Released: 9th August 2004
Writers: Miranda Cooper / Brian Higgins / Xenomania
Peak position: #5
Chart run: 5-12-24-38-53-75
The prosperity of boybands – indeed, pop music as a whole – had dramatically waned by the mid-’00s, but if anyone could help V find their way towards the top of the chart with Hip To Hip, it was Xenomania.
By the time they released their debut single, Blood Sweat & Tears, in 2004, nobody was under any illusion that V – Antony Brant, Aaron Buckingham, Mark Harle, Kevin McDaid and Leon Pisani – were going to have it easy. D-Side had scored a trio of top ten hits the previous year but were on shaky ground when their debut album reached #62; Phixx were hovering around the top 20, and Triple Eight seemed to vanish altogether after Give Me A Reason peaked at #9. There was evidently still a market for boybands, but it was nowhere near as substantial or reliable as it had been in the ‘90s.
Instead, that audience had migrated towards acts who played their own instruments, like Busted and McFly, which is fortunate for V (as in the Roman numeral for ‘five’ because that name had already been taken) since they were all under the same management. Rather than market the group in the same way, the focus was more on trying to show that rock and pop could co-exist harmoniously. There was no pretence with V; they were wholly and unashamedly a boyband in the mould of those that had come before them. And the strategy worked reasonably well, too; after supporting Busted on tour, Blood Sweat & Tears entered the chart at #6.
With little time to waste, what better way to maximise V’s chances of follow-up success than the tried-and-tested formula of a double-A side featuring an original song and a cover version? The latter came courtesy of ITV’s Discomania, which gathered stars such as Donna Summer, Westlife, Liberty X, Rachel Stevens and, er, The Corrie Girls to perform new takes on classic disco hits. V’s contribution to this particular cause was Can You Feel It?, originally by The Jacksons. However, the far more interesting aspect of this single was Hip To Hip. Not least because it was written and produced by Xenomania, whose critical and commercial profile had grown immensely thanks to their work with Girls Aloud and Sugababes in the early-’00s. Brian Higgins and Miranda Cooper were fashioning a way forward for pop music, which is precisely what V needed in their corner if they were going to defy the odds that increasingly looked to be stacked against them.
However, Hip To Hip doesn’t make the same immediate and boldly unique impression as Xenomania’s more prominent work from around this time. Instead, the warm, summery flamenco guitar riffs are reminiscent of the turn-of-the-century Latin-pop craze. Nonetheless, the track is brimming with typically off-the-wall lyrics: “When lady luck has got me down with her high-speed attitude, I’m-a feeling kinda high, I’m-a feeling kinda low, I feel so, I dunno like, fast food…”, set atop an easy, toe-tapping beat. V play Hip To Hip coolly; their delivery is almost conversational, giving the song a relaxed, laidback vibe. The group undoubtedly have swagger: “Someone spiked my latte and I’m just not in the mood, need a little bit of this, need a little bit of that, some chit chat, and that’s why I’m the dude”, but they never come across as taking themselves too seriously.
And that tone is maintained throughout. Every hint of melodrama: “I got a feeling, something’s wrong, I dial your number, and then it’s gone…”, is handled in an endearingly daft way: “…I got a feeling, something’s whack, before I count to three, you’re here with me, before the blues attack”, ensuring Hip To Hip never loses the exuberant playfulness that V were trying to project. Indeed, while the earworm of a chorus is far removed from the usual sentimentality of boyband declarations: “Hip, hip to hip, cheek, cheek to cheek, without you girl the future’s bleak; hip, hip to hip, cheek, cheek to cheek, I want you by my side. Hip, hip to hip, cheek, cheek to cheek, you got a day, it’s like the week; hip, hip to hip, cheek, cheek to cheek, I’m feeling good inside” it still carries an unlikely degree of sincerity given the group’s persona was grounded in cheeky banter. By their standards, this was pretty heartfelt!
Though Xenomania had established a reputation as innovators, redefining the parameters of what pop music could be, Hip To Hip is not opposed to celebrating the past. And it does so in what is the unmitigated highlight of the song: a rap verse. Not the sort that might be included if V were attempting to make a genuine play for credibility, but the invitingly accessible, singalong kind reminiscent of those found among the Spice Girls or Five’s back-catalogue: “Twist it, nation, meet the generation, we don’t need no education, the rhythm that you’re giving me is changing my life, and baby if you said “jump” I’d say “how high”; no dealing, stealing, only free-wheeling, you’re giving a religion for me to believe in, so rock me, shock me any way you know, but I guess I kinda like the status quo”. Of course, there is an argument that, in hindsight, Hip To Hip was simply not revolutionary enough to be revered in the way it needed to. However, if nothing else, it’s a terrific reminder of a time when groups like V could ostensibly exist as carefree without constantly needing to prove their worth. Only a few years had lapsed since those halcyon days, but suddenly it seemed like so much longer ago.
In much the same way, Hip To Hip embraces the ethos of record labels happily blowing sizeable budgets on music videos. In 2004, that was even more impressive (or foolish), given decreasing single sales meant there was little chance of recouping the money spent. Thus, while many of V’s peers were scaling down their visuals – both in cost and adopting moody, serious aesthetics – the group hopped over to Rio de Janeiro. Hip To Hip is easy on the eye for its gorgeous, sun-drenched landscapes alone. As are V strolling around the seafront – and driving haphazardly through the streets – in vests and open shirts. The video firmly rejects any notion that pop music was not allowed to be fun and frivolous. So, of course, they end up performing to a crowd of extras at a pool party in a plush venue. And yes, some of the choreography – where the group bump hips and air kiss – raises broader questions about how they occasionally verged on queerbaiting. There was a knowing ambiguity and openness in the way V were presented that – while laddish – was clearly intended to pander to a gay audience. That in itself is not an issue, yet behind-the-scenes, strict rules were set by their management on places the group could not be seen, including gay clubs. This would risk jeopardising their perceived availability to a female audience (who were apparently still regarded as being incredibly fickle). And while it’s not a theme that starts or ends with this video, some confusing sexual frisson is most definitely present here.
Hip To Hip / Can You Feel It? landed V their first – and indeed, only – top-five hit when it peaked at #5. Overall sales were remarkably consistent: the single sold 39,000 copies compared to 38,000 for Blood Sweat & Tears (they ended up 160th and 161st of the year, respectively), which is either a good or bad thing depending on the perspective. It was certainly promising that V had maintained their fanbase and increased their sales, even by the smallest of margins. But equally, Hip To Hip / Can You Feel It? still wasn’t quite enough to convincingly put the group beyond the point where they were only as big as their next single. They’d done enough to earn one; however, with the traditionally competitive festive season looming, V’s long-term prospects remained as unpredictable and rapidly changeable as their immediate boyband rivals.
Alas, though Xenomania seemed to understand the dynamic here, their input was limited to a handful of tracks on the group’s album. That’s a real shame because you have to wonder what they might have been able to do if given the same level of creative control with V as they’d had with Girls Aloud.