Sep 19

DANIEL BEDINGFIELD – “If You’re Not The One”

Popular12 comments • 2,761 views

#943, 7th December 2002

There’s a trope – more apocryphal than actually seen, these days – of the serious songwriter who dismisses the crap in the charts as mere formula and hints that, were they so minded, they could churn out a hit to order too. Fortunately they have better things to do than write music they think is awful.

Not all songwriters are so selfless. Daniel Bedingfield, for instance, shut himself away with some Westlife records, figuring the path to success lay in making music he detested. Having found that making music he liked worked just as well, it’s a shame he didn’t drop the idea. Still, he was right – his calculated attempt at a pop ballad really did sell.

The curious thing about “If You’re Not The One” is that, even though it’s imitating a dreary formula, it’s actually more interesting than any Westlife records, pushing towards a level of self-doubt and self-abasement never touched by its models. That’s on Bedingfield himself, who may have the songwriting moves down but whose performance is starker and needier than the massed vocal approach the Irish boy bands use. Daniel Bedingfield doesn’t have his friends at his back, or Simon Cowell, or Cheiron, or anyone – he sounds lost and quavering, a loner trying on styles for size. Which suits the song’s reaching back into the swamp of uncertainty Bedingfield dredged “Gotta Get Through This” up from. Westlife have had their bleak moments, but they’ve never tried a lyric like “why does this distance maim my life?”.

The issue – and it’s not a problem Westlife’s banks of songwriters would have let slip through – is that this desperation never really resolves. There’s a reason, it turns out, why pop ballads rely so heavily on a big key change – it provides a kind of solution to whatever emotional dilemma the song is setting up. In this way, every Westlife track has a happy ending no matter what its lyrics do. “If You’re Not The One” doesn’t allow itself one, instead following its semi-resolution (the “You know my heart is by your side” bit) with a further plunge into doubt. It means the record trails off rather ineffectually. In the end, maybe Bedingfield had too much integrity to let himself go all-in on the gloop – but on the terms he’s working under, that turns out to be no virtue.



  1. 1
    ThePensmith on 20 Sep 2019 #

    A year on from his last Popular entry, and we meet Daniel again. What tends to be forgotten about ‘If You’re Not The One’ – aside from the jokes about his Jesus arm gestures in the video, and his hitting notes that, as Miranda Hart observed in her sitcom, were too high and unnaturally high for a man – is just how big it was despite having just one week at the top. It was big if not bigger than ‘Gotta Get Thru This’. It was still inside the top 10 the following February and didn’t leave the top 40 until early April. It was a huge record.

    But if there’s ever a grander act of hoisting with your own petard on a number one single, then Daniel comes very close to (unintentionally) achieving it. His first two singles had marked him out as an artist bound to the clubs and what was left of the UK garage scene. This experiment to produce something so far removed from that (and, what Tom hasn’t mentioned here, is how his bunnied sister had a part to play in its genesis, she suggested he write it) put him in a box he was subsequently going to struggle to break out of. Further discussion of that on his 2003 bunny I feel. 

    As for the song itself…it’s like cheap own brand toffees. Sugary to the point of teeth rot and so cloyingly sticky that it outstays it’s welcome. Simon Cowell went on record saying he loved it, to the point of giving it to one of the first bunnied winners of X Factor during their series’ live shows. 2 is about all I can give it.

    #2 watch – this getting to the top means we don’t get to discuss what is actually one of the better 2.0 lineup singles from Atomic Kitten, in their ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ aping wistful ballad ‘The Last Goodbye’.

  2. 2
    David Howell on 20 Sep 2019 #

    So if this was explicitly aping Westlife but tacking away from the reassuring formula that built the “pan-generational romantic coalition” Tom spoke of the first time Popular met that group – and opting for something desperate and unresolving in a way they never did even when songs like “Fool Again” gave them a chance – then does this count as an invokation of the Darker and Edgier trope to Westlife?!?

    Of course, from my point of view that also takes away the limited but all-too-persuasive appeal of Westlife, and only the gloop remains. Or does it? This song has three things that could have made it a bunny:

    1) It’s a post-Westlife romantic ballad, perfectly launched into the early winter, and it could work played completely straight;
    2) But it’s not played completely straight, drenched in the ambiguity that apparently comes with the artist not even liking this style to begin with (and the anxiety he’d already bought to garage-pop, and to Popular), so it is at least slightly distinctive;
    3) Above all, that falsetto. I’d guess at this point that’s by far the most remembered part of this song – and it places it in the nascent tradition of pop-as-game-show. The 2002 UK public had been primed to judge voices on technical merit, so no wonder they responded big to such an overt display of it. (The fact it was a singer-songwriter doing this might have given it some “credibility” as well, especially in the context of breaking out concurrently with the BBC “doing” this genre with Fame Academy. More on that in a few bunnies’ time, though.) I’m willing to bet an almost identical, but less rangy, version of this song does not trouble Popular or put its singer-songwriter in a trap of his own making.

    So to me it’s still a failure, Westlife without what I reluctantly like about Westlife, and I’ll give it a 3 (and would’ve given “The Last Goodbye” rather more, it’s the best bit of drum loop recycling by some distance) – but it’s a fascinating failure, and I can see why in the broader court of popular opinion it wasn’t a failure at all.

