Daphne & Celeste – Ooh Stick You!

Released: 24th January 2000

Writers: Michele Chiavarini / Michael Marz / Summer Burkes

Peak position: #8

Chart run: 8-13-13-14-12-22-22-29-35-46-57-60

With a debut single called Ooh Stick You!, Daphne & Celeste – it seemed – were going to take a rather outspoken approach to pop music. But that proved something of an understatement because it quickly became apparent that the duo had plenty of opinions and were more than willing to share them.

The idea behind Daphne & Celeste came from Universal Records, who – like most labels in the late ’90s – were hastily assembling and launching acts to take advantage of bubblegum pop’s increasingly dominant grip on the charts. They had two songs already written – Ooh Stick You! and U.G.L.Y. – but just needed some performers for what was intended to be an animated group. Among those auditioning to voice the characters were American teen actors Karen DiConcetto (Daphne) and Celeste Cruz. The concept wasn’t without some merit: LCD – marketed as the world’s first digital supergroup – had already released Zorba’s Dance (twice) while Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett were preparing to launch Gorillaz in 2001. Yet, while it’s possible to see how Daphne & Celeste could, in principle, work as an animated duo – not least because that’s how they were shown on the artwork for Ooh Stick You! – doing so would render them almost entirely reliant on video rotation to promote their material. That might have worked for one single if they were lucky, but as a long-term approach, it presented a myriad of obstacles.

Instead, Universal Records took an approach that landed somewhere in the middle. While they weren’t portraying animated characters, almost everything about Daphne & Celeste – including their voices and styling – felt overtly cartoonish. They could almost have stepped out of a Beano strip; such was their anarchic persona. Some of this was no doubt intentional, given Ooh Stick You! quite simply wouldn’t work if Daphne & Celeste conducted themselves with a polite, pleasant demeanour. Yet, it also seemed to some extent the duo had been left to run amok with this notion, resulting in an abashed bluntness when it came to expressing their opinions (asked about Christina Aguilera in a Smash Hits interview, they responded: “She’s disgusting and we hate her”).

Despite this, Daphne & Celeste never came across as genuinely mean-spirited or nasty. Their tongue-in-cheek derision stemmed from a fundamental cultural difference. Through the eyes of two American teenagers, the UK music industry – bulging at the seams with pop acts thanks to some questionable quality control – must have been a bemusing prospect. What quickly emerged was a dynamic where the duo were treated like attention-seeking younger siblings. Appearing on television, they’d often talk incessantly and without any filter while people rolled their eyes in thinly veiled disdain. That was their angle, and – like them or not – Daphne & Celeste made an immediate impression.

In some respects, Ooh Stick You! is subject to a similar disclaimer as U.G.L.Y., whereby the song is very much a product of its time, essentially consisting of three and a half minutes where the duo deliver a string of insults. However, in this case, the tone is so whacky that anything objectively offensive would have to be taken entirely out of context. Nonetheless, there are circumstances where that is possible (“You got a big fat belly like a bowl full of jelly, your fat mum Milly looks like Free Willy”), and therefore it’s still probably fair to say the track wouldn’t exist in the same way now.

Leaving that aside, this is a sterling example of what a debut single should do. Ooh Stick You! sets out precisely who Daphne & Celeste are (quite literally with a spoken introduction: “Hi, this is my friend Daphne and I’m Celeste!”) and what they are all about, launching straight into the chorus: “Ooh, stick you! Your mama too, and your daddy. Ooh, stick you! Your mama too, and your daddy. Ooh, stick you! Your mama too, and your daddy. Ooh, stick you! Ooh, stick you!” The track is crafted as an immensely catchy playground chant, full of puerile irreverence delivered back and forth: “Your mama, your daddy, your greasy, greasy grandmammy, got a hole in your panty, got a big behind like Frankenstein, going beep-beep-beep down Sesame Street, toot-toot-toot wear army boots” with a hyperactive, snarky energy that is utterly infectious.

Though the idea of Daphne & Celeste as cartoons had been abandoned, their voices were pitch-shifted to the extent that they sounded like exaggerated caricatures of themselves, which added to the entertainment value. Yet, for all the production gimmicks, Ooh Stick You! has something that can’t be manufactured: chemistry. As the two gently tease and rebuff each other: “You’re a little kid that looks like a squid (oh no), you’ve got a bad perm like a can of worms (oh no), cheeks like a balloon, face like a baboon (mm-mm, mm-mm-mm), everybody knows you eat the nails from your toes and you rub ’em in dirt and eat them for dessert (whatever)”, it’s immediately apparent they’re on the same wavelength in terms of humour and personality. Indeed, taking the track as a glimpse into the world of two teenage best friends and their in-jokes, it’s probably no weirder than any other would be if turned into a pop song.

