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Jul 17

HOLLY VALANCE – “Kiss Kiss”

Popular16 comments • 1,514 views

#925, 11th May 2002

valance “Freak Like Me” is a rare case where hit covers and mutations keep building on the foundations of a song, finding new things in it. At this point in pop, the opposite was more often true. “Kiss Kiss” is a good single – in the context of the charts, its dipping and rolling Turkish rhythms are delightfully fresh, a showy flourish across a grey backdrop. But hearing the singles it was based on – Tarkan’s “Simarik” and Stella Soleil’s remake of it as “Kiss Kiss” – lets you hear possibilities this version closes down.

Tarkan is still a huge star in Turkey – on his 2017 LP, the rather fine 10, he looks improbably youthful and sings as huskily and urgently as he did back in 1998. The tricks are the same, radio-ready techno-pop remakes of traditional rhythms, veiled in strings which provide colour and rhythmic shapes of their own. And so are the songwriters and producers – Sezen Aksu, the woman who wrote “Simarik” and has helped shepherd Turkey’s pop since the 70s, contributes a mournful, smoky ballad to the new record. Tarkan’s contribution, besides that earthy voice, was to up the sexual stakes – an impish, slinky performer, he presented himself as a loverman keen to break with traditional Turkish attitudes and gender roles.

This is, in fact, the entire point of “Simarik”, revealed in translation as a bowled-over but playful acknowledgement of Turkish women’s part in shifting these roles. “Maybe that’s why I’ve been ensnared by her / Because I don’t own her…. New customs have come to town / Boys, we’re lost”. Though not every line is as self-reflective: “You vamp you / You lure the snake from its place”.

“Simarik” was a huge hit in much of Western Europe – but not Britain, where it was known mainly by those who tracked it down on P2P (and much-loved, partly because one bit sounds like “arses arses”). I don’t think there was any attempt to break Tarkan here when “Simarik” was doing the rounds: Britain’s resistance to pop not in English is easy to regret and impossible to shift.

Still, it creates opportunities for remakes: “Kiss Kiss” was recast as an English-language come-on, and re-gendered – it could now be “Simarik”’s answer record, told from a snake-luring perspective “Simarik” had been a variation on a musical theme for Tarkan with sly, provocative lyrics: “Kiss Kiss” was the opposite, a thoroughly conventional teenpop song wrapped in an exotic, propulsive thrill of a beat. The song fitted into a popscape where young women’s sexual agency wasn’t a shocking novelty but the coin of the realm.

It found a home with Stella Soleil, whose story is a snapshot of how musical agency was too often out of reach for the women caught up by the pop boom. She’s an example of how rigid the industry thinking was: a woman in her late 20s, with a background singing on Ministry tracks, Soleil’s major label break still involved marketization as a “pop princess” in the post-Britney fever zone. “Kiss Kiss” was the vehicle. (It was a minor hit, no others followed, and Stella was discarded.)

But she really sells it. There’s a wicked sharpness to Soleil’s voice which fits the vampish tone of the rewritten song perfectly, and the production leans in to the Middle Eastern music, even underlaying some of Tarkan’s original on the bridge. Soleil is also a flexible enough singer to handle the slightly awkward rhythm of the new lyrics, which might seem like a given, but on Holly Valance’s version she constantly sounds in danger of stumbling.

And so, finally, we get to Valance, singer of this record and the least remarkable thing about it. Like Kylie Minogue, Holly Valance was an Australian soap star with an eye on a pop career. Also like Kylie, she had a limited voice, a little thin and lacking force. But where Stock Aitken and Waterman had spotted the potential in Kylie’s winning enthusiasm and gave her songs which took advantage of it, turning her weakness into pluck, Holly Valance gets a set of ambitious, assertive tracks. “Tuck Your Shirt In” and “Down Boy”, on her LP, follow the tone “Kiss Kiss” sets: strong songs, arrangements grounded in vogueish world music rhythms, and performances which are decent, but a little too diffident to really land the tracks. “Kiss Kiss” is both a fine pop single and a near miss, refreshing but also frustrating, more a holiday snog than the cross-cultural smooch it might have been.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Ricardo on 19 Jul 2017 #

    The one thing I do remember clearly was the is-she-is-she-not debate about her alleged nudity in the video – strategic strobelights notwithstanding. Hate to spoil any (pre-)teenage memories for some of you, but turns out it was a flesh-coloured bikini.

