Feb 16

FIVE – “Let’s Dance”

Popular36 comments • 4,690 views

#906, 25th August 2001

five lets dance Five were a band out of time. In the late 90s they’d made sense as a boyband who could appeal to the post-Spice audience, their Duplo version of hip-hop fitting nicely alongside Billie and B*Witched as pop aimed for youth. I had plenty of time for them – they were pushing a bright, colourful, hooky product that never pretended to be anything else, and in the early days they had a run of entertaining singles. It’s a redeeming feature of Simon Cowell projects – good or crap, and they’re largely crap, they rarely try to dupe you.

But by 2001 that moment for Five had passed – this and the next number one constitute a torch passed, a reassessment of what a British boy band should be doing. And besides, Five were in shambles. Likeable, unassuming Sean, the one who seemed least fazed by stardom in the first place, had quit. Not for Five the charade of the three-month replacement before the inevitable split: the band stayed honest to the last, replacing Sean with a cardboard cut-out of Sean, which was carted along to promo appearances for “Let’s Dance”. It’s one of the stranger episodes in boyband history, a group who clearly knew the game was up and chose this bizarre route to acknowledge it. There was something idiotic but likeable about seeing the four remaining men cavort around the cut-out – there had been something idiotic but likeable about their whole pop career.

“Let’s Dance” was an adequate memorial, a busy, blustery attempt to magic up the carefree likeability of their better moments. It’s trying hard – bounding from hook to hook, but none of them are very good, like they’d gone for a 3 for 2 chorus offer in Asda. It’s also dripping with vocoder, perhaps for a tiny hint of Francophone sophistication (Daft Punk’s “One More Time” and Discovery had brought the technique sharply back into vogue). As usual the elephant on the track is Jay’s rapping, which seemed to get more prominent with every release: “hoping that you people think this sound is unique”, he says, and as he clumps doggedly from beat to beat I think, yes, yes I suppose it is really.



  1. 1
    AMZ1981 on 18 Feb 2016 #

    Ironically enough this felt like Five’s crossover hit at the time as it was their first (and of course only) two weeker. I remembered it as a catchy enough pop song and was actually quite pleased to hear it again on youtube. I might be wrong here but I think Sean Conlan’s absence was officially due to to illness at this point although there were of course rumours that he had left and these turned out to be true. Interestingly he never struck me as likeable; in interviews Abz and Ritchie came over as nice enough lads but Sean struck me as arrogant, standoffish and the odd comment suggested that he may have been secretly homophobic to boot. Either way a number four follow up to this and they were gone. At the risk of sounding slightly pretentious they are one of several groups of the era whose legacy is a bit like Ozymandias’; the list of hit singles looks impressive on paper but nobody remembers them now.

    If nothing else Let’s Dance smashes the next boy band bunny along out of the park. I’ll give it that.

  2. 2
    Rufus Headroom on 18 Feb 2016 #

    Lord, but that music video is just the corniest thing ever. This song has a nice tight groove to it, and the rapping’s not as distracting as all that, kinda just goes down smooth. A 6 for me.

  3. 3
    Lazarus on 18 Feb 2016 #

    From Robbie and Geri through to Zayn, someone always leaves a five piece don’t they, and they never get replaced. Why is that? It must have been obvious to this lot in particular that they couldn’t really function as a four man band (and yes I know there were three in the Ben Folds Five), so why not hold auditions for a replacement? It might have brought about a revival of interest in the group, who knows.

  4. 4
    thefatgit on 18 Feb 2016 #

    Teetering on the right side of self-parody, I seem to remember the video being a very English version of “All The Small Things”, even throwing in some typical boyband tropes for good measure. “Let’s Dance” does it with a smirk, which is all a boyband can do at the twilight of their usefulness. I guess the song never really was going to be anyone’s favourite. I had no idea what to expect, having totally forgotten how it went, but after a few seconds, “if you wanna dance, let’s take a chance” seems quite familiar. Five were quite a likeable bunch, fully aware of their limited lifespan, so with the exception of Sean, they could quite happily be self-deprecating and regard their place in pop as something faintly ridiculous, much like their rapping.

    Compared to the imminent bunny, it stands up pretty well. Enough for a 6 I reckon.

