Last night The Spinoff deployed a specialist squad of millennials to the 90s nostalgia fest So Pop. This is their story.
It was late last year that several copies of a magazine called So Pop arrived at The Spinoff office, complete with splashy 90s fonts, band profiles from B*Witched to Blue, and even a pull out poster for you to crookedly blu tack on your wall. Turns out it was promoting a 90s nostalgia spectacular like no other, including Europop’s finest (Aqua, Vengaboys) and the man with the fedora and all the girlfriends (Lou Bega). Tying all the acts together? None other than 90s small screen icon Suzanne Paul. Because of course.
Last night the So Pop revellers descended upon Spark arena, all coloured hair spray and platform sneakers, in attempt to go back, back to 1999. Three Spinoff staffers – Alex Casey, Sam Brooks and Jihee Junn – made their way through the crowd to bring you this report from the front lines. Party people, are you ready?
Suzanne Paul nailed an extremely weird gig
About two thirds into the gig, a girl who was born when the second Bush was President shouted loudly to her friend: “Who is that?” when Suzanne Paul walked onstage and it was all I could do not to demand her public shaming. You know, kind of like what I’m doing now.
Suzanne Paul is a national icon. She should be in Te Papa, according to Hayden Donnell. And what she did last night was keep the energy moving between acts (which was also helped by the straight up bizarre AV of nineties Kiwi nostalgia, like Belinda Todd and Jason Gunn) while still being the quintessential Suzanne Paul. She knows how to honour what she’s doing while taking the piss out of it, and she knows how to have a good time.
And yes, she said, “But wait, there’s more.” / Sam Brooks
The merch stand was an absolute bust
First of all, there wasn’t a single piece of Lou Bega merchandise on offer. Second of all, it was a real tease for Mr Eiffel 65 himself to take to the stage in a full bespoke E65 tracksuit despite them not being available for sale. Sure, they had an alarmingly wide range of So Pop trucker caps and Aqua/Vengaboys t-shirts, but it felt like a missed opportunity to not stock up on the full corny lineup. I would have paid $30-$45 for this B*Witched inspired tshirt, for example. / Alex Casey
I Like to Move It
Look, there’s nothing wrong with Mr. President including Reel 2 Real’s 1994 hit ‘I Like to Move It’, repopularised by the Madagascar franchise, in his 15 minute set. When you want to get the crowd moving at 5:00PM, you sometimes have to remind them that yes, they like to move it move it.
There’s also nothing inherently wrong with Outhere Brothers including Reel 2 Real’s 1994 hit I Like to Move It, repopularised by the Madagascar franchise, in their 15 minute set. But if you’re gonna have back-to-back sets, maybe just check to see that you’re not including the same song, especially when it’s not even yours. / SB
Lou Bega was lipsynching
Okay, so this is where I appoint myself Sam Brooks, Lip-Sync Police (while I also moonlight as Sam Brooks, Wig Cop). If there is a wig onscreen or onstage, it will be about five seconds until I lean over to the person next to me, friend or foe, and say: “That’s a wig.” We can’t control what powers we’re given, and some powers are gifts while some are curses.
I have the same eye for lip-syncing. Granted, usually this is on live television performance where it’s easier to tell lip-syncing from playback because the camera is right up in the celebrities’ face. When you’re in a 10,000 seat arena and in the nosebleeds, it’s a bit harder to pick up on lip-syncing.
But for Lou Bega, we were maybe 30 metres away and girl, Lou Bega was absolutely miming along to the chorus of ‘Mambo No. 5’. The trick to spotting it is the breathing: Singers might get the words, but if they’re not breathing along with it, then you can spot it immediately. Some singers will mix up playback with lowered live vocals to give the illusion of breathe, but that’s more a Cheryl Cole kind of a trick.
I get it! Nobody wants to hear a half-breath ‘Mambo No. 5’. And to his credit, he was definitely singing some of it. And to his credit, Lou Bega made ‘Mambo No. 5’, he can do what he wants and Britney Spears hasn’t sung any of her songs live for about fifteen years. We all do what we can. / SB
The visuals were out of this world
The 90s were a time of great technological advancement in the graphic design sphere, and Eiffel 65 spearheaded the weird-CGI-animated-creature-in-music-video movement way before Crazy Frog was even a twinkle in some random Swede’s eye. Sure enough, E65 didn’t disappoint – their background visuals were like a jazzed up concoction of animated screensavers circa Windows 2000, although Vengaboys (karaoke-style lyrics on screen) and Aqua (one-eyed aliens in UFOs; giant green-eyed Terminator robots) did give them a run for their money. / Jihee Junn
Tiny buns are back, baby
Call Bakers Delight, because we were cooking up some seriously scorching batches of buns last night. From the simple devil horns to a mohawk of butterfly-adorned bobbles, this crowd was not messing around when it came to 90s hairstyles. But nobody came close to Ray Slijngaard of 2 Unlimited, who boasted a head covered in buns so tiny, so tightly wound, that my own hair follicles screamed in sympathy, drowned out only by his incessant chanting of “techno, techno, techno.” Also he was wearing a gold and leather lederhosen, but who wasn’t? / AC
There were only two B*Witches
Look. I love B*Witched. I saw them perform two years ago. I have purchased their 2014 single ‘Champagne and Guinness’ on iTunes. As far as 90s girl groups who aren’t the Spice Girls or Destiny’s Child go, B*Witched are doing pretty good.