  2. 2
    AnotherPete on 19 Jul 2017 #

    In regards to that video, I very much doubt they would use the same tactic now for a 18 year old’s debut single. To show further what a different time it was I remember HV appearing in ads for a reverse phone charge service.

  3. 3
    JLucas on 19 Jul 2017 #

    Glad you picked up on the Turkish element on this. As an incurable Europhile, the marketing of Australian Holly Valance with such a specifically middle-eastern sound was quite the novelty.

    Of course 2002 was also the career high point of Shakira, so this was a moment when the charts were perhaps more open to a broadly international pop sound than they ever would be subsequently. There was even a very rare non English language pop hit three months earlier when Alizee’s magnificent (if thematically dodgy) Moi…lolita cracked the top ten. There’s also a certain controversial 2003 bunny that we’ll get to…

    Anyway, I prefer Valance’s version of the song to Soleil’s personally – the production sounds cleaner and glossier, and while Valance was a very limited vocalist, she sells the come-hither vibe better than Soleil, who never feels entirely connected to what she’s singing.

    Valance’s moment in the pop spotlight was fairly brief, but surprisingly rewarding. Followup single Down Boy may be one of the most minimal songs ever to reach #2 in the charts. It’s obviously built around her vocal limitations, but it’s still a really interesting production.

    Third single Naughty Girl was more run of the mill, but the album also included a track ‘Tuck Your Shirt In’ which would later appear on the English-language debut album of Sertab Erener, who won the Eurovision Song Contest for Turkey in 2003. Her ‘Every Way That I Can’ was massive on the continent, but limped in at #72 during a particularly low ebb for UK engagement with the contest in the early 00s. (Erener’s victory came in the year the UK scored the dreaded null points with Jemini).

    Then there’s Valance’s second album ‘State Of Mind’, a massive flop that spawned just one single, but an enduring cult classic among pop fans of a certain age. It’s well worth checking out as one of the first commercial pop albums of the time to broadly embrace electroclash. Desire and State of Mind are both 10/10 tracks.

    Kiss Kiss gets an of-its-time 8 for me.

  4. 4
    Lee Saunders on 19 Jul 2017 #

    Nice memories of this. My parents got married in May 2002 and instead of a honeymoon (or in addition to, possibly, I’m not sure) they took me and my sister to Disneyland and I remember hearing this played a lot there.

    Playing it back today (I haven’t heard it in ages) I was surprised to hear how prominent the Turkish influence was, and I didn’t know it was based on an older track. Sounds quite of its time, especially two minutes in (where it starts to remind me of a similar moment NSync’s Pop, i.e. when the rhythm gets choppy and fractured – and the kissing sound reoccurring that begins the song, not unlike Pop’s “BT”) but very pleasant all in all. 7.

    #3 I forgot all about “Down Boy”. Chorus aside, that was a gem for a sure.

  5. 5
    jeff w on 19 Jul 2017 #

    More than any other song, this one recalls my two-year sojourn in Brussels (and heavy presence on ILM due to boring job there). Probably because it was in heavy rotation on whatever the Belgian equivalent of MTV was. Tarkan Shmarkan – “Kiss Kiss” was GRATE as we used to say … a lot.

  6. 6
    Lee Saunders on 19 Jul 2017 #

    New entries that week that interest me, if I may

    #6 – Shakedown – At Night – Perhaps my favourite dance track of 2002, although these days I hear it more in the context of Ministry of Sound’s ’21st Century Disco’, where it was track 2 following X-Press 2’s Lazy (which, y’know, is as disco as music gets).

