My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate -- that's my philosophy
Some time in the early days of Bardot post show mania, one of the writers of this piece found herself in the midst of a certain Melbourne shopping centre, inadvertently on the same day that Bardot were making an appearance. In the midst of such an excessive throng of star struck children, mothers with babies, and even the odd bewildered grandmother, all palpably excited to be right here, right now, it wasn’t hard to feel swept up in the mania that the Popstars TV show had created. And in the midst of this, there was nothing to do but scream. The person in question screamed along with everyone else, it was just the thing to do, to finally let go with a massive burst of fan girl excitement, not just for Bardot, but for Australian pop, that finally, finally, we had something to celebrate after seven years of pub rock, sludgey guitars and drippy ballads. Finally, our ship had come in.
The only problem was, a band created out of an ordinary premise couldn’t help but be ordinary could they? As Bardot ran through their party piece, an a capella version of Poison, to one of the loudest ear splitting cheers that anyone could imagine. it wasn’t hard to imagine that if the premise of Bardot was that you had just as much chance of being up there as anyone else, in fact, as much chance as the hotel worker, Marilyn Monroe impersonator and dance teacher singing in this very shopping centre, it stood to reason the special alien quality of pop would take longer to form in them. The makers of Bardot were attempting to achieve a very difficult balancing act – to promote Bardot as down to earth, ordinary girls living the dream, no different to you or I, but also promoting them as a special group, unique, a magical melding of voices and look that would have a long term career. Worse, this was a band expected to give instant chart results while still attempting to find their way, a band expected to have #1 singles right this very second, but also to find their own sound during the process. While it wasn’t hard to wish Bardot well, something still felt flat about them, something that no one could quite put their finger on – it was exciting, but underwhelming at the same time. It just didn’t feel like “our” Spice Girls somehow, which is what we were promised. Maybe it was just the fact that we had seen them up close, that we couldn’t switch off and separate them from the brand, maybe it was just seeing them in a shopping mall, but it wasn’t hard to feel a sense of “is that all there is?”
On Sunday May the 14th, in the year 2000, Bardot (“the self titled smash! album” as they called it) dutifully debuted at #1, knocking Killing Heidi’s Reflector album off the top spot. It only stayed at #1 for one week, as Savage Gardens Affirmation album, and then, appallingly, Pearl Jams Binaural album, kept it from the top spot in the next two weeks. That Bardot had a #1 album was encouraging, but that the god awful sludgy Pearl Jam, several years past their sell by date, could also top the charts, was a dispiriting blow. In Australia, where credibility is seemingly doled out on how many punters clubs you’ve played or whether you can scream like Jimmy Barnes, there remained a haughty suspicion of Bardot, and it wasn’t hard to find those who were quick to knock the girls at any opportunity. When the album was invariably reviewed, no one seemed able to split the songs from the show, or seemed unwilling to miss a chance to get a sly dig in. No one seemed to review the music, as Sophie Monk hoped in a May interview with Girl Magazine, but instead would find something it sounded like and tag a “lite” onto the end of it. So with songs dubbed “Spice Girls lite” or “Britney lite”, Bardot, a band assembled on the premise of excellence, suddenly faced an early test of faith – the kind that a young Kylie Minogue faced in her early “singing budgie” days, only with added on hype – so in every sense, it was very quickly sink or swim time.
It wasn’t just music critics though – the core demographic of Bardot was always going to be in the playground, where the little girls with their pocket money were going to decide the true fate of Bardot – and the verdict throughout the time was very split. There were those who were excited by Bardot, but very quickly there were just as many girls ringing up radio stations to demand the instant cessation of the repeated playing of “Poison” – for every girl dutifully buying “The Adventure Continues” VHS tape, there was a girl who was decrying that you could hear the manufacturing in every song, that it was simply a limp photocopy of the Spice Girls aesthetic, and that Bardot just plain “sucked” – in a nation where everyone has an opinion, it’s much easier to lose the faithful than convert the doubters, and Bardot, once they were off TV, had to confront this issue head on, and compete with the impending Olympic games for news space. It was a tough initation for a group that hadn’t even formed 6 months before.
