Released: 26th November 2001
Writers: Steve Mac / Wayne Hector / Alistair Tennant / Paul Gendler
Peak position: #90
Chart run: 90
As 2001 drew to a close, Atomic Kitten were riding high and planned to round off their triumphant debut album campaign with You Are. Alas, despite this being a surefire hit – and one of their best songs – it ended up not being released at all in the UK.
It had scarcely been 12 months since Atomic Kitten found themselves in a precarious position when their fourth single, Follow Me, scraped into the top 20, closely followed by their debut album reaching #39. A year on and the group had a new line-up, two chart-topping singles – including a million-seller – and the (mostly) rerecorded Right Nowhad also reached #1. So, if ever there was a campaign that could stretch to a seventh single, it was this one. There are no real surprises with You Are. The status quo for Atomic Kitten 2.0 had already been firmly set with their cover of Eternal Flame, and this song – a new addition to the album – finds the group once again in mid-tempo territory. The track was allegedly intended for Westlife, which makes perfect sense given it was co-written by Steve Mac and Wayne Hector, who’d worked on the vast majority of the boyband’s material up until this point (although let’s not even get into questioning why on earth they wouldn’t have wanted to record this). Pop balladry of this ilk was an easy target for critics, who labelled it intentionally safe and inoffensive. That was often true, but on that basis, You Are does what it does exceptionally well and is arguably far better than it had any need to be.
While that familiar gentle toe-tapping beat is present within the track, the more notable production aspect is the dramatic, swooping string riffs, which create a real sense of grandeur, flanked by jangly guitar riffs. Even now, You Are is easily one of the most distinctive songs in Atomic Kitten’s back-catalogue thanks to the unique spin it stamps on a formula that would largely dictate the group’s direction for the next few years. The track is composed with a nursery rhyme-esque melody, which feels immediately, reassuringly familiar and undemanding. This is the easiest of easy listening, but You Are is constantly wielding some hefty pop sensibilities.
This is an inherently pretty song, brimming with optimism, which translates into the vocals like an absolute dream. This is easily one of Natasha Hamilton and Liz McClarnon’s best performances, if not technically then certainly in terms of conveying the sheer joy wrapped up in the lyrics: “Maybe you think you’re not right for me, that you’ll never be everything I need, well I’ll tell you straight from my heart you are, you are”. They find a perfect balance whereby You Are has all the peppy quality of a bombastic bubblegum pop song yet never sounds anything less than wholeheartedly sincere.
The track is furthermore a terrific example of how Atomic Kitten’s new line-up just worked, right from the off, as Jenny Frost can be found providing the spoken interludes and responses: “Ooh, I wish you’d ask me how I feel (I’d say that I’m emphatic), ooh and when you’re near to me (this urgency is automatic), ooh, you’re my addiction, boy (and I don’t wanna break the habit)”. She may not have been front and centre as a lead vocalist, but her presence is no less significant, adding another layer to You Are. Everything clicked so flawlessly and effortlessly into place.
That becomes more and more evident as the track builds towards its finale, pulling the classic – and ever-reliable – trick of stacking elements onto one another. The middle-eight transitions out into the chorus: “… I’d say that you’re in my heart, you’re in my HEA-A-A-A-A-ART, you are, you are…MY REASON, you are the air… I’m BREATHING, ask who’s in my heart…YOU ARE, YOU ARE” before looping back around to a reprise of the first verse: “Maybe you think you’re not right for me…” mixed with ad-libs from the chorus (“You are my reason…the air I’m breathin’, you are my reason for loving, for living, for BREA-A-A-ATHING”). Even if the acoustic finish added to the live performances is slightly more preferable to the fade out of the studio version, this really is about as perfect a minute of pop music as you could ever hope to hear.
The music video for You Are was due to be filmed in New York’s Grand Central Station. Indeed, Atomic Kitten had already flown there in preparation. Those plans were scrapped following the events of September 11th. The group has subsequently spoken candidly about the trauma they experienced, having literally watched the events unfold from their hotel room. An alternative concept was devised, where Atomic Kitten are depicted performing the song between giant speakers while fabric billows around them. The shimmering blue-white colour palette creates a cool, clean aesthetic and immediately conveys a group who were firmly on pop music’s A-list. Everything about the video – the choreography, the chemistry, the screen presence – is firmly on point. The inclusion of cutaway shots featuring two extras portraying the song’s message strategically masks the fact that not much else is happening by creating a loose narrative thread. This might not have been the treatment planned for You Are, but you’d never know because it’s remarkably polished and reinforces Atomic Kitten’s brand every step of the way.
Despite the video being played on music channels and the track being sent to radio, You Are was never actually released in the UK. From an outside perspective, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where this wouldn’t have been another massive hit for Atomic Kitten, but their record label wasn’t feeling quite so confident. Airplay didn’t take off in the way that they had hoped, and promotion for the single was compromised by the international success of Whole Again. The group were trying to cover too much ground at once, and so eventually, the decision was made to ditch You Are here, although it did still peak at #90 on import sales. Record labels don’t usually err on the side of caution – particularly off the back of two #1 singles – so maybe it was right to tread carefully in this case given how close to the brink Atomic Kitten had come once before. Nevertheless, it does feel like they might have underestimated the appeal of You Are because even without a proper release, it promoted enough interest in Right Now to see the album back into the top 40.
For Atomic Kitten to be in a position where they had a song as good as You Are readied as a seventh single (even if it was added belatedly) – and that they could afford to skip it – shows the turnaround in the group’s fortunes. Given their career trajectory moving forward, it would be difficult to argue anything different should’ve been done. All the same, while it may not have been a mistake, it was unquestionably a waste of an incredible pop song. If there’s any consolation to be had, You Are did – at least – make it onto Atomic Kitten’s 2004 greatest hits collection, and rightly so. For this is unquestionably the group at their very best.