Released: 17th July 2000
Writers: Louise / Matt Elliss / Julie Morrison
Peak position: #3
Chart run: 3-8-9-14-24-34-43-58
As one of pop music’s nicest stars, Louise took everyone by surprise with the lead single from her third solo album, which flouted the unwritten rules of the genre and included *gasp* a swear word.
Following the success of her first two albums – and having amassed a string of top ten singles – Louise had positioned herself as a credible chart force. Coupled with her popularity among readers of the gentleman’s magazine FHM, she remained visible even as hordes of new pop acts sprung up around her. However, at the precise moment where Louise was at her most famous, she decided to apply the brakes and spend a little bit more time in the composition of her third album. It wasn’t a huge wait, but for an artist who had been an evergreen presence in the charts since Eternal made their debut in 1993, the 21-month gap between her previous single All That Matters, and her comeback was significant nonetheless. It was crucial, then, that Louise returned with a track which grabbed the public’s attention, and 2 Faced was a perfect choice.
Socially conscious pop music isn’t for everyone, but this track strikes a perfect balance between having something meaningful to say and expressing it in a way that doesn’t feel heavy-handed. It edged away from the disco leanings of Louise’s previous album, settling instead on a jauntier sound that sat closer to R&B (an authentic evolution, thanks, in part, due to her earlier work with Eternal). Fundamentally, though, it felt current alongside turn-of-the-century pop music, which was loaded with attitude and personality. 2 Faced even dabbles with the addition of conversational exchanges during the intro (“Hi girls” “Hi Louise!”) and outro (“I can’t believe you said that about me” “Believe it, honey”). There’s a fine line to pull off dialogue successfully, but it’s well-executed here; the mixing is excellent, and wisely it’s so brief that distraction is never a risk. Indeed, all the chatter does is add some character to a song that would otherwise function perfectly well without it.
2 Faced is tremendously constructed, managing to be both a shower and a grower. The chorus, in particular, is incredibly – and immediately – catchy with smart use of emphasis to create a sing-song rhythm: “Stop your bitchin’ ’cause you’re so…SAD, bitchin’ behind my…BACK, honey I don’t ne-e-e-ed that…”. The use of a (mild) expletive was certainly notable within a mainstream pop song, not least one by Louise. Was it a gimmick to ensure 2 Faced garnered attention? Maybe. And it worked. But beneath that lies the fact that there wasn’t a better word within the context of the song that would capture what the lyrics were describing. Most importantly, once the novelty of a moderately controversial term has worn off, there are some great little hooks peppered throughout the track: “Ow, ow, pretending to be so nice, let me give you my advice, I don’t need you-ooh”. It’s this substance beneath the more obvious elements that make 2 Faced such an enduringly appealing pop song.
Thematically, what the song does well is to position itself in an entirely relatable way. While Louise was a household name and may well have been a target for people looking to capitalise on her name, there’s nothing within 2 Faced that relates directly to her stardom. Instead, it deals with the topic in a way that would ring true to many pop fans who may have found themselves in similar situations: “Friends in disguise, dressed up in lies, it’s an act that you’re playing; ow, ow, first you recognise me, then you criticise me, what’s goin’ on”. Despite the scathing vitriol lacing the track, it winds up being something of a reassurance that even someone like Louise – who appeared to have it all – could experience such hurtful behaviour. 2 Faced thrives on relatability; it’s an anthemic statement of solidarity where the listener has got her back, and she theirs.
The accompanying music video does an excellent job of striking the same tone as the lyrics; the cold aesthetic very much reflects the fact that this is not a fluffy pop song. There’s an angular style to the visuals, with the grimacing extras styled as two-dimensional cut-outs (which is the not the same as being two-faced, but we were nothing if not literal at the turn-of-the-decade). It’s evident that there was a significant investment in post-production because the whole thing is built around dynamic transitions and layering of individual elements. The video doesn’t necessarily look like the most expensive effort – certainly not compared to the grander sets featured in earlier singles – which is something of a shame because those effects didn’t come cheap back in 2000.
The styling is also more modest, which didn’t necessarily help matters. 2 Faced marked an intentional shift for Louise away from the high-kicking A-list pop star look; instead, the image seems more newlywed-next-door (if that’s even a genre of clothing). It goes without saying that she still looks stunning; but overall, it’s a less bombastic – almost practical – aesthetic. All that being said, if the purpose was to drop Louise into an environment that feels hostile and unwelcoming to contrast her pleasantness against the poisonous people around her, then the video is a resounding success.
As comebacks go, 2 Faced fared very well indeed. The track debuted at #3 in the UK, becoming – and remaining – Louise’s highest-peaking single. It’s not her biggest seller, but that’s more a symptom of the fact that many of her earlier releases came during busier sales periods. It was good work all round, and there was no reason to suspect that anything should go awry; but alas, the release of Elbow Beach a few weeks later saw the album enter the chart at #12. This wasn’t necessarily an issue, because Louise – up until this point – had always been more of a consistent seller than a big seller. But just four weeks later, Elbow Beach dropped off the chart, never to reappear. It was all a bit puzzling because 2 Faced suggested that with this album, Louise had something interesting to say. Perhaps that alone wasn’t enough to stimulate interest, or maybe a few more singles beforehand were needed to build some hype. Either way, it was jarring to see such interest in one side of the campaign and relative disinterest in the other, particularly when dealing with an established artist.
The legacy of 2 Faced – beyond being a big hit for Louise – is that it shone a light on an aspect of toxic culture that up until this point was rarely discussed in real terms. The track served an early warning to think before we speak because words have the power to hurt, and it’s a message that is just as true today as it was back then.