The problem was, they hadn’t made us love them yet – they were stars, but they were merely famous – people thought of them as players in an ongoing television drama, one that had now ended. In the short term, Bardot had to not only find their feet in a tough marketplace, competing against the cream of international pop, then a thriving musical genre, they had to get to know each other musically, and disentangle themselves from Popstars the brand, and for whatever reason, it seemed they very quickly lost their momentum – the brand had done it’s job, but the band? They seemed aimless – lots of shopping tour appearances, but not much solid product All of this was still new to us of course, but as active participants in their drama, we felt like we had invested plenty of time and energy in their formation. It wasn’t out of the question to hear people say things like “well we made them you know!” in discussing Bardot, or telling stories of alleged Tiffany Wood sightings that resulted in alleged Tiffany Wood slights. The word on the street was that Bardot were naff, and the album has failed to weld itself into the national consciousness, leading to some to actively wonder, before a year was out, “whatever happened to?” From a nation that expected so much more, things were rapidly messing up.
To emphasise what they were up against, a second, comedy band called Poptarts, comprising four of the final ten who didn’t make it, began cropping up on comedy program Good News Week and Louise Messenger, Deanne Hall, Bree Cahill, Jodie-Joy Smith and Leigh Shorten, who comprised the band, seemed at one point to have far greater access to a proper publicity machine than the actual winners. Poptarts were a great deal easier to access than Bardot for interviews, and had they produced a single, they may have managed a high chart placing – in the archives of most major Australian newspapers, there isn’t much Bardot news between the end of the show, and the end of the year, but it’s easy to find a Poptarts article or two poking through, with a few subtle Bardot jibes thrown in. Poptars simply emphasised the problems to the critics – it was just as feasible that these five girls could have been Bardot – showing the formation of Bardot had guaranteed a Cherry style fiasco was avoided, but it has also produced a band that didn’t have a heart or a unique identity – Poptarts really could have been Bardot, but what was worse was that no one seemed to be fighting for Bardot – least of all, well, Bardot. (A third group formed from rejected contestants, “TATU”, released a single “Imperfect Girl”, which failed to chart).
By late 2000, just six months after the final show, things weren’t as they should be – a planned tour of New Zealand failed because no one bought tickets (one show selling just two tickets in the first three weeks of sale), the planned (and implied throughout the show) push into overseas markets seemed to stall in Thailand, and media access to the girls was strictly rationed, denying supportive publications the opportunity to further promote the story. It was later tendered in court that Grant Thomas, the very manager who had helped select the band, had treated the girls “like cows put out to pasture” once the show had ended – it was further tendered no one really had a plan beyond the show’s finale. They didn’t have an idea to make the worlds greatest girl band after all – they just had a vague idea for a TV show. The court case in question saw Grant Thomas sue Screentime Management for a loss of earnings after Bardot sacked him, but neither side seemed to come out of the case with any great credit. While it was tendered that Grant Thomas failed to provide strategic plans and monthly reports, ignored repeated requests to get Bardot a gig during the Sydney Olympics and turned down a $35,000 modelling job for one of the members, it was equally tendered that Bardot did not want to play at a New Year's Eve concert in Singapore because they would miss their boyfriends, nor in East Timor because they did not want to travel in a helicopter. It also emerged Screentime, the producers of the show, had never really dealt with a music act, and had no real contributions to the growing tensions between Thomas and the girls – it’s only concession to Bardot it seemed was simply to try and give the girls anything they wanted, only to have them pay for said desires out of their own advances. The girls in turn felt underworked, underpaid and overtired. The whole Bardot project was rapidly becoming an unresolvable mess, devoid of leadership, created by people too inexperienced to deal with what they had created, who failed to understand the golden opportunity they were presented with.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, rumours began to circulate Bardot simply didn’t like each other – that Katie was much put upon because of her more androgynous look, that Sally and Sophie didn’t see eye to eye, that Australian music critics attempting to access Bardot could only see the girls one at a time lest the game be given away that there was internal dissent within Bardot. In the midst of all this chaos, Bardots second single, I Should’ve Never Let You Go, peaked at #13, and the third single, These Days, peaked at #20. Further grist to the critics mill was the fact that I Should’ve Never Let You Go featured an animated video – normal practice in many ways, but another stick to beat Bardot, the “cartoon” brand lacking in credibility. It seemed that even the routine stuff was going wrong for the band, as if people were inventing things to criticise Bardot about – in December 2000, they even won an award for “best brand” – a tongue in cheek dig that summed up where Bardot found themselves, lumped in with the likes of Noelene Donaher and Richard Hatch, a flash in the pan reality TV event, now with nothing to show from all the flash and hype.
There were so many problems, so much going wrong – there was surely no way they would ever become a proper band…
And then, one day – they did…
Bardot - Chart positions - 2000
I Should’ve Never Let You Go 15-16-13-17-26-17-18-24-39-39-45
These Days 22-20-22-25-28-26-36-
(To be concluded)
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