‘Pop music will never be low brow’ – Lady Gaga
Close your eyes. Close them, no cheating. Done? Ok, imagine it’s 1998, you’ve just turned 16, you dress like an american 12 year old boy, and hair straighteners haven’t been invited yet so a L’Oreal model you are not. Your biggest love right now is all things pop music: Congratulations you’re me! Now, 17 years later, the dress sense has vastly improved (I like to think), you pray to the church of GHD every morning and even though I was born in the early 80’s, I still consider myself a child of the 90’s as that’s when I did most of my conscious growing up. That love for 90’s pop music never went away.
As a 32 year old, one of my new loves over the last few years has become Twitter and I was lucky enough this weekend to have both old and new loves collided. I got chatting to Beki Russo from 90’s girl group Solid Harmonie (who’s album I got for my 16th Birthday and to this day believe it’s one of the best pop albums of that decade). That’s the great thing about the way social media has taken off recently, it gives people at opposite ends of the world a chance to communicate when they would have never ordinarily been able to. When I was a teenager you have to make do with sending your favourite celebrities letters doused in Charlie Red to their official fan club!
I first discovered the girls when they supported the Backstreet Boys on their 1997 arena tour and I just thought they were brilliant (so much so that my friend Helena and I used to dress as Beki and Melissa from the group whenever we got together – imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all!) They had the same writing team as BSB and Britney so all their songs had that distinctive power pop American vibe. They had 3 top 20 singles in the UK and their album went to number 1 in the Netherlands. Mariama went on to join and was recently on The Big Reunion with UK girl group the Honeyz while Beki, Melissa and Elisa recently released a single (‘Circus’) on itunes and performed a one off gig in Holland in 2014. Beki now lives in Orlando, Florida with her husband Paul and 3 children and after a few reminiscing tweets about the good old days, she was kind enough to let me ask her a few questions:
Who influenced you as a child?
Judy Garland was my first influence.
What was the first single you bought?
It’s A Small World was on side A, the B Side was Chim Chim Cheree from Mary Poppins
What 90s band (other than Solid Harmonie) would you have liked to be in?
I guess All saints for the music, Spice Girls for the fun, but truly I wouldn’t change a thing if I did it again.
What point did you think you’d ‘made it’?
In my eyes I never made it!
Who was the nicest and nastiest celebrity you’ve met?
The nicest person was Beyoncé, the nastiest was Gabrielle (the chick with the eye patch). I thought she was cool too until I met her! She didn’t want to share a dressing room with us because we were not ‘ known’
What’s the longest u spent without sleep?
Whats the weirdest thing you were given by a fan?
Weirdest thing? Oh! A texting pager thingy! I had no idea why someone would want to text someone instead of calling on the phone! Now I’m showing my age!
Did anything ever go horribly wrong on stage or on TV?
Elisa did a backflip into the sound board during our first US performance and had to get a ton of stitches after performing our 29 min set. TV mishap? Not hearing a track during the tapping of a live show and we sang a tone off during the whole song! #cringe
How do you think music has. changed since the 90s (for women in particular)?
Musically things seem more raw and lyrically honest. But commercially there seems to be way to much butt talk!
Other than the other Solid Harmonie girls are you still in touch with anyone from the 90s?
I’m still in touch with all my friends that knew me before SHE, am I in touch with celeb folk from back then? Some!
What do you kids think of your popstar career?
I wish my kids didn’t know what I used to do because it’s them that keeping making me pop (excuse the pun) back in it!
What’s next for you and the girls?
I’m kinda done with all that. I’m still in touch with Melissa and Elisa and I hang out with our kids all the time. SHE was a memory that I look back on and appreciate. It doesn’t seem to have been my life as things are so different now. I was not very keen on being in the public eye like that. I did not like the business, I found it very frustrating coming from more of a theatrical start. My experience was very strange from being almost held against my will in a strange country to being too broke to eat the food in the hotels we stayed at. Most recently when we reunited it really put the cherry on the cake when we gave a fan a chance to learn about the business, it just went horribly wrong. So I’m good! Being Mum, being wife, being a volunteer, I mentor! I love teaching, I don’t charge anyone anything, I believe that knowledge should be free, and I have a lot to give.
Massive thanks to Beki for her time and her honesty and for giving an aging pop fan chance to pretend she’s 16 again for the afternoon!