Released: 11th June 2001
Writers: Peter Cunnah / Jamie Petrie
Peak position: #20
Chart run: 20-30-38-54-59-X-X-X-X-X-73-66
2001 saw a brand-new pop group make their mark on the charts with their debut single, which also happened to be the theme tune to the popular afternoon children’s TV series in which they starred. Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.
The only real surprise when it came to CITV copying the format of S Club 7’s quasi-autobiographical TV show is that it took them so long. Miami 7 had debuted on CBBC back in April of 1999, but proved a resounding success – and yielded a #1 single – long before it concluded its run. Four spin-off episodes and a second series later, CITV finally got in on the act and debuted STARStreet, featuring the five-piece mixed-sex pop group allSTARS* (that’s Sandi, Thaila, Ashley, Rebecca and Sam. See what they did there?).
The inherent difference with STARStreet was the way it read the audience. A hard-hitting portrayal of teen life Miami 7 certainly was not. Still, it spoke to its viewers at an age-appropriate level and felt like it was written – and performed – by people who understood what would resonate with teenagers. STARStreet, on the other hand, felt like an aesthetic fusion of Teletubbies and Playdays that had been concocted by a group of television executives who were still buzzing from a heavy weekend. The allSTARS* themselves aren’t at fault; they commit fully to the weirdness of the whole thing – and it was probably a lot of fun to film – but it felt entirely beneath the group and pitched them at a much younger market than they should have been aiming for. It was always going to be an uphill battle when they were contending with S Club 7 and the idyllic sunshine of Miami and LA. But the allSTARS* never really stood a chance when all they had was a whacky house and plastic troll-like aliens (officially called Babu) that made funny noises.
None of this would have mattered if not for the fact that at the heart of the whole project was a pop group who had some terrific material. What the allSTARS* lacked in originality (an overrated concept), they more than made up for with energy and enthusiasm. Best Friends is cut from that very distinctive sub-genre of British bubblegum pop that had no interest in emulating its Swedish or American counterparts. This is a track whose sole purpose is to press the basic pop buttons to create a short, sharp hit of effervescent joy and leave the listener with a massive grin across their face.
In case it wasn’t already obvious, Best Friends attempts to tap into the burgeoning market of songs aimed at celebrating togetherness. As the theme tune to STARStreet, it was extremely topical to the point where it’s even able to squeeze in the lyric: “A friend in need is a friend indeed”. But the track serves as more than an extension to the TV show, which is why it’s so puzzling that it was skewed towards pre-teens. The chorus, in particular, is aimed at the other end of the teen demographic: “At the party I meet my best friends, we go clubbing every weekend, take it through to a chillout Sunday”. As optimistic as it was that the allSTARS* could appeal to both spectrums of the market, Best Friends ends up landing somewhere in the middle.
Yet, the identity crisis running throughout the track consistently manifests in tremendously enjoyable ways. The song’s many hooks – particularly the: “Woo-hoo-HOO”s – are utterly irrepressible. They radiate as the perfect jingle for a children’s TV show, with lashings of faux-electric guitar and thumping drum kicks. The middle-eight, meanwhile, attempts to ground Best Friends with some profundity as Ashley Taylor-Dawson and Sam Bloom impart worldly wisdom with impressively gruff voices: “Looking out for you, and that’s what friends do, you’re always there for me, if I get into trouble; be looking out for me, I’m looking out for you”. From start to finish, the track is never anything less than a rollicking thrill.
The music video is – rather fittingly – a vibrant explosion of ideas that does it’s absolute best to join the dots between allSTARS* as both an independently functioning pop act, and as the stars of a television show. The earlier parts feel grounded in material that was filmed with STARStreet in mind, as we see the group frolicking around a brightly-coloured set and peering through cut-out holes. Then there’s a bit of CGI wizardry, and the group are flying through a whacky portal surrounded by flags. If the suggestion is that they could have gone anywhere in the world, one can only imagine how disappointed they would have been to arrive outside…a school. Presumably, it’s supposed to be in America, judging by the flags hanging inside. But that’s about the only indicator of location. And wherever it is, this is a school with questionable education standards judging by the sign strung outside which reads: “PROM TONITE”.
Alas, the prom has been cancelled, but undeterred the allSTARS* head inside anyway (evidently security is about as important as grammar here) and cause chaos in a classroom. The climax of the video (yes, there’s more) sees the group sucked through a blackboard-time-warp to perform Best Friends at a prom from yesteryear. It’s not entirely clear when it’s supposed to be set considering some of the fixtures and fittings look relatively modern, and it doesn’t solve the problem of the cancelled prom back in the current day. But hey, at least everyone back in the year 19-something-or-other had a jolly good time!
Despite the relatively muted performance of STARStreet, there was no real reason to think that Best Friends wouldn’t be hit. Therefore, it was something of a surprise then when the single debuted and peaked at #20. This was perhaps one of the earliest warning shots that pop music was not going to be entering into a period of cyclical renewal. On paper, there was no real reason that the allSTARS* should not replicate the success of previous acts who had adopted the same formula. But the reality was quite different, and some of that was outside of their control as we neared the end of the bubblegum pop era. It’s a real shame that Best Friends didn’t quite click commercially, because at its heart is a tremendously enjoyable song that is brimming with joyous optimism and good intention.
Few songs could better capture what the allSTARS* were trying to represent and that in itself makes it the perfect debut single for them despite its modest chart peak.