Disney Special Helps Boost Arista's Five

Billboard 4/17/99

Disney Special Helps Boost Arista's Five
by Carla Hay

New York -- The current popularity of boy bands can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, teen-oriented male vocal groups, such as the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync, can experience multi-platinum success. On the other hand, the public may be confused when similar groups crowd the marketplace in their quest for the boy-band throne.

Such was the challenge facing Arista Records, the U.S. label for the British boy group Five, whose self-titled debut album was released here in July 1998.

After spending months on the Heatseekers chart, "Five" achieved Heatseekers Iimpact status in the April 10 issue, when it leapt from No. 127 to No. 95 on The Billboard 200. This issue, the album shoots up to No. 27. Industry observers are crediting the recent surge in sales to Five's appearance on a Disney Channel "In Concert" special that began airing in March.

Five member Rich Neville says he is used to Five being compared to the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync. He notes, "As performers, there are similarities in that we all do dance routines. But there haven't been a lot of boy groups from England, so we've got our British sense of humor. Also, Five's music is a little bit harder and edgier, because a lot of our songs are rap-based. We strongly believe there's room for everyone."

Five's members -- Neville, Scott Robinson, Abs Breen, J Brown, and Sean Conlon -- range in age from 16 to 21. Some of the group's songs were written by Denniz Pop and Max Martin, who also worked with the Backstreet Boys. Five receives co-songwriting credit on several of its songs, which are administered by Sony/ATV Tunes LLC (ASCAP).

In the Aug. 1, 1998 issue, "Five" entered the Heatseekers chart at No. 19. The album reached No. 1 in the Nov. 17 issue. "Five" has sold 375,000 copies to date, according to SoundScan.

The album's singles have had an erratic U.S. chart history: "When The Lights Go Out" peaked at No. 10 on The Billboard Hot 100 in the Aug. 1, 1998, issue. The follow-up single, "It's The Things You Do," peaked at No. 53 on the Hot 100 in the Nov. 28 issue. The group's latest single, "Slam Dunk (Da Funk)," has yet to break into the Hot 100.

All three singles were top 10 hits in the U.K., while the album reached No. 1 there.

Neville continues, "We were admittedly quite disappointed with how ["It's The Things You Do"] did on the U.S. charts. But we've had a lot of commitments worldwide, so it's been difficult to get over to the States for promotion."

That problem may be remedied when Five embarks on its first major U.S. concert tour; with none other than the group that Five seems to be compared to the most: 'N Sync. Five, which is booked by the William Morris Agency, will be the opening act on 'N Sync's amphitheater tour. Five joins the tour July 14 in Hartford, Conn.

Five is managed by Diggit Entertainment in U.S. and Safe Management for the rest of the world.

Arista VP of marketing (U.S) Adam Sexton credits print media, particularly teen magazines, as being especially supportive of the group early in its career.

"Five has been on the cover of every major teen magazine," he says. "The band also participated in a contest with Teen magazine and Musicland, and they played Seventeen's New Star showcase."

Grace Ayara, manager of the Wherehouse in Hollywood, theorizes on why "Five" stalled for months in the lower half of The Billboard 200: "Five has been more of a singles band than an album band. And when 'N Sync's[self-titled debut] album came out, it just blew Five's sales out of the water."

J.R. Ammons, music director of mainstream top 40 outlet WSTR Atlanta, says that his station has yet to play the latest Five single. He explains, "We try to steer clear of boy groups, but if we do play them, we play the best of the best, like 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys. I think the reason why Five is starting to do well now is because of the Disney Channel special. But we'd have to see more of a story developing with Five before we'd add one of their singles."

Arista's Sexton says, "I think the people who know the difference between Five and the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync are the kids who buy the records. We still have some work to do in raising awareness for Five at radio, and we're still missing massive MTV airplay. We're hoping that the exploding sales [of "Five"] will be a wake-up call to programmers."

The Disney Channel special "B*Witched And Five In Concert" featured performance footage of Five, as well as behind-the-scenes interviews. The Irish girl group B*Witched was also part of the special in separately filmed segments.

Disney Channel executive director of talent development and music specials Tina Treadwell says, "We chose Five for the 'In Concert' special because this is a boy group that has a little bit of an edge. We pick artists who are young and have strong family ties."

After the U.S. tour, Five is expected to begin working on its second album, which is due in late 1999. However, Arista's Sexton says the second album's U.S. release may be delayed: "Since sales [for the first album] are exploding right now, we want to build on that momentum as much as we can."