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Mar 15

BILLIE PIPER – “Day And Night”

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#860, 27th May 2000

billie day It had been thirteen months since Billie Piper’s last single. It might as well have been a hundred and thirteen: “Day And Night” was part of a standard pop career cycle, but the world of pop had upended itself, and the hesitant returns of the class of ‘98 underlined that – second albums that suddenly felt like desperate comeback attempts. The chunky sound of post-Spice British bubblegum – good-natured, amateurish, playground-ready – stood no chance against the all-conquering Cheiron sound, which powered not just Britney but the three biggest boybands in the world.

For Billie, B*Witched, Five, and the Spicers themselves, this was an existential crisis. We’ve seen, in sometimes gruesome detail, the solo Spice Girls try to find a viable sound, and their difficulties were mirrored across British pop, which suddenly found itself sidelined and playing catch-up. Anything was worth a try – country, UK garage, vocodered disco-house, R&B, indie rock… in the face of such panic, some decided just to swim with the tide. If Cheiron were unavailable – or unaffordable – perhaps there were other songwriting and production teams lurking in darkest Scandinavia?

So “Day And Night” is a slightly inauspicious debut for Stargate, a production get-up Popular will be meeting a lot. Their glory years are well ahead of them: in May 2000, the nearest thing they’ll have to a muse is twelve, selling clothes on a Barbadian market stall with her crack addict Dad. But early Stargate sets the tone for later Stargate: they are – to be polite – chameleonic, rarely trendsetters or experimenters, with few obvious dots you can join between their many hits. On “Day And Night” they go for a shameless lift of Max Martin’s style: galumphing chords all over the place, Billie tasked with Britney-esque redlined melodrama, and an overall vibe not far from “Backstreet’s Back”.

It’s not a perfect match – “Day And Night” front-loads its pleasures instead of building to them, so it wears out its welcome far faster – but it’s effective enough that I feel bad for not liking it more. Behind the mechanoid production fireworks this is a very traditional pop song, with a sweet lyrical turn (”The only time I think of you / Is every day and all night through”) you could imagine on a hit at any time in the 20th century. The problem, I think, is Billie. Never a strong singer, she muddled through on cheek on “Because We Want To”, but “Day And Night” asks her to be more of a powerhouse than she can manage, and her performance sounds frayed and shrill.

Pop had been a mixed experience for Piper. Booed at awards ceremonies for the crime of dating a boyband member, a regular star of the Popbitch gossip email, stalked by an obsessed fan she’d later see in court – she was miserable, and the relative flop of her second album came as a blessing. Probably several of her peers were miserable too: we know more about the labour of pop in Billie’s case because she got famous enough doing something else to write about it. For other British pop performers, the treadmill – or the dream – continued. There would always be a need for domestic stars, no matter how globalised the business got – but only a few years after the Spice Girls, “Day And Night” suggested theirs might be a second-rate existence: the 00s as a re-run of the 1950s, with British pop producing cheerily clunky remakes of the market leaders.

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Comments

  1. 1
    lonepilgrim on 9 Mar 2015 #

    you mentioned cocaine in your review of ‘Don’t call me baby’ and the liberal sprinkling of white powder* in the launderette scene of the video seems a not very subtle hint. Whereas DCMB was sprightly and syncopated I found this relentlessly heavy-handed and unjustifiably full of itself. Billie seems lost within the machinery.
    *see also ‘Bag it Up’

  2. 2
    punctum on 9 Mar 2015 #

    Did Billie Piper’s pop star experience scar her capacity as an actress? Does the Smash Hits advert stand as her Rosebud; a mischief, a happiness she can never quite retrieve? Bear in mind that she spent two years surrounded by stylists, publicists and photographic stills, all of which cultivate a certain tendency towards introversion, restraint, not letting on emotion. In that perspective one can hardly blame her for finally allowing herself to live, with the considerable aid of a deceptively helpful and durable father figure; but then, thanks to Chris Evans’ “fuck you” money, she followed her two years of popstardom with three years of happily or unhappily doing nothing except get photographed wheeling huge, drink-filled shopping trolleys out of sundry supermarkets. That kind of anti-activity level can also wreak its own gradated damage.