  5. 5
    Shiny Dave on 19 Feb 2016 #

    This song never had a chance of being as exciting as its predecessor at the top, but Five had crafted a line in adorable pop-rap silliness, bubblegum with a side of hip-hop, and this delivers more of the same. (Though “music is my life / cause my life is music” could be a new peak/trough in the silliness stakes, maybe even topping “boom boom boom boom / I want you in my room” for so-bad-it’s-good lyrics amongst recent number ones.)

    The sleeve gives it away if nothing else – throwing a megamix on the B-side is the mark of a band shooting for one last big hit. And Five probably do sound better in megamix form, as their every song is a solid-or-better hook linked together with silliness. For me, the silliness is part of the fun most of the time, and I only dislike Five when that silliness dissolves into casual sexism – as it does in too much of the “Kingsize” album this single leads off. (It’s the only reason “Rock the Party,” which otherwise makes fabulous use of its stolen hook and is basically the single “We Will Rock You” needed to be, isn’t my favourite Five track. Every now and again, I play it and think it still is.)

    For me, the best comparators for Five are Busted and McFly – whom we get a remarkable number of opportunities to discuss, but suffice to say at this point they strike me as very similar to Five in that they’re boyish boy bands who carried energy and an ear for a hook to multi-year, multi-bunny, yet somewhat ephemeral careers. The difference is that those two were doing it with school-rock, and Five did it with playground rap. That feels like an important indicator for the mid-2000s, although we are of course a couple of Popular weeks away from the real era-defining point.

    (And that event really does cast a shadow over the entirety of the very early 2000s, doesn’t it? Germany 1 England 5 happened in the middle weekend of this song’s run, ten days before The End of The End of History, and feels remarkably downplayed in the popular memory to me – if anything, people remember the Beckham free-kick equaliser against Greece a few weeks later to make that result even count! I can only assume that the timing was part of why.)

  6. 6
    Paulito on 19 Feb 2016 #

    @3: another example being Bryan McFathead’s departure from, and non-replacement in, Westlife (not that it brought any halt to their gallop, unfortunately). Obviously the inspiration for many of these cases was Robbie and his enormous solo success, but are there earlier precedents? One could arguably cite Duran Duran, who set the bar especially high by suffering not one but two departures (almost simultaneously, to boot) and yet gamely struggling on as a three-piece for years thereafter.

  7. 7
    James BC on 19 Feb 2016 #

    Five DID work as a four-piece, years later, when they were on The Big Reunion. That time it was J that was missing, possibly for the best, and Sean came across as pretty likeable although Abz stole the show. They auditioned a couple of people for a fifth member (including someone from Northern Line?) but in the end decided that no one would care that 5ive had become 4our. Or 4ive. And they were right, at least in the nostalgia-saturated atmosphere of that show.

    Let’s Dance: reasonable song, quite good video. I wouldn’t disagree with 5.

  8. 8
    AMZ1981 on 19 Feb 2016 #

    Also we will eventually meet the biggest boy band of them all as a three piece. It’s often forgotten that Hearsay replaced a departed member via public audition and in doing so opted to change the dynamic of the band (in that they replaced a female member with a male).

    In the case of 5ive, first phase Take That and the Spice Girls the departure of a member was an indicator of internal tensions and that the band were on the point of splitting. There was very little point in recruiting an extra member. In any event changing key personnel is rarely a recipe for success in any genre; Ian Gillan’s short lived stint as vocalist for Black Sabbath is a case in point.

    Instrumental bands, where somebody does need to play bass, do have the option of replacing original members with hired hands and simply paying them a salary for their services. I’m not sure this would work in a group of vocalists.

  9. 9
    Phil on 19 Feb 2016 #

    I could never work out what the deal was with Roxy Music’s bassist(s), who seemed to change with every album – could they just not find somebody they all got on with? Back then I still vaguely thought that a band was a bunch of mates who did everything together, kind of like Summer Holiday; I don’t think I’d ever heard the words ‘session musician’.

  10. 10
    Ronnie on 19 Feb 2016 #

    Is the bassline sampled from KC’s “Give It Up”? I wanted to say yeah but there doesn’t seem to be any official evidence anywhere

  11. 11
    Tom on 19 Feb 2016 #

    #1 re Sean’s niceness or not – I admit I haven’t researched this! My memories may not be that reliable re. which member of Five was which.

