. But I have to agree with Tom, that “I want You Back” pales in comparison. The right components are all in place, but still, the watch refuses to tick.

  10. 10
    AMZ1981 on 15 Jul 2014 #

    It was fairly obvious at the time that the main conflict in the Spice camp was between Mel B and Geri, even if nobody was admitting it. The four remaining Spices were trying to give a business as usual attitude, even though the solo singles were already beginning. One can’t blame Scary Spice for striking while the iron was hot.

    But even at the time this looked like a flop. It got to number one (the only solo Spice debut to do so – Geri, Victoria and Emma all made number two while Mel C could only make three or four depending on whether the Bryan Adams collaboration counts) but was one of the few number one singles in the second half of 1998 not to manage a six figure sale. Given that her group had managed almost 200,000 more than that with a six month old album track and that the other number one singles of the time were generally selling to the same target audience this was a big come down. I listened to it just now for the first time in ages – to say it has aged atrociously is an understatement.

    Just answering one question above, Missy Elliot wasn’t quite a household name in the UK at the time and her peak year (2002 – three top ten singles) was still a way away.

  11. 11
    PurpleKylie on 15 Jul 2014 #

    I actually forgot about this song until today! I have no desire to revisit it, I don’t remember being overly fond of it at the time (which would go to explain a big part of how I forgot about it), probably one of the least-interesting Solo Spice efforts from the turn of the century.

  12. 12

    [admin note: hi jlucas i deleted two of yr duplicate repeat-posted comments — i assume an artefact of the ever-more aggravating slowness to update the cache — hope the version left is the most correct]

  13. 13
    Richard B on 15 Jul 2014 #

    “Ambiguity over.” If you listen to the ‘Radio Edit’, yes indeed, but my CD single has a slightly longer ‘Soundtrack Version’ with a spoken-word coda in which Mel changes her mind. Relieved and cackling, she finally decides that, actually, she really doesn’t want him back at all – kissing him off with a dismissive “See ya!”

    It’s a fun moment, and gives the song much of the lift it needs. I assume this sort of playfulness was considered far too Spicy for a single meant to establish Mel as a credible solo artist. A shame.

    Apols, can’t find a working link to that version, but I haven’t looked very hard. Perhaps someone else can oblige.

  14. 14
    Izzy on 15 Jul 2014 #

    7: no.453, amazing! How many sales does that translate to, I wonder? Even Robin Thicke’s recent disaster still charted hundreds of places higher.

    (and how do you find out what’s no.453 anyway?!)

  15. 15
    Andrew Farrell on 15 Jul 2014 #

    #8: As we’ve seen recently, a gobsmackingly terrible breakout single is no barrier to reforming yourself as an elder figure on the X-Factor.

  16. 16
    JLucas on 15 Jul 2014 #

    #13 – Yes I was going to mention the soundtrack version! It totally breaks character with the minimal RnB vibe the song was going for, but it’s much closer to the spirit of Scary Spice.

    There’s also a funny spoken work section in the album version of Feels So Good, in which the sultry vibe is once again slightly undermined by her thick Yorkshire delivery.

    “Each passing deeeeh we grow stronger still
    Like the afterteeeehste of a bitter pill
    Keep all the hurt and peeehn far away from me
    Warm me in the glow of yer sunneh exstasy”

    No wonder Avid Merrion found her ripe for parody on Bo Selecta.

  17. 17
    Brendan F on 15 Jul 2014 #

    looks like I need to comment before it’ll let me vote again

  18. 18
    Richard B on 15 Jul 2014 #

    #16 – I think we have ample evidence from Mel’s contributions to the Spice Girls and Spiceworld – and TV talent shows – that she’s at least as funny a comedian as Leigh Francis. More evidence to come soon, I expect.

  19. 19
    Kat but logged out innit on 15 Jul 2014 #

    Mel B was great as a guest judge on X Factor the other year.

    Don’t recall much about IWYB I do remember boggling at her ‘Word Up’ cover on TOTP.

    Why would you do that, Mel?

    Why?

  20. 20
    Kinitawowi on 15 Jul 2014 #

    The Now! 41 edition of this song clocks 3:25. I’ve just counted it all up; about 1:30 of it is that woeful chorus and 0:40 is the pointless meandering at the end, leaving barely a minute of possibly listenable song.

    I understand the temptation to see this as a triumph for Missy Elliott, but without Mel B to sell it this wouldn’t have got near the top spot. Dreadful.

    2.

  21. 21
    iconoclast on 15 Jul 2014 #

    One and a half steps above “entirely unremarkable”; is rescued from complete forgettability by the unusual atmosphere, but isn’t interesting or exciting enough to go very far. FIVE.