    So she flourished as Rose Tyler, dreaming of a better father figure but finally awakening to her own enclosed but comfortable universe of actual parents and dopey but loyal boyfriend, but she was utterly lost in those other parallel worlds of Jane Austen and Philip Pullman; her semi-studied indifference in Mansfield Park was over-signposted by that resentful, dark-eyebrowed scowl which she can’t quite shake off – this was a Fanny Price always one breath away from screaming, whereas in reality she should have been three polite breaths away. Similarly, her Sally Lockhart gives the impression of a sulking noughties child being reluctantly thrusted into a time machine and wondering why she has to change to fit anyone else’s world. The thoroughly misguided proposed return to Rose Tyler indicates that, although clearly bankable, Piper is a difficult actress to cast, with her incinerating eyes not duly served in dull romps like The Secret Diary Of A Call Girl – one wonders to what astonishing heights a surviving Alan Clarke or Dennis Potter could have taken her.

    Nor was she really allowed to “grow up” as a pop star. “Day And Night” is her last number one to date – I leave the present tense door open since there is no reason why she wouldn’t do a Cher at some stage in the future and come back to the recording studio – and clearly reflects the increasing impact of the Britney/Stargate template on 2000 pop; present and correct are the sudden background-to-foreground percussive slams, the emphatic four-beat climax to the choruses, the pop processional, even if Eliot Kennedy cannot access the same goldmine of harmonic unexpectedness open to Max Martin. Billie rides the song adeptly enough without losing her own identity, though already one misses the fun of “Honey To The Bee”; though no masterpiece, it serves its intended purposes well enough and Piper’s wary approach of a vocal keeps the tension and purpose alive. But the belated permission to use her surname did not lead to a lengthening of her pop career; the Walk Of Life album was modestly enterprising but made only a cursory appearance in the Top 20, and the affable but sharp strut of the title track – one of Piper’s best songs, as its subsequent frequent anthologising on compilations has proven – stopped at #25 as a single over Christmas. Thereafter it was hardly surprising that she sought refuge, firstly in Evans and secondly in the career she had wanted in the first place; how she can retain and develop her aesthetic balance and take herself out of the glacial world of stills remains to be seen.

  3. 3
    JLucas on 9 Mar 2015 #

    Despite the fact that she preceded her by several months, it’s hard to think of Billie Piper without retrospectively comparing her career arc to that of Britney Spears. I tend to think of her as the Britney who got out. Over the coming years Spears will continue to loom large over the pop landscape, but as I touched on in my OIDIA comment, her relationship with pop stardom will soon lose its carefree zestiness and give way to a sadder, more complex form of co-dependency.

    Had Billie’s career happened on a larger scale, she might well have been sucked into the machine in a similar way. By the time of ‘Day & Night’, being a pop star already appeared to have stopped being fun for her. I haven’t read her autobiography but I gather that the promotion of her second album was a particularly unhappy chapter in her life, for many of the reasons Tom mentions above. She’s not even 18 at this point, and already subject to relentless abuse (and I remember it well, I always felt sorry for her) from teenage girls perhaps too young to know better and media types who absolutely should have.

    When I see her interviewed now, she comes across as much happier and more relaxed. She’s not a global superstar, but she’s carved out a good career as an actress and certainly does well enough to rank above the reality TV desperation that many of her class of 1998-2000 peers subject themselves to. I doubt she’d trade places with Britney today for all the money in the world.

    Day & Night I actually really like, though it is obviously on the B-list of pop from this time. As you may have gathered, I have a fondness for naked ambition in pop, and I love how kitchen sink the production is here – it’s straining so hard to be as epic as a prime Britney single, and if it doesn’t quite get there, it’s close enough to be on the cusp of greatness.

    I’ve always found Piper’s voice to have rather a melancholy quality to it. This certainly didn’t come through on the juvenilia from her first album, and it doesn’t quite hit the right notes on a balls-to-the-wall pop song like this. But ‘Day & Night’ the album contains some moments where it’s served surprisingly well. The third single ‘Walk of Life’ has a lovely wistful quality to it, as does the bittersweet album track ‘Promises’.

    Best of all is album closer ‘Misfocusing’, which in other hands could have been a fairly rote poor little rich girl narrative but gets a gently heartfelt reading from Piper. It closes the album, and by extension her career as a pop star. It’s a fitting soundtrack to a woman who had a chance to glimpse behind the velvet curtain and was wise enough to walk away.

    http://youtu.be/ypmaIIxoK6U

  4. 4
    thefatgit on 9 Mar 2015 #

    I struggled to remember this one. “Day And Night” does suffer for its similarities to “Backstreet’s Back” which makes it hard to get past that and judge it on its own merits. So I won’t. (4)

  5. 5
    Iain Mew on 9 Mar 2015 #

    Stargate! I knew they would be coming soon. They were the only pop producers I could have named at this time, thanks largely to the simple but effective tactic of having someone say their name at the beginning of many of their records. Something which they dropped later.

