Released: 27th March 2000
Writers: Stuart Kershaw / Andy McCluskey / Liz McClarnon
Peak position: #6
Chart run: 6-21-32-36-46-64-X-X-X-X-X-X-74
Long before establishing a reliably steady brand of mid-tempo pop music, Atomic Kitten launched their career with a more sprightly, tongue-in-cheek approach, which was perfectly characterised by their second single, See Ya.
It would not be unreasonable to assume that Atomic Kitten‘s formative (i.e., pre-Whole Again) years were spent honing their sound, given their eventual direction was so very different from where they started. But actually, the group launched with a clear identity, which intentionally positioned them as brash, rebellious and unapologetically suggestive. Although that image didn’t ultimately stick, it’s not because Atomic Kitten‘s early material was unsuccessful (Follow Me being the exception) or bad; it simply ended up being eclipsed by what came next.
And that’s one of the things that makes See Ya such a fascinatingly giddy part of the group’s back catalogue. Although they could credibly claim to be one of the biggest acts in the UK for a brief spell, that’s not what this song represents. In many ways, it’s almost the opposite and quintessentially representative of what British bubblegum pop looked like below the A-list. For every high-profile act dominating the charts, there were (at least) ten more scrambling to get their foot on the ladder. Atomic Kitten were on a major label and had a sizable amount – allegedly around £1.5 million – invested in them. But it was early days, and they were still in a position of only being as good as their last hit.
There was still only one major reference point for girl groups at this time, and what Atomic Kitten did well – with this song in particular – was to evoke a sense of being inspired by the ethos of the Spice Girls rather than having been transparently assembled and painstakingly engineered to recreate or mimic them. Atomic Kitten as a concept was the brainchild of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) ‘s Andy McCluskey, who served as their principal songwriter alongside Stuart Kershaw. However, it was not inconceivable to imagine Liz McClarnon, Natasha Hamilton and Kerry Katona as teenagers sitting at home, listening to Spice and deciding to form a pop group. There’s a rambunctious Wannabe-esque energy about See Ya as it bursts into life. The harpsichord-sounding keyboard melody hits a plethora of record scratches before descending into a whirring breakdown while Atomic Kitten chant: “Yeah, yeah, YEAH, ooh-ooh (oh baby), yeah, yeah, YEAH, check it out now, check it out now, ooh-ooh”. The aura of organised chaos that runs rife here feels altogether pleasingly familiar.
See Ya also establishes an incredibly likeable dynamic for the group. The track oozes self-confidence (“Well there’s plenty more where you came from, so I think I’ll go fish”) and a spirited – almost playground – attitude, with interjected: “Oh yeah”, “Woo!” and nonchalant “Ooh-OOH” backing vocals peppered throughout. Yet, Atomic Kitten‘s infectious personality was only as marketable if they had the songs to back it up. And that’s where See Ya comes through, with a flurry of meticulously crafted, gratifying hooks. The pre-chorus: “‘Cos you can see me running, but you’re standing still, you don’t believe it’s coming, but you know that it will…” is an irrationally nagging earworm, while the chorus itself: “So baby see ya, alright (oh yeah), I wouldn’t wanna be ya, tonight (woo), let me make it clear, alright, you’re not the one for me, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” only needs to be heard once before it’s lodged in your brain forevermore.
The music video for See Ya sums up the mood perfectly, taking the lyrical themes and bringing them to life in an exaggerated – almost cartoonish – manner. In addition, there is an unwavering commitment to literalism. So, as the first verse starts with: “I’ve been looking and been searching, oh baby, for the one who’ll be true”, the group are shown peering through a telescope, which has an alarmingly magnified eye visible in the glass even when they’re jostling with one another and waving the tube around. Similarly, the: “‘Cos you can see me running…” line is accompanied by shots of Atomic Kitten enthusiastically jogging along the road in rebound shoes. And, of course, they spend the second verse – with its fishing metaphor – dangling rods in a bowl to try and hook a very of-its-time CGI shark. Admittedly, the group pumping a handcar along a track and zorbing don’t tie quite so directly into See Ya. However, what the video sells is a sense of dynamism. It might not have been entirely clear where Atomic Kitten were heading, but there was no doubt at all they were going somewhere…
Whether See Ya is the best of the group’s early singles or not, it is probably the one that most encapsulates what they were all about; that was duly reflected in its commercial performance. The song peaked at #6 in the UK, becoming a more visible hit than Right Now (although it was released at a quieter time of the year and sold less overall). Furthermore, while See Ya fell down the chart reasonably quickly, it made enough of an impact to grow Atomic Kitten‘s profile and ensure them another single, which was precisely what they were looking for at this stage.
No doubt Innocent Records were already thinking about how tracks like See Ya would translate into album sales; indeed, an early version of their debut, Right Now, had already been released in Japan by this point. But that’s the enjoyable thing about this single. It doesn’t feel – outwardly, at least – like there was any forward-thinking, and instead, Atomic Kitten were simply living in the moment. This really is about as carefree and uncomplicated as pop music could be.