  3. 3
    Lee Saunders on 20 Sep 2019 #

    I think the song is rather wonderful actually. He may have intended it to sound like Westlife but as this was someone who was making nervy 2-step in his bedroom only a year earlier, some of his weirdness remains. The beat is somewhere between 2 Become 1 and Stranger in Moscow and alone moves it closer to R&B, but it doesn’t feel like R&B because Daniel sounds too, well, nervy. He doesn’t even seem to have a lot of confidence in his voice when he switches to falsetto…

    And those bits get used in a way I find rather disarming. The choruses end so abruptly and unresolved, which makes for some unlikely and rather lovely transitions (like into the ‘cus I miss you’ ambient drone of a middle-eight). So many part take off into the ether like they really are rather itchy and insatiable, no Westlife style key change here. And there’s the ending, which isn’t so much an ending as an ellipsis (see also Say It Right several years hence), the way his falsetto hangs there while the musical elements slowly retreat one by one, as if destined never to find what he’s looking for. These touches really do it for me.

    He has one subject really, and how well he tells it depends on how he tells it. With 2-step, electroclash and Westlife on his CV, his next single I Can’t Read You – a great pop-rocker that for me predicts but completely outdoes a certain 2010s pop star – once again suggested the versatility of his voice, even if his hitherto signature unease was rather lost because the style suited him more. But then came the next bunny…

    Anyway, 8

    I’ll always remember watching some ‘shocking pop moments’ style thing on Channel 4 or 5 in the mid-2000s and Daniel’s “Christian transformation” with this song being on there.

  4. 4
    Lee Saunders on 20 Sep 2019 #

    Actually if there’s any song my mind files this away with, its the song that entered at #4 the following week I believe, and which like this was enormous despite the short stay at its chart peak.

  5. 5
    AMZ1981 on 20 Sep 2019 #

    As The Pensmith correctly says this was big, lingering in the top ten for ages. But was it supposed to be? It was the third single from an album three months old at this point and should really have been the record company squeezing the last drops from the project, particularly if (as was pretty much the case in the end) Daniel Bedingfield proved to be a one album wonder. However for whatever reason If You’re Not The One took off and became his biggest hit, even if he had to endure taunts about selling out. Maybe if IYNTO had been an enter at number 10 and vanish out of the top forty in four weeks job he might have returned to dance music and brought out new material sooner. Maybe the butterfly effect might have led him to avoid the debilitating car crash that took much of his career from him. Who knows? In the meantime we’re left with this pleasant enough wisp of a song. There might be nothing great about it but nothing particularly wrong with it either.

  6. 6
    Lee Saunders on 21 Sep 2019 #

    Really this was the second single from the album, with GGTT being released as his debut song long before the album was complete. As a de facto lead single James Dean may have been less successful in comparison so this may look like Daniel and Polydor pulling an Angels-style ace up their sleeve, but I recon it was always going to be the next single anyway. What I’m more intrigued by is how IYNTO influenced the rest of the singles campaign, because even if the singles continued bouncing between different styles, I recon his image immediately changed to an extent. Probably this is a conversation for the forgotten bunny.

  7. 7
    lonepilgrim on 22 Sep 2019 #

    It’s too insipid for my tastes with only the drum pattern, gloomy tone and falsetto lifting it above complete anonymity. Prince was able to do something similar but more idiosyncratically on tracks like ‘Condition of the Heart’.

  8. 8
    James BC on 23 Sep 2019 #

    The CD cover is wildly at odds with the song here. Reminds me of Jim Jeffries’ bit about how the Backstreet Boys swagger on stage to pounding industrial thuds and look DEAD HARD for ten seconds before the music starts.

  9. 9
    mintness on 24 Sep 2019 #

    First dance at my cousin’s wedding, circa mid-’03.

    Spoiler: He wasn’t the one.

  10. 10
    ottersteve on 27 Sep 2019 #

    Funny how the most unlikely song can weave its way into your affections. I was 48 years old when this was a hit and, like 99% of all pop songs when your that age, I never gave it a second thought. A couple of years later, I went to Florida for a long break (just got made redundant) and this tune was never off the airwaves. The first few hearings just sailed over my head, but then – like some S/M queen realising he actually likes being whipped – I found myself actually stopping anything I was doing to listen to it. I can honestly say I can’t remember any other song doing this to me (possibly Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep). I was having a really good time in Florida and i guess the uniqueness of my situation plays a part in this. I.E. Any really pleasant time in your life will have some kind of soundtrack accompaniment. Why this song and no other at the time? I don’t know. There were plenty of other tunes flying out of the radio I was playing, so why this one? Strange….. 8.
    P.S. No other Bedingfield song plays a part in this production. I have no idea what other songs he did.

  11. 11
    Garrett Lacy on 20 Oct 2020 #

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  12. 12
    Gareth Parker on 29 Apr 2021 #

    I think 4/10 is a tad generous here. I’m afraid Daniel would only get a 2. Just not my cup of tea at all, just feels weak to me.

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