    I’m fascinated by their brief disappearance and re-emergence on the world stage, which we’ll get to here as Tom references. I’m also interested by the link between them and the Norwegians producing some of the top K-Pop of recent years (Anne Judith Wik, founding member of production team DSign, was once vocalist for Stargate when they released stuff on their own). I wonder whether that will ever act as a base for something else like Stargate’s UK phase did for them.

    As for the song, unlike thefatgit I remembered the chorus completely after 15 years, at least.

  6. 6
    flahr on 9 Mar 2015 #

    Enjoyably light Britney-a-like fare; still, as Stargates go, closer to “Urgo” than “The Fifth Race”. [5]

  7. 7
    mapman132 on 9 Mar 2015 #

    I actually think this is much better than her previous two #1’s, but perhaps it wasn’t quite good enough. Tom’s analysis of the state of UK pop in 2000 would seem to explain why America had largely turned its back by this point. The next UK record to top the Hot 100 was more than five years away.

  8. 8
    Andrew on 9 Mar 2015 #

    Stargate, for all of their brilliant bunnies (and near-bunnies) ahead, were responsible for the remix of ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’ that took Toploader back into the top ten. Never forget.

    I’ve always been fond of ‘Day & Night’. Production-wise, it’s a more than passable bash at the Cheiron sound. In songwriting terms, it falls a little short of Max Martin’s subtle complexity, but there’s a decent post-chorus in “All of the day, all of night…” (if we’re counting “‘Cause the only time I think of you” as the main chorus).

    Billie’s delivery was endearing, if not always powerful. Although: “you are my mo’ivation.”

    All in all, the kind of record I entirely forget about for months on end, and upon hearing it by chance really enjoy (or being reminded of its existence feel an instant urge to play).

    7

  9. 9
    Chelovek na lune on 9 Mar 2015 #

    Disappointingly generic (nodding too obviously trans-atlanticward as well as, erm trans-northseawaard) and much less abundant in the charm that had made her first two number ones (and the first of them in particular) such pleasures. Not sure if it is “trying too hard” here, or disillusionment leading to stripping some of the individuality hitherto evident out of the music. Far from unpleasant or objectionable, but a bit meh, all in all. 5

  10. 10
    punctum on 9 Mar 2015 #

    #8: Stargate might have done the remix but it was Jamie and Sainsbury’s who put it “back” into the top ten.

  11. 11
    Andrew on 9 Mar 2015 #

    #10 You’re right, the ad was clearly a bigger contributing factor.

    By “back”, I meant the band were returning to the top ten (having visited briefly with ‘Achilles’ Heel’). I do know ‘Moonlight’ hadn’t been top ten prior to the remix, but thanks ever so for those withering quotation marks!

  12. 12
    wichitalineman on 9 Mar 2015 #

    My memory of the parent album isn’t good – too many mechanical bumps, too little fun – but D&N sounds much better than I remember it, so maybe I should revisit it.

    What lets this down is Stargate’s production. The orchestral stabs and percussive slamming overwhelm what, as Tom points out, is a very traditional pop song. If it had been given the make-do-and-mend production of her earlier singles, I’d like it a lot more.

    Embarrassingly, I had no idea Stargate went back this far.

  13. 13
    JLucas on 9 Mar 2015 #

    My favourite Stargate production from around this time is ‘Always Come Back To Your Love’ by Samantha Mumba. Lovely little tune.

    The absence of Mis-teeq’s Scandalous (and Mis-Teeq in general) is obviously a huge shame too.

  14. 14
    Iain Mew on 9 Mar 2015 #

    Agreed on both counts. They did pretty much re-use the title line of “Always Come Back to Your Love” for a future bunny, though

  15. 15
    Billy Hicks on 9 Mar 2015 #

    …I love this. Love it. Perhaps because it not only seems to encapsulate the sound of turn-of-the-millennium pop perfectly, but manages to sound *so* much fresher than other #1s around it from its comparative lack of airplay to something like Oops I Did It Again. The “Cus the only time I think of you” lead-in to the chorus, followed by the chorus itself is absolute pop magic. And yep, JLucas at #13, ACBTYL is a massively underrated gem of a track!

