My first introduction to Steps was, more likely than not, a gin and tonic fizzed night out at G-A-Y Heaven or Late, numbly moving my body to the rhythm of “Tragedy” while behaving like a typical dance club tragedy. However, my first conscious and remembered introduction was a car sing along to “5,6,7,8” on Australian dramedy Please Like Me. My enthusiasm for all things camp prompted a deep dive into Steps discography, the kind of musical education I’ll sometimes embark on to fill the gaps left by my ultra conservative and religious upbringing. For an American who didn’t grow up in Britain during the height of Steps mania, much of the history and nostalgia is lost on me. Sure, I’ve done my research on their dreaded Boxing Day split, and can laugh along with my British friends at Lisa Scott Lee’s “But I’m B List at Capitol”. And though the pop culture aspect may not connect, the euphoric nature of their music certainly does. But even with my appreciation of their 90’s hits, nothing could have prepared me for what Steps had planned for their 20 year reunion.
Opening with a string section and exploding into a chorus that sounds like ABBA covering Kylie, comeback single “Scared of the Dark” proved to be a refreshing throwback to the sound of ‘90s pop. But instead of channeling the balearic ‘90s beats that have found themselves popular on Top 40, Steps has gone back to disco and impossibly bubblegum teen pop, glossed with a 2017 sheen. “Give me the bright lights of the dance floor/To shine inside this broken heart of mine” they sing, as if directly channeling my own anguish at the state of politics worldwide. Twenty years after their debut, Steps release new album Tears on the Dancefloor on April 21 to a world (or is just me?) that’s desperate for cheesy, unashamedly joyous, dancepop to help ease the anxiety of our current political climate, if only for three and a half minutes. Preceded by another slice of heartwarming disco, “You Make Me Whole” and Benny Anderson (of ABBA fame!!!) penned “Story of a Heart”, Steps are serving up polished and perfected, joyous and danceable choruses to hit all the right spots in your guilty pleasure receptors in ways the Billboard Hot 100 never could.
But not all is dire on this side of the pond. While chart pop in the US is in desperate need of a refresh, Lady Gaga has proven she can still provide hooks like she did at her height on latest album, Joanne. But the country influenced album failed to line dance it's way onto radio, outside of ballad “Million Reason” that rode a wave of “omg she can really sing?!?” surprise. So at Coachella, Gaga did what Little Monsters thought she would never do. She jumped on a trend. Debuting her latest single “The Cure” just six months after releasing Joanne, it starts with what sounds like the beginnings of a Diplo or The Chainsmokers trop bop but surprises by ditching the beat drop and providing an explosive, emotive and decidedly euro chorus.
While some find her abandonment of single worthy Joanne tracks and use of ‘90s influenced 2017 sounds troubling, any excuse for Gaga to revisit the Ace of Base-esque hook writing she employed for Joanne deep cut “Dancin in Circles” and hit single “Alejandro” (which happens to be NeuroPop’s vote for Best Lady Gaga Single) is a-okay in my book. Melding her well crafted pop songwriting with a sound that guarantees radio play is a smart move, and one can hope that “The Cure” will cure us of male dominated bro pop. Steps will certainly (and unfortunately) not storm the charts with their retro dance pop, but the persistence of both acts to deliver music that continues to please fans means that, regardless of chart position, it’s time to disco with Steps and put your paws up with Mother Monster. If we keep it up, the mainstream might just discover music’s newest trend - a chorus.