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Looking Back at Booty Luv, the Dance-Pop Duo Who Could Have Had It All

Do you remember when "Boogie 2nite" was the sound of every clubland fantasy you ever had?

by Josh Baines
31 January 2017, 11:02am

Sat backstage on a Friday night in Warrington, Cherise Roberts and Nadia Shepherd dreamt of a life they'd never get to have. As they sipped on vodka and cranberry juice, dipping done-up fingers into bowls of crisps, eyeing up the final length of celery wilting under bright lights next to a tub of hummus, waiting to be escorted to the stage by a burly bloke in a waistcoat, the pair of them drifted into a quietly shared fantasy. They were Booty Luv, and for a second, just a second, they'd let themselves believe that the world was theirs for the taking.

Looking back—secreting ourselves from the ceaseless horrors of 2017 and sliding into a decade-old recent past—you'd forgive Roberts and Shepherd for living within their own delusion. Booty Luv were briefly everywhere, or so it seemed. With their alcopop-ready pop-house anthems, the pair were perfect soundtrack to binge Britain at the height of its down-heel rowdiness. Booty Luv made twerkers' anthems, songs for the pissed and disaffected.

Their slim oeuvre, a handful of singles and a solitary album, is the sound of Gordon Brown and Bouncers, Pete from Big Brother and Litvinenko's gruesome demise, a time capsule for an age now looked back on with misty-eyed tenderness. Their music blasted out of cars on the motorway and common room radios, filtered out of Oceanas and festival stages. Then, seemingly suddenly, they found themselves gasping for air in the Bermuda Triangle of irrelevance, with nary a life jacket in sight. How did that happen?

Before Booty Luv there were the Big Brovaz. Big Brovaz were a kind of vaudevillian hip hop collective, Outkast collaborating with George Formby if you will. Their music, to put it kindly, hasn't aged well. Like a good 99% of all the cultural detritus accumulated between 9/11 and Bush's re-election, that'll be trudged up by media-archeologists in decades and centuries to come, Big Brovaz's work will be met with blank incomprehension, our intrepid Indiana's unable to muster much more than a, "What was the point of that then?"

Given that base level of mediocrity, it was no wonder that two its members, Roberts and Shepherd, found themselves longing for more. A few years after their inception, the wheels were falling off. Cracks had emerged, as had a pair of potential stars.

"We've still got our devoted fans and we just released an album a few weeks ago called Re-Entry," Cherise said in a 2007 interview with Digital Spy. She went on to note that, "We can't expect everything to be doing exceptionally well. It might pick up, if it doesn't it's not the end of the world for us," which is about the most damningly faint self-praise ever transcribed.

With fraternal ties slashed, Roberts and Shepherd were free to mould the world in their own image, and that image was high street gloss and glamour, WKDs and doner kebabs abandoned in taxi rank waiting rooms. What the duo and their producers created was the kind of unpretentious, effervescent, commercial house that couldn't give less of a fuck about Ron Trent or King Street Records if it tried.

Booty Luv's first, and arguably best, single was "Boogie 2Nite," a cover of an un-charting release by the American R&B singer Tweet, who was famous for her pro-masturbation banger "Oops (Oh My)". Tweet's original, which arrived four years before Booty Luv's infinitely more successful rendition, is a perfectly serviceable slice of slow-mo neo-soul, a completely acceptable thing to make a bacon sandwich to on a sleepless Sunday morning. It pales in comparison, however, to the precision-engineered floor-filling remix turned in by Seamus Haji. That remix became a minor club hit, and in 2006, now estranged from the rest of their brothers, Roberts and Shepherd found themselves recording a version that was picked up by Hed Kandi.

Sticking around on the charts for 25 weeks, with a peak position of number 2, "Boogie 2nite," felt like the start of something huge. Finally—finally!—there was another Scott Mills friendly dance act ready to dominate the charts for decades to come! This was dance music for mums and daughters alike, innocuous enough for football-run fathers to whistle along to while driving to away games, and bouncy enough for their sons to have first snogs to at house parties. Megastardom beckoned. And then it didn't.

What followed, in actuality, was the kind of spotty career that's no longer really viable, given the current state of the music industry. The kind of spotty career that sees chart positions ping pong between the respectable and the never-spoken-about-again, a career that never totally coalesces into any kind of coherent totality. The kind of career that, sadly, nearly every musical act on earth has.

One possible cause of Booty Luv's speedy rise and even speedier demise is simple: consumers are a bit savvier than marketing execs would like to think. Repetition might not be an immediate block to sustained success, but releasing four pretty similar sounding singles in quick succession by an act who, for all their ability to convey the kind of boozy-lust that sets commercially-minded clubs up and down the country into throes of sambuca-laced ecstasy were never really imbued with a huge amount of pizzazz, was always going to be a risk.

It didn't help that he follow up singles—"Shine," "Don't Mess With My Man," "Some Kinda Rush,"—which are all enjoyably tacky, plasticky, guilt-free and sort of gormless bites of Kisstory-ready chintz, didn't push the "Boogie 2nite" envelope too far.

The template was a simple one: affix a half-catchy tune—"Shine" by Luther Vandross, or Lucy Pearl's "Don't Mess with My Man,"—to a flatpack 4/4, sprinkle with some wooshy synths straight from a cheap sample pack, and unleash on a ready and waiting dancefloor. That template, as effective as it can be, doesn't always translate to the world that exists outside the perimeters of the club. A record that sounds great blasting out across the office or a service station forecourt on a sunny Friday afternoon might not sound as life-affirming after you've paid a few quid to listen to it at home, alone, with a pre-payday lentil dinner. If you've been let down once, you'll be less likely to part with your cash in the future.

There's an even simpler reason than that, though. And that's because they called themselves Booty Luv, which is down there with Bass Bumpers and Armand Van Hard On when it comes to utterly atrocious names. If you call yourself Booty Luv, you cannot, sadly, expect a decade-spanning career, however good you are at slapping out records that get blokes in off-the-rail suits sucking down Slippery Nipples like there's no tomorrow. Those are the terms of engagement and they cannot be broached.

Booty Luv lay dormant for a few years, and an attempted comeback in 2013 amounted, sadly, to very little. "Black Widow," which didn't make the charts, was lacking that special something, sounding like nothing more than a tune Taio Cruz turned down in 2009. As a last roll of the dice, it felt under-thrown, poorly-played, a half-hearted attempt to resuscitate something that'd barely throbbed at its liveliest.

Perhaps, though, it was Booty Luv's unerring mediocrity that has entrenched the pair in our collective conscience. Art does not necessarily have to strive for true greatness to be memorable—not every painter is a Picasso, nor is every every dancer a Nureyev. Life itself, lest we forget, is an often unthrilling succession of diluted repetitions, so why can't music get away with the same thing? Capturing a moment in time isn't easy. Keeping that moment alive is even harder.

There are people out there, though, who will always have that night in that club, with a Booty Luv song as their inner soundtrack.

Josh is on Twitter