    #11 – Moby – We are All Made of Stars – Play had 8 or 9 singles and even though I’m too young to really remember them being hits I do remember them on compilations (and, perhaps subliminally, adverts). And yet, despite decent enough later singles, this was 18’s only pretty big hit, and is today nowhere near as approaching-near-ubiquitous as Porcelain or Natural Blues. Nice guitar line dwarfed by the dumb, contradicting, meaningless chorus. The downtempo mix that opened up disc 2 of Cream’s Future Chill compilation was superior (prematurely cutting to Royksopp’s gorgeous remix of Spiller’s Cry Baby in a very memorable fashion).

    #36 – The Jam – In the City – Only got to #40 back in 1977, but here it bettered that position and became, if an unsourced Wiki claim is to be believed, the first song since the late 70s to enter the top 40 based on limited edition 7″ sales alone, 19 years after it had charted again at #47 when all the Jam’s UK singles were reissued and charted that same week in January 1983.

  7. 7
    Mark G on 19 Jul 2017 #

    I think the last sizeable hit to sell on 7″ only was “View to a kill” Duran Duran, 1985

  8. 8
    lonepilgrim on 20 Jul 2017 #

    I have no memory of hearing this at the time which is a reflection of my age then and the channels through I was consuming music. It sounds like a summer hit, largely because of the Turkish rhythm. I went and listened to the Tarkan original and quite enjoyed it – I like foreign language pop largely because I can’t understand the lyrics. The Stella Soleil version sounded like she was channeling Lene Lovich – not a good thing. I made me appreciate the production on Holly Valance’s version as well as her breathy vocal. No doubt it was HVs celebrity that helped this to hit number 1 but it does make me wonder why UK writers couldn’t embrace similar sounds and rhythms for a Eurovision entry.
    The photo on the sleeve is very unflattering BTW.

  9. 9
    JLucas on 20 Jul 2017 #

    #8 – The UK did actually jump on the Balkan/Middle Eastern pop bandwagon a couple of years later with our 2005 Eurovision entry ‘Touch My Fire’ by Javine.

    It suffered the same fate as many of our entries then and now – namely that it was trying to emulate a sound that other countries just do better. ‘Touch My Fire’ wasn’t a terrible song per se, but it was comprehensively out-classed by the Greek entry from Helena Paparizou, which won that year. Javine limped home in 22nd place (out of 24 entries).

    Helena (Greece)

    https://youtu.be/ghQZojJWxKI

    Javine (United Kingdom)

    https://youtu.be/k8zTZkCdeyg

  10. 10
    lockedintheattic on 20 Jul 2017 #

    “but not Britain, where it was known mainly by those who tracked it down on P2P” – I suspect it was much more widely recognised in Britain (if not by name) as the theme music of the early years of the Graham Norton show. I certainly discovered the Tarkan version thanks to that, and I wonder if the familiarity of the turkish riff helped when Holly’s version came out

  11. 11
    Tom on 20 Jul 2017 #

    Blimey, I had no idea.

    (Obviously, Turkish people in Britain are also very likely to have known it!)

  12. 12
    Steve Williams on 20 Jul 2017 #

    You’re right about the Graham Norton connection, although it was much more topical than you perhaps suggest. So Graham Norton, of course, used History Repeating by The Propellerheads as its theme, but when it became V Graham Norton – the ill-fated five-nights-a-week format – it took on that theme tune – and it did that in May 2002, the same time this record came out.

  13. 13
    James BC on 21 Jul 2017 #

    So, two number 1s in a row that started out as an idea in search of a performer and struck gold.

    I suppose I’d mention Dragostea Din Tei as another hit with a sound not a million miles away.