But last night there were two B*Witches, not four. And while lead singer Edele Lynch can carry a tune and knows the choreography, the joy of seeing a girl group live is hearing those harmonies and seeing that in sync choreography. The moment I realised the two back-up dancers were not, in fact, B*Witches, I sighed.
Also, they didn’t sing ‘Champagne and Guinness’, which makes me wonder if there was some unspoken moratorium on performing new material because I guarantee that song would have gone off in Spark Arena. / SB
The best part about B*witched? Their outfits, of course, which very much reminded me of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 10 ‘Denim & Diamonds’ runway in all its rhinestoned, bedazzled glory. However, the performance itself left a lot to be desired. Remixing ‘C’est la vie’ with Ed Sheeran’s ‘Galway Girl’? I’m afraid it’s a no from me. / JJ
Blue had the most sexual energy
Even though The Outhere Brothers literally sung “bend you over grab your shoulder / Slip my peter inside your folder,” Blue was by far the most erotic act of the night. When they took the stage after a less than magical B*Witched, the air in the room underwent a chemical change that I can only describe as absolute hornification. “It was like my sexual awakening all over again,” an impassioned crowd member gushed after show. Maybe it’s the fact they haven’t aged a day. Maybe it’s that they boasted not one, but two stylish hats. Maybe it’s the fact that they have that song all about getting a boner that I only realised last night is all about getting a boner. And I’m not even talking about ‘All Rise’. / AC
TV theme song disaster
At one point, Suzanne Paul brought four women onstage to play a theme song. The prize was to go and meet Aqua backstage. These women could not recognise the theme songs to Party of Five, Twin Peaks, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Dawson’s Creek. Instead of pushing all of them off the stage in some 300-type homage, Suzanne Paul let all of them backstage.
Look, a TV theme song game is always a bad idea. I hate it in pub quizzes. I hate it in real life. I think it’s a dumb idea, and it’s only ever around to fill in time. It represents no cultural knowledge or cache whatsoever. It’s the knowledge equivalent of eating a ham-and-cheese bap – no nutritional value whatsoever, just takes up space until you eventually shit it out.
But if you can’t recognise the Dawson’s Creek theme song, you are ignorant. Paula Cole is looking down from her throne of royalties and you should hang your head in shame. / SB
The streamers disaster
Not once, not twice, but three times did the Vengaboys release the Kraken unto an unsuspecting crowd of sweaty, confused drunks. It was all well and good until, that is, the streamers actually hit the ground. There’s a reason why confetti is the preferred choice for aerodynamic propulsion at these sorts of events – they don’t trap you in its tangled web like those pesky streamers do. Honestly, it was like being shot at by one those guns people use to trap wild prey in a net. / JJ
DJ Skitz was amazing
When the Skitzmix dropped, it was game over. I’m glad someone appreciates ‘Everytime We Touch’ by Cascada as much as I do. / JJ
I felt bad for Aqua, because I felt like DJ Nick Skitz stitched them up by playing ‘Like a Prayer’, indisputably the best pop song of all time, before their set. / SB
Doing the macarena in a crowd is hazardous
There’s no doubt that DJ Nick Skitz did the absolute most to keep the 90s hits rolling while still firmly wearing his sunglasses inside. The Spice Girls, Christina, Britney – all the greats who will never, ever, until the end of eternity, need to do a concert like this. But soon after the divas came his greatest skit of all: getting an enormous crowd of drunk people to do the macarena. I got elbowed, karate-chopped, I saw grown men knock skulls. Here’s a tip though: you can get away with almost any kind of pratfall if you yell “heeeeeey macarena” at the end of it. / AC
Vengaboys was the best act of the night
I could’ve shalala lala-ed all night long to be honest, because the Vengaboys truly hold a special place in my heart. The Platinum Album was the first ever album I owned which, if you’re not familiar with the band’s catalogue, is arguably the Vengaboys’ pièce de résistance – an extraordinary feat of musical excellence featuring capital-T tunes like ‘Kiss (When The Sun Don’t Shine)’, ‘Uncle John From Jamaica’ and, of course, ‘Shalala lala’ (in the morning, evening, etc etc.). The Vengaboys brought out all the bangers last night. But more importantly, they brought out the fashion – trashy, shiny, and straight from Party City. Never change Vengaboys, never change. / JJ
Aqua is the Fleetwood Mac of late-90s Europop
Did you know that Lene (the Barbie Girl) and Rene (the Doctor Jones/Candyman) dated for a few years, and then post-Aqua-peak, Lene and Soren (the… other one) were married, up until the end of 2017? It really puts Lene pimping Soren out to single girls onstage into passive-aggressive, hypersexual perspective, doesn’t it? Eat your heart out, Lindsay Buckingham.
