High Five

[Hit Magazine [Herald Sun] - Thursday, December 2, 1999]

The boy wonders are soaring to new heights, dedicating their success to a svengali who created them, writes Cameron Adams.

It's all smiles in the Five camp. After six Top 10 hit singles - the three latest stalling at No. 2 - the British boy band have finally entered their home charts at No. 1 with Keep On Movin'. But it's a bittersweet victory. The person who would have most enjoyed their overdue triumph isn't here to see it. Bob Herbert, their manager, died in a car accident this year, just as Five were working on their second album, Invincible, which is now dedicated to his memory. Herbert was more than just a manager - Five were his vision.

Herbert and son Chris were no strangers to the machinations of pop. Their CV includes the Spice Girls. They funded the early material that took the Spice Girls to the top. In her autobiography, If Only, former Spice Geri Halliwell says the Herberts hadn't signed the Spice Girls up properly and they jumped ship. There were no such mistakes with Five, right from the start in May 1997. Even the audition that put them together was televised, a kind of national hunt to find The Spice Boys, a tag they would despise. The managers wanted four, but the successful five bonded and presented themselves as a fait accompli and the Herberts couldn't choose one to ditch.

A day after the final five for Five were selected they were sent to Sweden to work with the famous Denniz Pop, the brains behind Ace of Base, Robyn and Backstreet Boys. He took the boys under his wing, executive-producing their debut album Five and helping the band develop a sound that melded pop, hip-hop, rock and attitude. At the height of their success, due to songs he wrote and guided, Denniz Pop died, leaving his partner, Max Martin, to carry on, which he did handsomely, courtesy Britney Spears. But it was Herbert's sudden death that really affected Five. For a band whose oldest member is only 23, it was a reality check that sobered them up from a daze of screaming girls and gold records.

"In the long run it gives you another reason to go on and be more successful," says Five's J. "For instance, we were driving everything that bit harder to get to No. 1 for the sake of Bob - he always wanted to see u at No. 1. It sounds weird but you draw strength from it all."

In the sleevenotes for Invincible, J, the main rapper and unofficial leader, talks of how much Herbert did for the band. J's temper is legendary. However, he's mellowed over the past year, admitting he's much more comfortable being in a pop band after coming from a hip-hop background.

"We're young guys," J says. "You have your arguments. I had arguments with Bob, but I always appreciated what he did. Now more than ever, when you stand back and look at the whole picture, I really see what he did. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him."

The Herberts may have given them the push, but Five have made it where countless other bands haven't. They have managed to forge an identity. They keep their clothes on, unlike most boy bands. "We're trying to see the music, not us," Scott Robinson says. "We would have been male models if we wanted to do that." They say they're not out to change the world, just entertain it. "There's no message," Scott says, "it's just pop."

J says: "There is competition between the boy bands out there, but it'd be silly to let that add more pressure. If we're not good enough to compete with the others we shouldn't be doing this. If we felt pressure that others were better, we'd be in the wrong job."

Abs says: "There are a lot of boy bands out there. It is getting a bit ridiculous. But even though we are technically a boy ban - we're boys and we're in a band, we sing and we dance - we do think we're different from the rest. Even though no one will admit it we've changed things. Before us bands used to always hide the fact they drank and had girlfriends. Now all these boy bands talk about that, they even brag about it. That's thanks to us."

Initially tagged a 'lad band' rather than a boy band, three of Five have partners. Scott recently admitted to a long term girlfriend. "I kept if secret for a few reason - I don't think it's anyone's business and the management weren't that keen, but I don't like to shove it in people's faces."

Abs' girlfriend, Danielle Brent, is a UK soap star and Ritchie Neville dates fellow pop star Billie. "I'm in love," he says. "I've got it bad." At first, Billie received hate mail from Five fans furious she'd stolen their idol. The couple were even abused in the street by passers-by. "It's calmed down a bit now," Rich says. "I think people have realized we're not doing it for publicity or anything. Sometimes we talk about how the cheesiest thing in the world would be a love duet like Jason and Kylie and we even made up a dance routing. But that'll never go further than the living room."

Five have got a reputation in the business for being slightly difficult, and are often name-dropped by other bands as their least favorite contemporaries.

"We're not difficult," J says. "Unlike a lot of pop bands, we're real and honest about our feelings. We don't always smile. If we're upset, you'll know about it. That's because we're real people A lot of bands just do everything they're told to do. We know what we will and won't do. If we don't think something is going to be good for the band, we don't do it. That upsets some people, but you've got to put your foot down when it comes to your career. Too many bands just do these bad TV shows or photo shoots or whatever and complain about it later. We don't put ourselves in that situation. It's the same with socializing with other bands. There seems to be this thing in pop where you're supposed to act as if you're best friends with people in bands you don't even know or have only met once, just because you're both in bands. When you don't, like when I just waved at someone from B*witched because I don't really them, they bitch about you."

Unlike the likes of Boyzone and Westlife, each member of Five has a role. J and Abs rap, Scott and Rich sing the love songs or ballads and Sean has a soulful voice. On Invincible, they've co-written every single track on the album.

"The songs mean more you," says J, "and obviously financially it's more lucrative if you co-write your own material."

The band have made a lot of money in two years. Their self titled album sold nearly five million copies worldwide, including a million in the US, and they've sold more than eight million singles. The've bought houses and sports cars, some even for their parents. Invincible includes a cover of the Queen hit, We Will Rock You.

"We said we wanted a We Will Rock You kind of anthem, so we thought why not do We Will Rock You?" Scott says. "We called up Brian May and he was really interested. He didn't just want to let us sample it, he wanted to make it a collaboration. It's more like a duet. He wants to perform it with us."

The next big test will come when Five embark on their first live tour next March. The band generally lip-sync when on TV or performing small concerts, claiming they'd be out of breath if they had to sing and dance.

"I know we can sing," J says. "We're supposed to be making pop music, it's supposed to sound nice and with an act like us, it's very visual as well. People say, 'How come you're not singing live'. And it's because we're well known for doing our dance routines as well as our vocals. If you want us to come on your show and do it live, we'll chop our dance routine and we'll just stand there like a lot of people do, like your Boyzones, though they don't sing fully live, but a lot of bands just stand there and it's boring. We know at the end of the day, when it comes down to it we can do it live. We'll prove ourselves to anyone we have to prove it to."

And if a few boys come along for the ride, that's OK, too.

"We know boys like us." Abs says. "We see them at shows. I know they might not like to admit it, but we know they're out there."