Bringing you more hits from a year packed full of them like a Y2K party popper, this is The Story of Pop: 1999. This week: a British R&B girl group with a history as prolific as their late 90s hits were…
There’s a history lesson in more ways than one for our featured act today, so I hope you’re paying attention. Back in 1998, Mercury Records and First Avenue – the management team who’d guided Eternal and Louise to glittering chart success – were cultivating the British answer to Destiny’s Child.
The not exactly imaginatively named Essence consisted of vocalists Celena Cherry and Heavenli Denton (née Abdi), with a third member, French born Naima Belkhiati being added to the line-up before a guy who – unsuccessfully – chatted them up on a night out at London club Subterranea saw them rechristen to the name that stuck.
Honeyz had first broken through at the end of summer 1998, when their debut single ‘Finally Found’ hurtled into the UK chart at #4. More success followed when they released totes-emosh mega ballad ‘End of the Line’ which was a top 5 hit that Christmas, and their debut album ‘Wonder No.8’ was quickly certified gold.
At a time when British R&B acts like they, Another Level and Kele Le Roc were experiencing a purple patch, America was soon calling and they were signed to Def Jam in the States. As they headed to New York to record the video for their upcoming single, all was looking promising. And then Heavenli quite literally did a runner, resulting in them being instantly dropped by their Stateside label.
But keen to keep all systems going, a replacement was swiftly drafted in by their management, in the form of Mariama Goodman, former vocalist with Max Martin helmed girl group Solid HarmoniE, and they were back in the top 10 that April with third single ‘Love of a Lifetime’.
They took a small sejourn that summer to record some new songs for a repacked edition of the ‘Wonder No. 8’ album. The first of these, the sweet and soulful ‘Never Let You Down’, gave them their fourth top 10 hit in a row on this very week twenty years ago in October 1999. Honeyz had been reborn, and with the girls regular features on the pages of lad’s mags, it was clear they’d overcome the blip – but not for long.
After the release of their properly amazing ‘Won’t Take It Lying Down’ the following February 2000 – a #7 hit – a frosty atmosphere between Mariama and Naima saw to it that the former handed in her notice via a fax sent from an internet cafe. But then their management did something even more bizarre. They bought Heavenli back.
Through gritted teeth, they limped on for two more top 30 singles before being dropped and parting ways at the end of 2001. They’ve reconvened in multiple lineups since then – mostly notably, in a Celena-Heavenli-Mariama formation for ITV2’s The Big Reunion in 2013 – but today we toast Honeyz, and their brief but beautiful success as the leading British R&B girl group at the turn of the millennium.
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