  12. 12
    will on 19 Feb 2016 #

    Re 5: There is a link between Five and ‘that’ game in Munich. The bonus tracks on their hastily-released Greatest Hits include a ’2002 Fifa World Cup Remix’ of Keep On Movin’, which samples commentary from the match!

    At the time I was absolutely most definitely a little bit sad about Five’s demise. I can’t think of another boy band that has made me smile as much since.

  13. 13
    JoeWiz on 19 Feb 2016 #

    Ah, Germany 1-5 England. A new dawn had broken, had it not? Alas no, but we did at least get ‘Sven Sven Sven’ by Bell & Spurling out of it. I went to see Starsailor on the Sunday after. My 2001 had peaked.
    Anyways, this is a quite decent little ditty, although Five had far better singles in their armoury. Jay’s rapping is always a problem for me. He had a bit of a Yates’ doorman feel about him, and I tended to cringe when he started to show off his lyrical flow. I remember seeing him get destroyed by Keith Allen on the Jo Whiley late night music discussion programme (imagine somethings similar getting commissioned now?) and he resorted to grunts and growls.
    There’s just about enough here to keep me boogieing along, but I think we all agree to chose to call it a day at the right time.

  14. 14
    Chelovek na lune on 20 Feb 2016 #

    Well, the video shows they have a sense of humour, at least – the open acknowledgement of not being sure who their desired audience was counts in their favour, too. And nodding back to the late 70s had been all the rage for a while. But it’s all so slight and forgettable, likeable as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far…. (4) (it is more than a little disconcerting that, in a certain light, one of the band bears more than a superficial appearance to the lead man of K*nt and the Gang.)

  15. 15
    AMZ1981 on 20 Feb 2016 #

    #11 My antipathy towards Sean was mainly due to a comment in Top Of The Pops magazine. I can’t remember the full context but the article was to do with some sort of mock dating profiles for the members of the band which included what kind of people shouldn’t contact them. Sean’s contained the statement, `and if you’re a bloke` which suggested he had a fair few prejudices in that area.

  16. 16
    Shiny Dave on 20 Feb 2016 #

    #15 Yeah, that… isn’t good. It’s interesting to think how much more of a story that might’ve been in the mid-2010s, actually.

    A thought: with their reliance on strong hooks connected by silly raps that occasionally veered into casual sexism, were Five basically softcore Scooter? Lines like “now I’m the bad boy that you invite for dinner / ain’t got no manners ’cause I eat with my fingers” in J’s verse on “Everybody Get Up” – and “we’re gonna hit you like a forklift truck” on “Slam Dunk (Da Funk)”, and indeed “hoping that you people think this sound is unique” on this – certainly wouldn’t sound out of place coming out of the mouth of H.P. Baxxter. (Though the most Scooter-like non-Scooter lyric I’ve ever heard is almost certainly “I’m just shaping the sound / I’m just turning the syllables round” on, of all things, Keane album track “Again & Again.” Which even has a massive synth hook!)

  17. 17
    IP on 21 Feb 2016 #

    This was number one when I met my (still!) partner. I mentioned it and she said, “I didn’t think Maroon 5 were that old.”

  18. 18
    IP on 21 Feb 2016 #

    Oh! Some “hilarious gay panic” in the video, concluding with the gayness *literally* being erased out: https://youtu.be/Qcr52GgWjk0?t=3m17s

  19. 19
    lonepilgrim on 21 Feb 2016 #

    IP @ 18 hits upon why the laboured attempt of the video to show how self aware the band are, falls flat. The song itself is cheap, cheerful and utterly unmemorable. Every time the video again I’m at a loss to remember how it goes.

  20. 20
    Adam Puke on 21 Feb 2016 #

    The casual (maybe naive rather than consciously hateful) homophobia dates the vid more than the clothes or anything else and definitely feels like something that would, if not die out, then visibly recede over the next few years. Society becoming less outwardly homophobic but more outwardly racist seems an oddly defining characteristic of the 00s from this distance.

  21. 21
    AMZ1981 on 21 Feb 2016 #

    Like most pop acts of the era Five did do the PAs at Gay Pride events where necessary but by all accounts were more interested in telling those present to buy their new single rather than talking about equality.

