Released: 16th April 2001
Writers: Joshua Thompson / Bradley Spalter / Michael Norfleet / Quincy Patrick
Peak position: #3
Chart run: 3-7-11-17-22-30-35-54-55-72
Billboard Hot 100 chart run: 21-17-10-19-32-27-24-23-27-35-41-59
Song inspiration can come from a lot of places. But rarely in pop music did it come from a teenage boy’s crusty sheets.
Although Popstars was a landmark moment in ‘00s UK pop music as TV ratings were magically transformed into record-breaking chart sales, the concept was preceded in America by Making The Band. The format was similar in as much as it was a series following Lou Pearlman (yep, him again) undertaking a televised quest to recruit to his newest boyband. However, his involvement created a slightly different prospect; this was a man who had proven form with Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC, so the stakes – and audience expectations – were much higher.
After weeks of eager hopefuls being whittled down to the final five, the group that would be known as O-Town was formed. Why O-Town? Because Orlando was the home of Lou Pearlman’s entertainment complex and where his earlier flagship boybands had been established, of course. With such credentials behind them, Ashley Parker Angel, Jacob Underwood, Erik-Michael Estrada, Trevor Penick, and Ikaika Kahoano were primed for the A-list. But wait a moment…Ikaika Kahoano? That doesn’t look right. Mere weeks into recording their debut album, O-Town were rocked by the departure of Ikaika to rival boyband LMNT. Unphased, they returned to the pool of previously rejected contestants and chose Dan Miller to step in as a replacement. The line-up was complete; now they needed a debut single – one that would make a real splash (ahem!)
As TV talent show singles go, it’s fair to say that Liquid Dreams was a bold statement. It is precisely what it says on the tin: an ode to nocturnal ejaculation. We will never stop making jokes about this because it is one of the most bafflingly brilliant pop singles of the time. Had O-Town taken the more traditional route into pop music, then you could understand a bit more what Liquid Dreams was trying to achieve – it would undoubtedly raise eyebrows (and who knows what else). But Making The Band gave the group a captive audience to reach out to, so a song about night-time expulsion caused by imagining their favourite traits in other female celebrities seems somewhat defeatist. Pop music at the time was aspirational – our boybands were marketed in a way that gave the impression they were singing directly to us. Unless your life goal was to change O-Town’s crusty sheets every morning, there wasn’t a lot here to bring you closer to the band.
But we digress, Liquid Dreams rejected a lot of the negative elements we’ve come to associate with TV talent show winners singles. It’s not a ballad, it’s extremely well produced, the music video looks fittingly high budget and it manages to use the word “morpharotic” in its lyrics. Perhaps most crucially, it had its finger on the pulse – something that regularly frustrated about the cookie-cutter chart-topping ballads pumped out of subsequent TV talent shows. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day and Liquid Dreams has a much more definitive place within pop music history than many winners’ singles that have followed it.
My mama thinks I’m lazy, my friends all think I’m crazy
But in my mind, I leave the world behind every night I dream
Liquid Dreams, my Liquid Dreams
Waterfall and streams, these liquid dreams
In some ways, the single is a glimpse at where pop music was headed rather than where it currently was. The pounding drums, dramatic crashing synths and understated quasi-R&B beat aren’t a million miles from *NSYNC’s Celebrity album, which was being recorded around the same time that this was released in America. It’s a notably more restrained affair – Liquid Dreams makes no real attempt to be in-your-
facial face – instead its strength is in how deceptively catchy it is. The slick chorus might initially come across as a little bit something-and-nothing, but it will burrow its way into your head and reside there for – well, 18 years and counting!
So, who is this woman responsible for the many nocturnal emissions emerging from the O-Town camp? Well, imagine if you will a creature with the following qualities: lips (Angelina Jolie), smile (Janet Jackson), beauty mark (Cindy Crawford), body (Jennifer…Lopez, Aniston or Love-Hewitt – maybe a little bit of each), the rest (Salma Hayek), wild style (Madonna) – there are also a few non-specifics, such as Tyra Banks’ testiness and just Destiny’s Child in general. At this point, you might be concerned that Liquid Dreams is treating female celebrities as nothing more than superficial objects of lust. Well, fear not, because the songwriters hear your concerns and tossed in the line: “Looks ain’t everything she’s got the sweetest personality, like Halle B”. So there you go, an example of how to deflect a potential accusation of sexism in ’00s pop culture as demonstrated by a team of male songwriters. Questionable chauvinism aside, Liquid Dreams picked its targets well – most of the names are still recognisable now, which is relatively impressive given the speed at which the industry was moving back then.
Considering this was their first single, O-Town’s voices work well together; you certainly don’t get the sense that this is a group of five aspiring solo artists – even if they weren’t at the same stage as their boyband peers in terms of harmonies. The relative ease with which the group slipped into the pop game was further emphasised in the music video for Liquid Dreams. It doesn’t quite go down the literal route (we can’t possibly comment on whether that’s a good or bad thing), but it does make good use of a technology that was very popular at the time. Avid Nickelodeon viewers may remember a little series called The Secret World Of Alex Mack – the premise, in case you are unfamiliar, was the titular character accidentally being covered in a chemical that gave her the ability to morph into a puddle. For a time, that special effect was incredibly popular, and it’s mostly what the video for Liquid Dreams is themed around. It’s effective, but it isn’t used as a distraction – O-Town throw down a lot of choreography, and it looks tight; the special effects complement what they’re doing rather than cover it up. This was a music video made for the MTV generation, and there was nothing tentative or unsure about it. Allegedly it broke the bank, costing over a million dollars, but the group command every moment of it.
Liquid Dreams was a reasonably big hit as debut singles go. It peaked at #10 in America, suffering only from a lack of airplay to further propel it up the chart. We can’t possibly imagine why radio might have been reluctant to play a song about five blokes having wet dreams… Nonetheless, a few months later the single reached #3 in the UK following the broadcast of Making The Band on T4. All in all, it was a solid success when you consider the sheer awkwardness of kids naively singing: “Waterfalls and streams, these liquid dreams” in front of their parents. Or maybe that was just us…