The 90s in the British charts are topped and tailed by two mighty surges of Europop. The first was a club music – a polyglot of house, hip-hop and rave heralded by Snap! and epitomised by 2 Unlimited and Culture Beat. The second, led by Aqua, was also designed for dancing, but as much in school discos as tourist nightspots. It was a music built on gleeful gimmickry and seemed to sell mostly to the continent’s kids. And for a few months in the Summer of 1999 the Vengaboys were its hottest ticket.
The two waves of Europop have something in common: neither are remotely bothered about looking cool. There has been lots of impeccably high-fashion European music, of course, but when you’re pitching Esperanto pop at a market that’s a patchwork of cultures and languages, the nuances of style are sometimes the first casualty.
Not that the Vengaboys needed style. They had a bus.
Vengaworld, on first impression, is a world in which the Vengaboys get on the Vengabus and go party: it has a perfect cartoon simplicity that matches the cheerful inanity of “Boom Boom Boom Boom”. The most enjoyable touches on the single are its purely dumbest – the chorus, of course, but also the keyboard-preset “Woo! Woo Woo!” bits in the breakdown, and the robodude who pops up to announce “Ven-ga-boys-are-back-in-town” and “Let’s-have-some-fun”. In the video, he wears a sparkly red cowboy hat.
Ah, though, the video, one look at which causes me to hastily revise any generalisation I might have had about the Vengaboys and their audience. This is bubblegum music, no doubt, but hardly a kids’ cartoon. Instead it’s lap dances, topless burlesque, champagne foam spurting over bare thighs. What this Vengasmut makes me realise is that my perception of two Europops was an Anglocentric fiction. No matter who was buying them here, the Vengaboys are firmly in the same line as 2 Unlimited, Doop or “Mr Vain”. They’re trashy, trans-continental club pop, but with the sometimes wild invention of the early 90s switched for a need to keep things as simple and catchy as possible. The appeal to kids is a side-effect of this more ruthless approach. And it does its job, though the more you contemplate this feat of pop efficiency, the more it skirts the line between the childlike and the charmless.