Released: 9th October 2000
Writers: Dawn Joseph / Lucy Abbot / Peter Anthony Kearney / Steve Robson
Peak position: #20
Chart run: 20-35-42-62-67
After scoring several top ten hits, along came a mid-tempo ballad that changed the trajectory of Atomic Kitten’s career entirely. No, not that one.
Having made their chart debut at the tail-end of 1999, Atomic Kitten spent much of the next 12 months steadily growing their profile. However, though their rambunctious early singles – Right Now, See Ya and I Want Your Love – were well received, there never seemed to be any risk of them attaining the ubiquity of the Spice Girls or matching the street cred of All Saints. Indeed, they were still in the territory of only being as good as their last hit. But Innocent Records had a plan to change that with a mid-tempo ballad called Whole Again, deemed the perfect lead single for Atomic Kitten’s debut album (which had already been released in Japan before being repurposed for the UK). But it took a long time to get the track quite right; it was passed backwards and forwards between the label and the producers. So, there was a last-minute change of plan; Follow Me was instead brought in to precede Right Now, and it was a decision that sent the whole campaign into a tailspin.
At the time, this was a bit of a gamble. The track stripped away much of the bravado surrounding Atomic Kitten and relied instead on their fanbase being invested enough to stick with them for a cute, inoffensive mid-tempo. In hindsight, that might seem a rather immaterial predicament because Follow Me is (almost) precisely the type of song the group traded on for most of their career. However, it was an untested dynamic at this stage and not at all in keeping with how Atomic Kitten were being marketed. That said, there are still some hallmarks that situate this within the group’s earlier output. Not least, the jaunty R&B-lite production elements and a male vocalist chanting: “Uh uh uh…SHH!” during the intro (with the obligatory ‘phoned-in’ effect, of course), both of which put Follow Me firmly in bubblegum pop territory.
The track is also brimming with deep and meaningful, wide-eyed teen perspectives on the world: “Some people put in all their time, some people suffer once in their life, some people would surrender their last dime for a lovin’ affair”. And while Follow Me falls into the bracket of songs that attempt to be profound without ever really making a point, Natasha Hamilton and Liz McClarnon – taking the first and second verses, respectively – are still convincing. It’s not necessarily that they come across as worldly-wise as the lyrics would have you believe; however, they exude an immensely likeable quality, which is perhaps even more crucial. There is just enough of the group’s cheeky energy present here so that whatever their invite during the pre-chorus may entail: “So if you feel like you’re going nowhere, I’m gonna show you things that we could share”, it sells the notion of togetherness and having each others’ backs.
Atomic Kitten’s transformation to connoisseurs of mid-tempo pop music mightn’t have been planned to the extent it eventually unfolded, but there are moments of Follow Me that nail the formula even at this early stage. The chorus: “Whenever you’re thinking that love’s unkind, follow me, we’ll go walking in paradise (follow me, follow me baby); whenever you’re looking for peace of mind baby, we can make it happen, just close your eyes and I’ll be there” has a twinkling, almost Christmassy quality (well, it was released in October), along with spirited backing vocals that are earnestly heartwarming.The takeaway from Follow Me is that regardless of how well the single panned out, Atomic Kitten switched well into this role. Whether their existing fanbase wanted them to go down the route of inoffensively pleasant pop music is another question entirely, but that doesn’t make this any less a genuinely charming effort. Sure, Follow Me probably wasn’t ever destined to wind up as one of the group’s bigger hits but had there already been a precedent for them to perform a song like this, it probably would have been a reasonably safe single. But it evidently wasn’t the right track to try and establish that direction in the first place.
In the best way possible, the video for Follow Me isvery much a product of Atomic Kitten’s formative years. There are some nice ideas here, but their execution is still a bit clunky, although, in hindsight, that’s all part of the appeal in being able to see the group’s rapid evolution. It’s a green-screen extravaganza that enthusiastically applies the early ’00s logic of every pop song having an accompanying dance routine, whether one is required or not. Thus, we see Atomic Kitten superimposed on several backgrounds while throwing themselves vigorously around a stage. Some of the sequences are great; clouds wisping around the group while they’re positioned atop a giant sphere is one of the more recognisable images associated with Follow Me and is probably the most suited aesthetic to the track. However, there’s also another where Atomic Kitten are on a platform surrounded by skyscrapers at night, with their image projected onto the buildings behind, which makes good use of the concept and shows a bit of consideration, rather than just plonking the group in front of any old stock image.
When the video keeps things relatively simple, it works. Not all of the ideas quite come off, though. The big moment in Follow Me follows the middle-eight; Atomic Kitten are now ostensibly in front of a giant curtain, and as they raise their hands, it flies away to reveal a statue of…a weirdly shaped object. Maybe it’s a famous sculpture; perhaps it’s a distinctive monument to something culturally significant. The thing is, there shouldn’t be any room for doubt or puzzlement. And it’s not distracting enough for Kerry Katona to get away with trying to mime along to one of Natasha Hamilton’s ad-libs at the same time, either (although given her lack of solo vocals in this song, it was worth a try). The closing shot is suitably lovely, as Atomic Kitten dance against a black/gold background while lights (or fireflies) dart around them, and each clap of their hands produces little bursts of gold. It’s brilliantly effective, and although not intended to be the group’s swansong, it does befit the curtain coming down on this particular era of their career.
Despite the infamous tale of what happened next, Follow Me’s peak of #20 wasn’t catastrophic. However, by early ’00s standards, it was still a pretty bad result and decisively worse than any of Atomic Kitten’s previous singles. The compounding factor was the release of their debut album a few weeks later, which debuted at #39 and presented Innocent Records with the strong likelihood that the group had hit the end of the road. It wasn’t unreasonable to conclude that they’d either missed their chance with Right Now, or were simply not the type of act who would sell albums in any significant quantity. The label allegedly prepared to drop Atomic Kitten but gave them one final chance. They would release Whole Again after all, but if that didn’t turn the situation around…
…Well, we’ll never know because it did. Spectacularly so. Follow Me was soon forgotten; relegated to a footnote in the group’s career as their only single to miss the top ten, presuming you don’t include Southgate You’re The One (Football’s Coming Home Again). The irony is, Follow Me isn’t a bad song. If anything, for better or for worse, it’s far more in keeping with the direction Atomic Kitten subsequently pursued than any of their previous singles. And to that end, this probably would have been a much bigger hit – and more fondly remembered – in its own right at almost any other time in their career.