  22. 22
    Chelovek na lune on 15 Jul 2014 #

    I am in two minds about this one: on the one hand it is so stripped down, the production and strings so taut, that it becomes almost hypnotic in its repetition around a fairly limited theme and range. (We can go into Bristolian trip hop -we can maybe recall some Gary Numan too, to find similar impact) And a bit of character of both performers does come through. But, only bit – but is that Missy not wishing to overpower the lead named act, as she so easily could? On the other hand (and related to all the above), it has a fairly limited range and theme, almost too much so – there is a small amount of surprise, a limited change of direction, and then it is back to the old routine, and while the repetition and simple structure of the lyrics create that hint of hypnosis, they also count against it becoming a fully blown song. Further Against: Mel B has a better singing voice (what do we reckon, the 3rd best of the Spices) than this track (or to be honest, most of her solo career) gets to show.

    When all is said and done it is all as refreshing as a shower, and its relative brevity aids matters (though I too would love to hear this soundtrack version….). Six-cum-seven i think. We Take Mystery (to bed)

  23. 23
    Cumbrian on 16 Jul 2014 #

    I feel like this was a bit of a missed opportunity and might well have been something really exciting had the credits been turned around – i.e. it was Missy Elliott feat. Mel B. If Mel did the chorus as is and interjected in the back of verses built around Missy Elliott’s rapping, I’d probably be much higher on this than I am. As is, whilst the backing is winningly spare and hypnotic, I would agree that it’s also pretty one note – especially as Missy isn’t really used heavily at all – more contrast would be welcome. That backing though…OK it’s not as good as Get Ur Freak On (but not much is) yet I reckon it does lift this song out of the doldrums I think. I’m toying with voting for it in the year end poll – still a few weeks to decide on that though.

  24. 24
    tm on 16 Jul 2014 #

    I had no idea this existed. Indeed, if you’d ask me who the only Spice Girl not to score a solo #1 was, I’d probably have said Mel B.

    Agree with Punctum on Get Ur Freak On: a song formed and inhabited its own sonic world and that seemed to be everywhere during my first year of university: indie clubs, dance clubs, student cheese nights, they’d all shoehorn it in and nobody minded.

  25. 25
    tm on 16 Jul 2014 #

    Just watched this on youtube. How 1998 is that video?!

    3 seems very harsh when the Manics’ snoozefest got a 7! (and I’m saying that as a fan!). I’m pretty much with Chelovek @ 22 here: nice twitchy, moody minimalist groove but Mel herself is surprisingly weak and the opening rap sounds like two music teachers trying to spice (no pun intended) up a dull assembly!

    6: halfway between Tom’s 3 and Punctum’s 9.

  26. 26
    Tom on 16 Jul 2014 #

    I’d still defend a low mark here. I think the feebleness of the performance spoils the backing way more than the backing rescues the performance. And even as backing, while I think it’s fine, it’s not top-tier Timbaland or Missy – by this point Timbaland alone, not even counting his imitators, had put out “Pony”, “Hot Like Fire”, “Up Jumps The Boogie”, “Love 2 Love U”, “The Rain” and all the rest of Supa Dupa Fly, “One In A Million”, “Can We”, “Are You That Somebody?”, and on the very soundtrack this is from we have Bunnied Bootylicious Band’s “Get On The Bus”. The time for free passes just for the sound is over, I think – with a competent lead and this backing I’d have gone higher on this, definitely. But not sky-high.

  27. 27
    Tommy Mack on 16 Jul 2014 #

    Hmm… Fair point, I guess that a) the low mark and terrible intro lowered my expectations for the rest of the song and b)as a very fairweather RnB listener, I’m less hip to the history of the sound and the gap between the good stuff and the merely decent.

    A 6 is clearly too high, I can’t actually imagine replaying this much.

  28. 28
    Tommy Mack on 17 Jul 2014 #

    Also, I think as a musician (and I use the word loosely) I’m more likely to lose myself in the backing if the vocal isn’t holding my attention (or maybe it’s that those who are intrigued by instrumental sounds are more likely to become musicians) – this, I guess is why lots of musicians like music unpopular with non-musicians (in the same way hairdressers often have terrible haircuts and fashion designers often wear terrible clothes) – they’re absorbed in the detail of it and not paying as much attention to the overall aesthetic: the wood vs. the trees etc. I don’t like much muso music but then I’d say I’m pretty popist for a guitar player – perhaps because I also sing (and I use the word extremely loosely here!) so I’m more concious than my band mates of trying to make concise song shapes rather than a big nebulous jam.

  29. 29
    Steve Williams on 18 Jul 2014 #

    I actually bought this single, but that doesn’t mean a great deal as I used to buy loads of singles in those days. It sounded quite exciting at the time, I think, and indeed I’m more familiar with the CD version with the “punchline” but it’s probably right to say it sounds pretty wimpy these days.