Amid some irresistibly catchy refrains – “Aa-a-a-a-ay oh (I…), aa-a-a-a-ay oh (I…), aa-a-a-a-ay oh (I…), aa-a-a-a-ay oh (I…)” – are moments where Ooh Stick You! accordingly descends into random absurdity. There’s a spoken breakdown at one point: “You go girl! Ride ’em cowboy! Yeehaw! G-g-giddy up horsey, woo! Ride ’em cowboy! Pew! Pew! Pew! It’s like a horror movie isn’t it? (woo!)”. By the time Daphne & Celeste start musing: “Ping-pong, why am I saying ping-pong? Ping-pong, ping-pong, ping-pong, whatever, whatever, what…ever!” it’s as if they were just left in the recording studio to chatter between themselves. Yet, somehow, the track manages to make everything fit, attaining a sense of organised chaos (though that barely begins to do it justice) as pleasingly enjoyable as it is altogether nonsensical. And, quite frankly, any song that can pull off: “In your ear with a can of beer, up your butt with a coconut, woo!” as a pre-chorus deserves to be celebrated as a work of genius.

Two music videos were created for Ooh Stick You! The first was used for the song’s release in Australia several months before the UK and represents a more consistent evolution of the idea as Daphne & Celeste as cartoon characters. It sees the pair spread mayhem by zapping passers-by with a power that causes them to insult people by miming along to the song. The conflict gradually spreads through the streets until a choreographed dance routine ends in an all-out ruckus, while Daphne & Celeste cheerily skip away as an on-screen caption reads: “Stick you folks!”. It’s not a bad idea, even if the visuals are rough around the edges in places. Two of the extras have tattoos on their faces clearly drawn on with marker pen, while at one point, Daphne’s face appears on a dog after its owner gets zapped, and the superimposed effect is the stuff of nightmares. Nonetheless, the low-budget children’s television aesthetic has a charmingly nostalgic – and quintessentially British – quality.

The second music video, by comparison, feels far more attuned to the audience Daphne & Celeste were primarily being marketed at and what was likely to appeal to them. It starts with the duo’s web address being typed out – with accompanying keyboard taps, of course – before a logo for “The Daphne & Celeste Web Channel” appears. At the same time, the sound of a dial-up internet connection plays. In some ways, the concept pins Ooh Stick You! to a precise moment in time; in others, it’s remarkably forward-thinking. The duo appear in a series of segments – ‘Chatterbox with Daphne & Celeste’, ‘Rate Your Date’, ‘Lucky Lotto’, ‘D&C World Wide Weather’, ‘Shopping with Daphne & Celeste’ – from their online domain, which predates the web infrastructure (YouTube and even broadband in the UK) it would now be regarded as mimicking. The aesthetic is far more polished with its vivid Nickelodeon-esque colour palette, and the web channel format showcases the zaniness of the song in a way that – dial-up tone aside – aged better than most would have predicted.

Much as there were undoubtedly many who wished to write Daphne & Celeste off as a novelty, it’s debatable whether Ooh Stick You! truly attained that status. Nonetheless, the track enjoyed a chart run that defied the usual downward trend. It entered at #8, then spent four weeks hovering between #12 and #14, eventually amassing three months in the top 75. With total sales of 160,000, Ooh Stick You! was the 92nd biggest hit of 2000 and outsold a significant number of tracks that peaked higher, including several that reached #1. Regardless of the outcome, there was never really any question that Universal Records would release a follow-up considering U.G.L.Y. already existed, and the label had invested so much in creating a suitable platform. Yet, there was now also reasonable scope to contemplate how far Daphne & Celeste could go beyond that with an album.

The duo quickly established a reputation for being outspoken and brutally honest. However, despite projecting an air of unpredictability, they were intuitive enough to observe some boundaries and never presented a risk of truly going rogue. It earned Daphne & Celeste regular exposure in pop-oriented media during 2000, ensuring their 15 minutes of fame resulted in as much havoc and disruption as possible.  

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Post Author: cantstopthepop