  22. 22
    Erithian on 27 Feb 2016 #

    Hmmm yes. Never saw the video at the time but it’s a fascinating period piece now. Nice swipes at boy band clichés – it’s aiming for The Monkees and even if it doesn’t get there it’s entertaining, gets laffs and wry smiles aplenty. It does though highlight what a rubbish little song it has to work with.

  23. 23
    Erithian on 27 Feb 2016 #

    Oh, and Germany 1 England 5 – in a poll of “greatest England memories” a few years later it ranked second only to ’66. But if it’s downplayed now it might be because people think: yes, we walloped the Germans in their own backyard but ten months later who was in the World Cup Final and who wasn’t? (Odd, looking back, to see a Scot and a Swede – Adam Crozier and Sven – leading the celebrations of an England win.)

  24. 24
    Mark M on 29 Feb 2016 #

    I think that game has somewhat got caught up in the long-running argument about the ‘Golden Generation’ and whether Sven under or over-achieved as England manager (I’m firmly of the opinion he did a decent job).

    (I also think it was much less impressive performance than the 4-1 against the Netherlands in Euro 96).

  25. 25
    Kinitawowi on 29 Feb 2016 #

    He killed the international career of Paul Scholes and decided that the answer to the “Gerrard Or Lampard” question was “both”, two acts that buried England as international contenders for at least a decade.

    On the other hand, at least he was better than bloody Keegan.

  26. 26
    Mark M on 29 Feb 2016 #

    Re25: So, that between my point and yours we have exactly the argument that swirls round Sven… (Poor Five: is it fair to potentially derail this thread? Anyway, though: my argument is simply that his is England’s most consistent decent period pretty much ever: qualified for every tournament, made it out of the group stages each time, and reached where I would have expected given the squads available. It’s not his fault that England’s talent pool was overstocked with attacking midfielders and understocked in other areas. A much better manager might – might – have taken England further, especially in 2004, but I don’t think many much better managers have managed England, or were available to manage England at that time. Maybe worth saying I’m not an England supporter, so I like to think – probably wrongly – that I have a clear-eyed view of these things.)

  27. 27
    Kinitawowi on 29 Feb 2016 #

    I think the derailment is itself a measure of how little overall impact poor Five had… (I’ve just pulled out Now! 50 to give it a whirl and I have no recollection of it even existing. Clumsy and forgettable, but at least not offensive; 4.)

    Sven is the only manager since El Tel to get us through a knockout match at a major tournament (and since Bobby Robson at a World Cup), and Graham The Turnip Taylor once described us as “a quarter finals side”, not inaccurately. But even with a surfeit of players in one position, there was a lot of hammering square pegs into round holes (Scholes, wasted out on the wings) and too many pegs into one hole (Steve and Frank). The so-called Golden Generation thus fizzled out until the complete ignominy of Brazil 2014, a shambles that finally solved the latter conundrum by having them both retire. A firmer hand, less beholden to the players-as-celebrities model that reached a nadir with the WAGs of Baden-Baden, might have been able to nip it in the bud from the start.

    Sven did a decent enough job with what he had at the time, but his legacy was somewhat ruinous.

  28. 28
    Izzy on 29 Feb 2016 #

    His post-England career is frankly pretty shameful, with some disgraceful results (Man City shipping eight to Middlesbrough must be a career low) and chasing the money at every turn. I suppose you can forgive him for taking life easy, but set against his stellar career pre-England it looks quite startling.

    It’s really odd to think that he would have taken over peak Man Utd in 2003, had Ferguson not reneged on his word. He may get a chance there yet.

  29. 29
    Cumbrian on 29 Feb 2016 #


    Wasn’t the Golden Generation Waddle, Lineker, Beardsley, Barnes, Pearce and David Seaman? All born within 3 years of each other. I reckon we’d give our eye teeth for someone as good as Beardsley in particular nowadays. The fact that we had Scholes, a similar sort of player to Beardsley in some respects, and got rid of him prematurely is definitely a black mark in Sven’s book. That said, he did get us to the latter stages of tournaments more consistently than anyone else has done.

    Sven also, inevitably, a tabloid figure of fun in the end. Stay in the England manager’s job long enough and it’s bound to happen. He likes money and he likes sex with women above his league. I don’t think I can really hold this against him. Certainly his career in Italy and his time with England showed him to have a reasonable tactical brain, imo.