    One theory I always had about solo Spice songs, which is perhaps more pertinent to Geri’s stuff but I’ll mention it here, is that one of the problems is that they’re on them too much. It certainly applies to Geri and Victoria, probably Mel as well, in that the songs always have to be about them, and they totally live or die based on their own popularity. They could never do something like Can’t Get You Out Of My Head because they could never be so anonymous on their own record. It reminds me of when Another Point Of View by DB Boulevard first appeared on the radio and everyone went “Oh, is that Geri Halliwell singing?”. It wasn’t, but it was the kind of thing Geri perhaps should have been doing to enjoy a bit more crossover success, rather than songs about being Geri or cover versions of songs that Geri could totally smother and which appeal to Geri’s fans and absolutely nobody else.

    I did like Feels So Good, mind.

  30. 30
    JLucas on 18 Jul 2014 #

    #29 I think that’s a very good point. I also think that’s why Emma Bunton and Mel C had the most lengthy solo careers (Mel C had a major drop-off after Northern Star but found success in Europe and has carved out a loyal fanbase almost removed from nostalgic Spice fans, where Emma is the only Spice Girl whose second solo album outsold the first). They were both quieter personalities within the group than Mel B and Geri, so they came with less baggage.

    We’ll discuss them both in due time, but the way they both dealt with shedding their Sporty & Baby personas is quite interesting I think. Mel C went too far in the other direction at first and came across as a try-hard, but ultimately won people over with her talent. Emma was more moderate, she never tried to do a very conscious ‘Baby grows up’ record, but she definitely projected a more mature image. Hooking up with Tin Tin Out (then best known for their work with The Corrs), covering hippy-pop classics by Edie Brickell and Zoe etc felt much more organic than Mel C getting a buzzcut and covering Anarchy in the UK, let alone Geri actively ‘killing’ Ginger in her first solo video…

  31. 31
    Tommy Mack on 19 Jul 2014 #

    An aside: was she ever again referred to as Melanie B? Mel B or Melanie Brown, yes but I don’t recall Melanie B.

  32. 32
    chelovek na lune on 19 Jul 2014 #

    @32 Don’t think so, but “Word Up” was credited to Melanie G, so she didn’t switch back to full-on informality immediately…

  33. 33
    Ed on 23 Jul 2014 #

    I wish I could disagree with all the negative reactions here: Missy Elliott is one of my great musical heroes, for reasons Punctum sets out brilliantly @6. I was at the Latitude festival at the weekend, and as I was walking past one of the artisanal burger vans, the crew’s sound system started playing ‘Get UR Freak On’. It had a thousand times more excitement than anything I had seen on stage.

    Everyone has off days, though, even heroes, and this is one of Elliott’s.

    The video is directed by Hype Williams, the only pop promo director who could reasonably be described as a genius, but it is a very disappointing effort from him, too. All that green makes it look as though they had some ambitious chromakeying planned, and then ran out of money, or interest.

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Hx1krWk-kFI

  34. 34
    Ed on 23 Jul 2014 #

    @4, @10 Following up on the question of “how big was Elliott in the UK in 1998?”, the answer is commercially not very: the previous year ‘Supa Dupa Fly’ only made it to #124 in the UK, Wikipedia says, when it reached #3 in the US.

    She was uber-hip, though. Simon Reynolds, who I would take as a good indicator, picked Timbaland, Missy and their set as his top favourite things of 1997.

  35. 35
    Ed on 23 Jul 2014 #

    A rather sad piece here on what Elliott has been doing for the past nine years: http://www.vulture.com/2014/06/history-missy-elliott-9-years-away.html

  36. 36
    Tom on 23 Jul 2014 #

    Yeah, I definitely was aware of the fact that this stuff constituted a “scene” of sorts, names to watch for, etc. thanks to the Reynolds write-ups in eg The Wire – but before that her early videos with Hype Williams were so distinctive though that I think they cut through to a greater degree than the chart placings might suggest. My first memory of her is being in a pub in Notting Hill which had MTV on, looking up from the comic I was reading and seeing the extraordinary “Supa Dupa Fly” video – even with the sound down it was like something from another planet. The fact that it stayed that way when I heard the song was, of course, extra magnificent.

  37. 37
    ciaran on 24 Jul 2014 #

    In Baby Jump territory here. This was never even hip at the time and unlike virtually every other Number 1 back then this never came up in any discussion.

    Despite being hip hop royalty I’m not really familiar with much of Missy Elliott’ work and this is not a good place to start.

    Mel B is out of her depth here. Not in the slightest bit convincing and then to release the horror of What’s up a year later.Next!

    3

  38. 38
    Rory on 31 Jul 2014 #

    After enjoying the Spiceworld singles more than I’d expected, I had high hopes for this, but Mel B’s vocals sound underdone, and there isn’t enough in the backing to save the song for me – though to be fair, it has grown on me a little with repeated listens. 4.

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