Released: 28th April 2008
Writers: Nick Kamen
Peak position: N/A
Chart run: N/A
Although the A*Teens‘ success in the UK was short-lived, the same was not true elsewhere. By 2004, the Swedish group had amassed enough material to release a greatest hits album. It was accompanied by I Promised Myself, which, as an overall career retrospective package, set a high bar that is arguably yet to be bettered.
A*Teens were little more than a distant memory in the UK by 2004. After Halfway Around The World reached #30 and their second album, Teen Spirit, failed to chart in 2001, the group focused instead on other territories. They enjoyed considerable success, too, building up a solid collection of mostly original hits and even headlining a US tour in 2002. However, three-and-a-half albums (their third, Pop ‘Til You Drop, was repackaged as New Arrival outside of America) later, A*Teens ominously announced they’d be releasing a compilation titled Greatest Hits. That surely meant only one thing…
The group didn’t actually announce a two-year hiatus (which later became permanent) until after the album. Nonetheless, all three new tracks recorded for the project – I Promised Myself, With Or Without You and The Final Cut – have an overwhelming sense of finality. It may well have been the case that the A*Teens’ label intended for them to continue, but Marie Serneholt, Amit Paul, Dhani Lennevald, and Sara Lumholdt seemed to know the pop bubble was close to bursting, and they were done. Furthermore, international commitments for the Greatest Hits campaign were scaled down. It was an approach which took the group full circle to focus predominantly on Sweden, where they’d enjoyed their most consistent success, having racked up eleven top 20 singles.
The lead – indeed, only – release from the album was I Promised Myself, initially performed by Nick Kamen in 1990. This mightn’t immediately seem an obvious choice of cover (it peaked at #50 in the UK), but the track had been a #1 hit in Sweden. So, it made sense in that regard as a song that had proven commercial appeal while also being just about old enough to introduce to a new generation. Moreover, and perhaps somewhat cynically, I Promised Myself allowed Dhani Lennevald to step into the lead vocal role. A debut solo single, titled Girl Talk, would arrive just a few months later, and it’s hard not to feel his prominence here – entirely right for the song, though it is – has a slight sense of the label priming him for a Justin Timberlake-esque transition away from A*Teens once the opportunity arose.
Regardless, what’s apparent from Nick Kamen’s version is how much the arrangement of I Promised Myself – awash with prominent backing vocals and harmonies – was already a good fit for the group. This is more than a functional update of the track; the anthemic synth-rock of the original is swapped for a poppier production consistent with the A*Teens’ sound. However, it’s not in the same vein as something like Chain Reaction by Steps, where the source material is completely reinterpreted. There’s no need; I Promised Myself works within the context surrounding its release. The lyrics, though referencing a romantic relationship: “I promised myself, that I’d say a prayer for you, a brand new tomorrow, where all your wish comes true. I promised myself (I promised, I promised), that I’d make it up to you, my sister and brother, know I’m in love with you” can be read just as effectively as referring to the bond between the group.
I Promised Myself is filled with misty-eyed sadness. Even without the benefit of hindsight to know it was the A*Teens’ final single (to date), there’s a sense of something coming to an end. It’s not that the group ever fell out. At worst, they had different priorities for what should happen next and – somewhat inevitably – became jaded by the relentless promotion resulting from three (and a half) albums in four years. That bittersweet melancholy ripples through I Promised Myself: “How many of us out there, feel the pain, of losing what was once there…” and is palpable in the delivery. Even the euphoric instrumental synth breakdown has the faintest hint of a maudlin undertone. Yet, this is not an entirely sorrowful track. It’s also a fist-pumping celebration of the A*Teens and how far they’d come. As the vocals become increasingly layered with ad-libs during the middle eight: “In the midnight hour I will wait for you, I will wait for you (I’ll be waiting), I will wait for you (I will wait for you). In the midnight hour I will wait for you, I will wait for you (I will wait for you), I will wait for you (I will wait for you)” there’s a striking cohesion in the way the group’s voices blend and bounce off of one another.