But, also what I wasn’t expecting from Aqua last night was a high-energy, excellent live act. They had a band. Considering Lou Bega had a DJ station that wasn’t even locked down, that’s noteworthy.
Aqua was great. What I was shocked to see-slash-hear is that Lene and Rene sound exactly the same. Lene still has a glass-clear helium-esque soprano, and Rene has death grunts that would make your local metal singer shake his dreads with jealousy. There’s also a genuine musicality and artistry to their singing, and their interplay, that I was shocked to see. These aren’t two singers trying to CPR a long dead song corpse, they are two entertainers.
So when they went into their finale, which were industrial remixes of ‘Lollipop (Candyman)’ and ‘Roses are Red’, I was into it. Their live band likely hails from the Netherlands aka the home of metal – and they know how to rock. I reckon next time just let B*Witched borrow them and see what happens – let’s do ‘C’est La Vie’ with strobes and a drum solo.
I was expecting to have a great time at Aqua. I wasn’t expecting to come away respecting Aqua and their musicianship. Then, I went home, and got into their deep cuts (including their 2011 album, which is… of a certain level of adequacy) and realised that these guys have hits. They do good pop.
Again, what I’m saying, is that Aqua is not only the Danish pop equivalent of Fleetwood Mac, but just straight up better than Fleetwood Mac. Put them at Mt. Smart Arena next time, So Pop. / SB
Apparently Aqua hate each other?
I guess Lene and René are like that mum and dad who sleep in separate beds but still smile and show up for the kids. Also, if Pitbull was Danish and active in the 90s, he would most certainly be René. / JJ
Ironically, no room to be “blue”
A large part of me assumed So Pop would be just a bunch of deflated ex-pop stars, wheeling out their same old tripe to a burned out audience, desperate to cling onto any vestiges of a childhood where the internet wasn’t a cesspit and the ice caps weren’t nearing puddles. I was fully prepared for sluggish, middle-aged Vengaboys in faded outfits, for the lady from Aqua to have lost her chipmunk voice entirely and for Blue to basically be on zimmer frames. Eiffel 65? He’s probably da be dee, da ba dead.
Turns out the Vengabus is still very much fit for the road. Lene from Aqua still sounds like beautiful Fran Drescher singing through a toilet roll. Blue slid into perfect boy band choreography. Eiffel 65 did a robust Queen-ACDC mash-up. I had made an ass out of you and me – these people were professional and cool and seemed stoked that their pop relics still shone bright all the way in New Zealand. As basically every single artist took selfies with the crowd, it was comforting that people on both sides of stage were frantically trying to bottle the brief moment of nostalgic joy forever.
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I was perhaps the most prepared of all to pity weep for the likes of one hit wonder Lou Bega, with his 15 minute set at the melancholy time of 5.45pm. But then I watched as he grinned at the heavens, eyes shut, as the whole arena sang the absolutely ludicrous 20 year old chorus of ‘Mambo Number 5’ back to him, acapella. “I just wanted to hear that one more time before I go to sleep,” he beamed. He was happy. I was happy. Except then Sam told me he was lip synching and I remembered the ice caps are still melting. / AC
So Pop? So good.
Very few musical events of its kind could work in the same way that So Pop did. Who would’ve thought that short bursts of electro-pop dopamine segued by a 90s infomercial icon could work so seamlessly, so naturally even. There was no pretentiousness, no higher meaning to the whole thing: just pure, infectious, unbridled joy.
Best of all, rather than bringing a sad, washed-up, middle-aged vibe to the whole thing, all the acts (at least towards the latter half of the night) were just as corny and fun as I remember them. Eiffel 65 brought Eurotrash fantasy, B*Witched (well, two of them) brought easy breezy fun, Blue brought rousing ballads and bangers, and the Vengaboys, well, what didn’t the Vengaboys bring? / JJ
To watch The Spinoff’s real-time reaction to So Pop, head over to our Instagram story.
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