Somehow 15 years have passed since VICE arrived in London and the editors would have to push piles of magazines around the city asking pubs to please take them. Since then we've grown, conceiving tiny content babies that have grown into leading industry voices (see us, here – Noisey – recklessly tooting our own horn). To mark this anniversary, this week VICE UK is throwing a bunch of events and we're running a series of content about a time in British music that most of us shouldn't, but weirdly do, struggle to remember.
This article wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. To celebrate VICE UK turning 15, I was going to write a ‘where are they now?’-style feature in which I tracked down and interviewed all the one hit wonders of 2002. Daniel Bedingfield, Scooter, Holly Valance, Darius, Gareth Gates, The Cheeky Girls – you know the ones.
As it happened, this proved to be almost impossible. Daniel Bedingfield’s people told me they’d reveal nothing unless I booked him for a show. Holly Valance’s agent replied simply “This isn’t really for Holly, is it?”. Las Ketchup’s manager told me he’d emailed them four times to no response. Gareth Gates’ team literally just said “No idea mate??!?!?!”.
I’d almost given up hope until something landed in my inbox from The Cheeky Girls: the Romanian twins who auditioned for reality TV show Popstars: the Rivals in 2002 on a whim using a strange, nursery rhyme-style song their mum had made up, which they sang a cappella. They then released it as a club single called “The Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum)” to the dingalingaling tune of 1.2 million copies sold worldwide. But the email they sent me wasn’t just something. This was a 1,500-word tirade in which they tore apart reality shows, the music industry and, ultimately, let me in on a conspiracy theory as to why they didn’t reach number one.
Read their response below, which has been edited and condensed for clarity (or at least so it reads like a regular interview).
What’s life been like since the release of “The Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum)”?
Gabriela: Ours is a very long story and it’s impossible to tell in a few lines. Every day brings something new, we learn new things, meet new people, it’s a world of adventure! But we are not really interested in the charts these days because we don’t intend to spend a fortune on promo. We prefer to buy stunning cars because we love driving.
It’s also very hard to compete with the X Factor machine. As the years have passed by, reality shows have totally overshadowed emerging talent or hit songs. Everything on them is now fabricated, full of made up groups which would never have existed. They all have a short life, but it doesn’t matter, as long as they make money for their agents and managers. And then there are the songs… most of them are very old songs presented as new for the young generation who were not even born when those songs were released.
We see the music industry in the UK as a money making machine. It’s not like it was 30 to 40 years ago when artists had to find their own way and had to be supported by the public rather than pushed to the public, like, “This is what you have to like because three judges decided so!” It’s really bad… the first selection is made by the producers. They decide who will appear on the show, who will look like a fool and who will be promoted. The public see only what is decided to be on TV. That is not ‘reality’.
During the filming of “The Cheeky Song” we were told very clearly, “Don't expect this to be number 1, you will be 3rd or 2nd at best.” And that is exactly what happened. But our CDs were not in the shops for two days in the week leading up to Christmas number 1. People were calling and shouting all over the net… but our CDs just disappeared from the major stores for two days to make room for the groups who had to be number one. This was worse than Ceausescu's time in Romania! It was clearly not democracy, not the people's choice!
Our experience behind the scenes was also a nightmare… but we survived. Our label Telstar went partially bust from 2004 to 2006 and they never paid the royalties they owed us. But the fan’s support kept us going and we get stronger every year.
OK, clearly we don't agree with the artificial system of current reality shows. They are all partially scripted and made to look like reality when it’s in fact not like that. Yes, we are the product of one of these shows, but we dropped out and made our own way and after 15 years we are still here in full swing when others are history.
Monica: We have diplomas as well and we would love to have proper every day jobs because – while being a pop star is fun – you also work maybe ten days a month and the rest is travelling or nothing. Having a second ‘real’ job is fulfilling and gives you a guarantee for the future.
Gabriela: The truth is that if we apply for a job people look at us funny… they ask us why we would need it?! People shouldn't make weird faces when we will turn up to apply for a job! It appears that most of people cannot accept that we are real people and not just an image on the screen. We have our own ambitions and it’s not about fame and money. It’s about being grounded, about having new challenges, security for the future etc. There is a very bad attitude from employers towards public personalities. On top of everything, the tabloids are hungry to make up rubbish stories. When we were seen trying out temporary jobs, weird negative stories instantly started to appear…it made me question why?! A popstar cannot have a second job?
Me and my sister are passionate about sales, but it's a huge challenge. We would be really keen to work somewhere in sales as a second job and do our shows at the same time. It would give us job satisfaction and we are telling you now that, yes, after the new year we will try to do it… not because we are poor but because we are excited.
We are not really interested in promoting ourselves for pocket money fees in the tabloids selling untrue rubbish stories. We put our soul into all our appearances. We will record new songs and do shows for as long as people want to see us and as long as we look the part. We will not appear on stage when we believe we are not right for it anymore. We will then be sales executives :-)
Do you have any regrets about how things turned out?
Monica and Gabriela: We have no regrets. We learned a lot during those years, we travelled the world and we still do what we love to do: entertaining, and people love it.
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This article is part of VICE UK’s 15th anniversary series, presented by VANS