Released: 19th July 1999
Writers: Richard Stannard / Julian Gallagher / Jason Brown / Sean Conlon / Abs Breen
Peak position: #2
Chart run: 2-4-6-9-13-20-28-40-47-55-67-75
After a tremendous run of singles from their debut album, through no fault of their own – and under tragic circumstances – Five found themselves without one of the producers who’d masterminded their sound. However, the release of If Ya Gettin’ Down promptly dispelled any concerns that they might be about to run into a difficult second album.
Pivotal in the Five’s early career was the Swedish producer Denniz PoP, who helped craft a chart-topping debut album which veered from slick, credible Swedepop to raucous, rebellious crowd-pleasers. It was an eclectic mix that led to success on both sides of the Atlantic. But following his death in 1998, the group were faced with a decision. Should they pursue an Americanised sound and chance their luck in the States under a new producer from the increasingly prominent Cheiron Studios, or should they focus on their home turf and consolidate a growing profile here? Many other acts were chomping at the bit for a hit in America, so it may have come as a surprise that Five opted for the latter option. It was an astute decision because the reality is they would never have been a priority act over there, as evidenced when they sought to record …Baby One More Time, only to find it had been promised to Britney Spears. And when they later turned down Bye Bye Bye – which instead ended up with *NSYNC – it perhaps became evident that without Denniz PoP, Five’s success in America would only come with significant compromise. And it was one they were not willing to make.
So, instead, they doubled down with Richard “Biff” Stannard as a new executive producer on their second album Invincible, which granted them a much more consistent sound. It was by no means wholly removed from their earlier singles, but it felt situated much more within the sphere of British pop music. Pop music tinged with darkness was Five’s speciality and If Ya Gettin’ Down accentuates that quality at every turn. The production is unrelentingly cold and industrialised thanks to the use of raw elements, even if one in particular – the sound of a whistle blowing – verges on maddening (it cannot be unheard once you’ve noticed it). The vocals also have a suitably robotic edge to them. However, rather than distort the group’s voices, it almost like they’ve been joined by an additional singer. The effect is noticeable throughout, but much more so during the: “I want it now baby” sections of the chorus, where they almost merge into one. The track is utterly oozing laddish machismo – it’s as close as you can get to raw masculinity in a pop song – which spills out during the pre-chorus: “I heard somebody say (WHAT?), she’s at the party so (UH!), I’m gonna get me some (a-a-a-a-a-ah)”. There’s a clear distinction from the sunnier bubblegum pop of their peers, but it’s still every bit as thrilling and enjoyable.
But the difference extends to more than just the sound; it runs to the very heart of the composition. This is incredibly smart pop music that capitalises on Five’s penchant for re-interpreting past hits and turning them into something different. If Ya Gettin’ Down is possibly their best example; the instrumental is heavily based around Indeep’s Last Night A DJ Saved My Life, and there’s even a verse that pays homage to the original: “There ain’t no problem that we can’t fix, ‘cos we can do it in the mix, now if your man gives you trouble, we’ll be in there on the double, guaranteed that we’ll be hittin’ for six”. Whether the majority of Five’s fanbase was familiar with the source material or not, the easy and obvious route would have been to spit out a cover version. So, it’s to the group’s credit that instead, they chose to create an end product which is decisively theirs.
And theirs it most certainly is. The rapped verses are the star here and If Ya Gettin’ Down is brimming with inventive lyrics. J wastes no time in announcing this as Five’s comeback single while acknowledging the shift in sound and squeezing in a cheeky nod to their debut in one fell swoop: “I wanna take a little time, to refresh your mind, ‘cos the boys are back in town, with a different kinda funk”. For a group who made everything look so casual, the track is meticulously timed, so that when Abs says: “I’ve still got 12 seconds on the clock…”, there actually are 12 seconds until the end of his verse. Yet, despite such care to attention, If Ya Gettin’ Down still manages to be playful and fun, like the sexual innuendo which isn’t very sexy at all: “Wiggy wiggy, I’m getting jiggy, open up the door, I got the keys to your city”. Fundamentally, Five were a pop act, and it would be wrong to suggest otherwise. However, this belies the fact that they were tremendously good at stringing together clever, witty raps – something that was usually overlooked in any critical appraisal of the group – and this is easily one of their finest.
Mirroring (or perhaps contributing to) the oppressively dark sound of If Ya Gettin’ Down was the music video, which takes place in some kind of underground bunker. You know the sort, with an illuminated dance-floor on which Five – and a plethora of backing dancers – perform an extended dance sequence while pillars of flame spontaneously burst from the floor around them. That’s all there is to it; if the concept feels overly simple for such an important single, then it merely serves to prove that the group had more than enough charisma to pull it off. The choreography is excellent, and the only real shame about the video is that it doesn’t have the confidence to feature some extended shots of the dancing, instead opting for an overly generous use of jump-cuts which break the flow. It would also be remiss not to acknowledge the styling; Five look incredible in their Mission Impossible-cum-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles outfits (or maybe that’s just Abs’ shoulder pads). It’s anybody’s guess how many young pop fans – of any and all persuasions – were left a quivering wreck after clapping eyes on J here…
Despite If Ya Gettin’ Down making a bold attempt at subliminal messaging with chants of: “Say number one”, the track didn’t quite reach #1. It came close though, debuting and peaking at #2, Five’s third consecutive single to do so. At this stage, a chart-topper felt inevitable and only a matter of time. But now was not that moment; this single served a more important function, and that was to allow the group a smooth passage into their second album. While their visual identity had always been reasonably well defined, the same could not be said for their musical direction thanks to the diverse markets that they (expertly) straddled up until this point.
If Ya Gettin’ Down was a rollickingly enjoyable pop song that provided a necessary distraction from what was happening behind-the-scenes. And what better tribute could Five have paid to Denniz PoP than to use what he gave them and turn it into something even bigger and better.