Released: 1st January 2001
Writers: Jörgen Elofsson
Peak position: #2
Chart run: 72-2-4-5-13-19-24-33-43-56-64
After sailing through the ‘difficult second album’ phase of their career, Steps were now in largely uncharted territory with their third album Buzz, having extended their predicted shelf-life by, well, three albums. Now in their mid-20s (so positively ancient by ‘90s pop standards), Steps’ sound needed to evolve and there was only one place to go: Cheiron Studios. The group had dabbled in emulating the Swedish-pop sound before (we’re looking at you Say You’ll Be Mine), but this time they went for the real deal.
Of course, you can’t just turn up at Cheiron and wait in line to be handed the next …Baby One More Time or I Want It That Way. The studio was masterful at creating songs to fit the artist singing them – a subtlety often lost on labels, who impatiently steered their acts away from an established sound in favour of copycat Cheiron products that had begun to infiltrate the market.
Steps were big, but they weren’t as big as many of the acts Cheiron were working with at the time. Nonetheless, singing a counterfeit Britney Spears song would not work – and so it is perhaps the biggest compliment to them that Jörgen Elofsson crafted a track simultaneously sounding unreservedly like Steps, but also quite unlike anything they’d released before.
Let’s just talk about the production for a second: that crisp instrumental hook, which opens the song and continues throughout. It’s a moment that, with the benefit of time, has revealed itself to be a distinctive calling card for Steps and is every bit as recognisable (albeit on a smaller scale) as some of the more famous production hooks that Cheiron delivered.
Whilst we now know that behind-the-scenes, the group were regularly involved in a tug-of-war over the lead vocals, It’s The Way You Make Me Feel utilises the strengths of the whole group by giving them all something to do, without a single moment feeling shoehorned in just to keep the peace. Wisely, H and Lee are largely relegated to backing vocals, but their interludes (“I’m irresistible”) are pivotal in maintaining the established dynamic of Steps – it’s knowingly cheeky and silly, but moreover, it shows that Jörgen Elofsson fundamentally understood what made the group tick.
Although the 2011 reunion painted a picture of Claire dominating the vocals, on It’s The Way You Make Me Feel she actually has very little to do at all. It’s almost a minute and a half into the song before her only solo couplet, which indisputably elevates the beat of the second chorus. But otherwise, this is very much the Faye and Lisa show – and it’s a highlight for both. Particularly Faye’s “I’m gonna make you MINE” in the second verse, delivered as though she’s been possessed by Britney Spears. The track obtains a heightened sense of drama that was rarely present in Steps’ material – although lyrically consistent with the general theme of their songs, the stakes had never sounded higher. A sentiment typified by Lisa Scott-Lee occupying her usual spot in the middle-eight, but here sounding like she’s desperately singing (and waving a fan – more on that in a second) for her life.
The music video was a grander affair than we’d been used to and one that lay the foundation for the eventual success of Downton Abbey. Based on the movie Dangerous Liaisons (a reference point probably lost on most of Steps’ fanbase), gone was the notion of a dance routine so simple it could be printed on the inlay of the single artwork. Instead, we had the group swirling in pairs around the ballroom and giving lustful looks towards the assorted extras – the fact that Faye didn’t recreate it on Strictly Come Dancing will forever go down as one of television’s greatest crimes.
I don’t wanna hurt nobody
But my heart just can’t hold back”
What It’s The Way You Make Me Feel did give us though was the hottest hand fan choreography known to man. Never before had fans been used with such tenacity. Such ferocity. Such purpose. There is surely not a single Steps fan who hasn’t purchased a cheap hand fan on holiday and recreated “the flick” (every year). When the group reformed in 2011 and wanted to make sure that everyone knew all of them could absolutely, definitely sing, It’s The Way You Make Me Feel was an obvious showcase due to it being one of their most cohesive efforts. Obligingly, the hand fan-choreo was resurrected and we were treated to one of the most iconic reunion moments as Lisa’s fan felt the full force of her belting out live vocals on This Morning.
Back in 2001, there was a minor controversy when It’s The Way You Make Me Feel was stocked prematurely, resulting in 1,400 sales and a debut entry of #72. The week of its official release, the single jumped to a peak of #2, behind Rui da Silva’s Touch Me – but it didn’t end there. Outraged Steps fans were adamant that It’s The Way You Make Me Feel would’ve been #1 if the song hadn’t been available early. Let’s just debunk that myth: 53,400 combined sales is still way less than the 67,000 Touch Me sold. But the mistake is entirely understandable since most fans were more focused on trying to purchase a hand-fan in the middle of winter than double-checking their arithmetic.
Taking all of this into consideration, it’s little wonder that It’s The Way You Make Me Feel deservedly found prominence within Steps’ back-catalogue. It’s widely considered to be one of their best songs and moreover it’s endured remarkably well. With a start like that for 2001, what on earth could go wrong in the next 12 months?