    The 5-1 was a remarkable result and further proof that Michael Owen, when he was fit, was another player that you’d be desperate for in the current set up. A 2-D player – pace and an eye for goal and that was it, but every time England had a critical game, he always seemed to score. That 2nd round match in 1998, the 5-1 game, scored in the first knockout game against Denmark and then the quarter final against Brazil in 2002, got in a good position and hoicked a really odd goal past the Portuguese keeper in the quarter in 2004. This is obviously confirmation bias (there must have been loads of critical games he played in where he didn’t score) but he always seemed to be there when you really needed him. Contrast with Rooney, who seems to never really score goals in the big games. Rooney is almost certainly the more complete player but it wouldn’t half be useful to have someone like Owen in France this year.

  30. 30
    Izzy on 1 Mar 2016 #

    Would it be harsh to say Theo Walcott is that someone, with the goal threat removed?

  31. 31
    Erithian on 2 Mar 2016 #

    You’ve maybe heard the gag about the Sven-Goran Eriksson satnav, which starts out being really accurate but then leaves you in the middle of nowhere and just says “Welllllllll…”

    The bar where I watched a lot of Korea/Japan 2002 had a guest beer called “Sven You’re Smiling”, the handpump label for which featured a silhouette of Sven giving a thumbs-up. You’ll remember that many of the games in that tournament were 7am kick-offs, and I got into the swing of watching the footy with a “pint of Sven” in hand at breakfast time. And so I knew we were going out 45 minutes before the rest of you did – when I went to the bar at half-time in the Brazil game for the customary pint only to be told that Sven You’re Smiling had run out. Heavy omen alert!

    It may yet be that Sven’s most lasting contribution to English football will be as the manager who signed Kasper Schmeichel for Leicester City…

  32. 32
    Cumbrian on 3 Mar 2016 #

    Korea/Japan 2002 was the one World Cup that I watched almost every kick of, as my finals finished the day before England’s opening game with Sweden – and I too got into the swing of getting up early and going to a pub with some friends. Being young and stupid, we basically switched our body clocks to going to bed at about 8-9 and then getting up early so we could watch something like South Africa v Slovenia.

    In retrospect, that Brazil game was a real kick in the teeth – the draw had fully opened up. We’d have got a beatable Turkey in the semi and, had we not crapped ourselves and managed to get through that game, a side we’d just beaten 5-1 in Munich in the final. Sven’s failure to solve a 10 man Brazil in that second half is probably his biggest failing as England manager. That was one game we didn’t go to the pub for. We were in the common room with a couple of tins a piece instead. Maybe it was our fault for breaking our routine…

  33. 33
    Steve Williams on 4 Mar 2016 #

    Always happy to reminisce about World Cups. 1998 remains my personal favourite because, like above, I literally had no other commitments or responsibilities so I could watch every minute of it, but 2002 with its 7am kick-offs seemed a very special tournament, unlike any other. I got into the habit of squeezing in the first half of matches before going to work, and getting up at 6.30 at the weekends.

    As for England, from a Welsh perspective, it looked like England were sort of doing the right things. I wonder if a bit of the goodwill around Sven was because he was in charge when England didn’t have a home ground and played all over the country, where they always got a good reception because it was a special occasion. The other thing that happened when he took over – again something arranged in the Keegan era, but which didn’t actually happen until Sven arrived – was that the FA signed a deal to show England games live on the BBC, whereas for the previous decade they’d been live on Sky, which felt a really progressive and fan-friendly move. Sven had nothing to do with either, but it was all part of making England seem a bit more approachable and fan-friendly.

    This record was also number one when I got my first proper post-university job after several months of grimly ploughing through Media Guardian every Monday, so hooray for Five. Quite a period in my life.

  34. 34
    MUSICALITY on 24 Apr 2017 #

    This song was ok but they had so many better ones than this. Quite forgettable as a song to go out on.

  35. 35
    XePlayer Android Emulator on 29 Jul 2017 #

    Never saw the video at the time but it’s a fascinating period piece now.

  36. 36
    Gareth Parker on 6 Jun 2021 #

    I actually prefer Blue’s Too Close (the next #1), but I wouldn’t quibble with a 5/10 here.

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