I Promised Myself culminates in a shimmering, twinkling tear-stained finale: “I promised myself (I promised, yeah yeah), I promised I’d wait for you (I promised I do, I do), the midnight hour (I promised, I promised), I know you’ll shine on through (I know you’ll shine on through). I promised myself (I promised, I promised), I promised the world to you (I promised the world to you), I gave you flowers (I gave you flowers)…” presenting a perfect summation of how far A*Teens had grown into themselves. Cover or not, the sudden ending: “…you made my dreams come true (you made my dreams come true)” could scarcely be more profoundly fitting.
Thisis a great track, but the music video is the pièce de resistance, and what makes it a brilliant single. It was still a rarity for pop acts to know when a song would be their last, so that’s an advantage. I Promised Myself runs with the idea of being a career retrospective, using a brilliant concept and setting a high benchmark for greatest hits singles that is quite probably yet to be bettered. The main gimmick uses clips from the A*Teens’ previous videos – going right back to Mamma Mia – and inserts the modern-day group into them alongside their younger selves. It’s fantastically executed, too; despite advances in editing technology since the mid-‘00s, the effects could barely look better now.
Instead of an art gallery manager admonishing the young A*Teens while they work as waiters (Mamma Mia), Marie Serneholt now stands in his place. When Dhani Lennevald reaches towards a painting, he touches his adult self on the shoulder instead. In Halfway Around The World, there’s a shot where Amit Paul picks up a glass from (what was) an empty table, but I Promised Myself shows him sitting at the table and throwing his arms up in annoyance at his drink being taken. A young girl previously dancing alone in her bedroom while the A*Teens perform on television (Super Trouper) is now cheered on by the group sitting on the bed behind her. Footage from nearly every non-soundtrack single is incorporated somewhere in the video, and the only downside – pre-YouTube, at least – is that it requires familiarity with the A*Teens’ entire back catalogue to fully appreciate just how much content was included and revised, some of it only seconds long.
Between those sequences, totally new footage is included where the group perform I Promised Myself in a dimly lit, disused common room/bar environment. Torn fabric (and some retro A*Teens posters) hang from the walls, steam billows through the blinds, and glaring spotlights shine through the windows. The moodier aesthetic contrasts with the brightly-coloured visuals of the group’s earlier material, creating a clear differentiation between them while complementing the melancholic elements of the track. It doesn’t come across as an attempt to position the A*Teens – now nearly all in their early twenties – as po-faced and serious, but merely to highlight they’d moved well beyond ABBA covers and evolved into a credible pop act. Yet, they never try to downplay or erase their past in I Promised Myself; the video celebrates almost every aspect of their legacy. It’s a brilliant concept, and the ambition is all the more impressive when the single didn’t get a major international push. In light of that, it’s something of a surprise the idea hasn’t been attempted to the same extent by anyone else.
A*Teens didn’t quite repeat Nick Kamen’s success with I Promised Myself, but they came close. The track reached #2 in Sweden (matching Super Trouper, Upside Down and A Perfect Match) and spent nine weeks in the top 20. The Greatest Hits album was released shortly afterwards and debuted at #19 before climbing to a peak of #16. However, it left the chart after a month. Certainly, the lack of a second single wouldn’t have helped, and promotion was curtailed when the A*Teens announced their two-year hiatus. They probably had another album in them with the same writers and producers as Teen Spirit and New Arrival, but maybe – just maybe – the group had been right all along, and they were approaching the end of their natural shelf-life. Continuing any further might just have pushed them past it. At least fans weren’t left wondering what might happen. In 2006, when the group’s self-imposed hiatus was due to end, they confirmed a permanent (amicable) split.
In principle, more A*Teens music would not have been a bad thing. If there is a silver lining, they comprehensively bookended their run of hits with a worthy send-off. As an overall package, few – if any – singles have delivered a swansong as effective as I Promised Myself. The music video, in particular, remains a benchmark in how pop acts can, and should, indulge fans by acknowledging every moment of their careers.