    A huge guilty pleasure 9 for Billie.

  16. 16
    Steve Mannion on 9 Mar 2015 #

    #15 Oof, in total contrast I (harshly) thought this sounded woefully dated at the time – at least it just reminded me too directly of half-hearted late 80s efforts like Sheena Easton’s ‘The Lover In Me’. A forthcoming “large print format” boyband #1 worked its similar influences old and new more effectively for me (but again not immediately).

  17. 17
    JoeWiz on 9 Mar 2015 #

    I like this a lot more than I thought I would. The chorus swoops in and attacks you and Billie sells it pretty well, but I seem to remember her heart wasn’t really in it for the promo, which obviously meant people didn’t support the album as much as they could have. As a record it was probably a fair bit stronger than the debut, the title track being her finest ever song.
    The video chickens out, though. We open down a dark alley, and the backdoor of a club, and we think we’re going to a sweaty, dirty club for a bit and that she’s ready to shed the lighter image of the first album, but then everything gets choreographed to within an inch of its life and before we know it, Billie’s dancing in a launderette. I know she was still young, but a little bit of adventure might have done her a favour.
    Maybe she had too much class and refused.

  18. 18
    Shiny Dave on 10 Mar 2015 #

    Feels to me like solid, unexceptional pop that executes a prevailing formula well enough without ever threatening to do any more, the very epitome of a 6.

    Stargate aren’t the last producer we’ll meet who get namedropped in their songs.

  19. 19
    AMZ1981 on 10 Mar 2015 #

    I hated the early Billie singles with a passion (it’s worth noting that her surname was only credited from Day and Night onwards) so this was always going to be an improvement. However even I have to admit that at least her previous hits bubbled with personality, even if that personality did set my teeth seriously on edge. Day and Night, while perfectly passable by most standards, feels very anonymous. Given that it practically marks the end of her hit making days (she had one more number four hit but I can’t remember it at all) it’s a strange way to go – for most artists the personality imposes more as the music declines.

  20. 20
    Tommy Mack on 11 Mar 2015 #

    Read an interview with Billie Piper which made her US tour sound like a Shirley Jackson short story: ordered by her management to flirt at parties with lecherous middle-aged radio programmers, crying herself to sleep every night. She was, I think, 17 at the time. No wonder she wanted out.

    George Harrison said he felt sorry for Elvis because whatever the Beatles were going through, good or bad, it was a shared experience and he reckoned it must be very lonely for the solo star.

  21. 21
    Edward Still on 11 Mar 2015 #

    Not much to add here, except to express my surprise that Ms Piper was having hits this century, I always imagined her as a one-year and done kind of career.

    I vaguely remember it now I’ve heard it again and it sounds like a Backstreet Boys record accidentally put through the wash. 3

  22. 22
    James BC on 13 Mar 2015 #

    I mainly remember this for the terrible choreography. As well as copying Britney’s sound they gave Billie a Spears-style formation dance routine to go with the song, but it was woeful – too busy, lots of sitting down and getting back up, weird hand movements. And she did the whole thing with the song on either TOTP or CD:UK, probably both.

    Billie wasn’t a bad mover so I’d definitely put the blame with her team. There were other bad dance routines around at the time I’m sure, but this one stands out.

  23. 23
    Mark G on 14 Mar 2015 #

    Biiii…leeeee… SPEARS!!!

    (soz)

  24. 24
    ciaran on 24 Apr 2015 #

    At the time this seemed a very bold and ambitious move given what we knew of Billie from 1998. It was as if the intention was not only to ape the success of the US teen pop boom but also felt like a Kylie style Better the Devil You Know type vamping things up by the promoters.

    The chorus was the most striking thing about it but the rest of the song really falls flat. Billie seems to be going through the motions here and it wasn’t much of a surprise that this was pretty much end game by the end of the year. 4

    Its a bit unfortunate that this is kind of dismissed as a Poochie sized mis-step but the UK and Irish stars were biting off more than they could chew with this sort of thing. The US just seemed to be much smarter and (erm) larger than life whereas the UK seemed everyday. Perhaps this isnt the place to be discussing it as the 00s was as much as anything the decade of the enormous US superstar Number 1.

    Like others I did enjoy Samantha Mumba’s brief pop career too. Gotta Tell You and Body to Body were more what I’d be interested in than IACBTYL however.

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