  14. 14
    lockedintheattic on 21 Jul 2017 #

    ah – in my mind they were much more separated in time! shows how the memory plays tricks…

  15. 15
    ThePensmith on 22 Jul 2017 #

    Ah, Ms. Valance. I will confess that the majority of my love for this song (and indeed much of Holly’s career then and since) comes from the 13 year old, girlfriend starved me that was by now experiencing the joys of thrusting hormones. Early teens. Can’t beat ’em.

    As I touched on at Evergreen, this is the – to date – last example of the soap to pop route achieving a UK number one. Holly Rachel Vukadonovic (to give her her birth name – she’s English on her mum’s side and her dad is Serbian from Montenegro) had been a child model in Australia from the age of about 7. She was 15 in 1999 when she joined ‘Neighbours’ as Felicity or ‘Flick’, as she was more readily known character wise – the sulky middle daughter of the then newly arrived Scully family.

    Whispers of a recording career had been happening as far back as two years previously to this, when she had a cameo appearance (in a more subtle state of undress than here) in the video for ‘He Don’t Love You’ by hopeless Aussie NSync rip offs Human Nature (a #18 hit in the UK in February 2001). Around the same time, Graham Norton’s then Channel 4 chat show was running an advertising campaign which used Tarkan’s original version of this song, so the melody and feel of the original was already familiar to UK audiences by the time this was announced as her debut effort.

    As ‘Kiss Kiss’ started to gain traction at radio – and more importantly for this single, the music video channels – the epic storyline involving Flick, her sister Steph and her fiancee Marc who Flick had been having an affair with (which Steph duly found out about at the altar on their big day. Nice) was getting its first UK airing some 8 weeks or so after Australia aired it. Subtle timing, perhaps, but it did put her in a box somewhat that, number one single or not, she would have trouble breaking out of easily. She was suddenly the sultry soap/pop mistress that teenage boys and young guys ogled over in FHM and the like, and that impressionable teenage girls and young women hated and percieved as a threat.

    Holly herself has since said in the years following that she had what she called ‘a real baptism of fire’ into pop, and to the British tabloid culture, who immediately lapped her up, but were quick to spit her back out the second her sales took a nosedive. She followed this up with a largely forgotten #2 hit, ‘Down Boy’ that October (produced by Nellee Hooper. Who’d have thunk it?), stalled inside the top 20 that December with acoustic demi-ballad ‘Naughty Girl’, and had a top 10 album with ‘Footprints’ which went gold, which I got in my Christmas presents that year and still rather love for nostalgic reasons alone. So far, so early 00s female pop pin up.

    It was to be a whole year later before she released her second album, ‘State of Mind’, which gained a huge cult following among the burdgeoning pop blogosphere, and saw its feisty, electropunk title track give her one last top 10 hit, but the album bombed. This coupled with a messy legal battle with her old manager, plus the huge success that her fellow Ramsay Street graduate Delta Goodrem had attained that year both in the UK and Australia, with safe and unthreatening piano led MOR pop, that outreached even the success of ‘Kiss Kiss’, saw her throw in the towel with music for good, and move to Los Angeles to pursue acting again – modestly successfully too, it has to be said, appearing in the movie ‘Taken’ with Liam Neeson, and having guest starring roles on ‘Prison Break’, ‘CSI: New York’ and ‘Entourage’ amongst other shows.

    With hindsight, the trajectory of her pop career was painfully obvious from the off, but you got the sense watching back interviews with her from the time – this one on Patrick Kielty’s chat show for instance (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zb_Lb7asH0) – that she knew that as well, and basically didn’t give a shit, which I found (and still find) charming. And she’s actually a complete hoot on Twitter. Very humorous and sardonic, even self deprecating in some respects. For all of that, and for getting lustful early teenage me through the long summer of 2002 with three and a half minutes of exotic but fantastic pop promise: a 9.

  16. 16
    lmm on 26 Jul 2017 #

    Not much to say that hasn’t been said already, but I have memories and fondness for this. Listening again even all these years on I was expecting to hear the IM-signoff sound that fit perfectly into the recording I had. Pleasantly surprised how well the whole holds up.

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