The Story of Pop: 2002 (Chapter 18)

This is The Story of Pop: 2002. Your weekly revisitation of all the biggest hits and the artists behind them from the UK singles chart exactly 20 years ago. This week: an iconic chart topper from another Ramsay Street neighbour…

  • Artist: Holly Valance
  • Song: Kiss Kiss
  • Released: 29/04/2002
  • Writers / Producers: Sezen Aksu / Juliette Jaimes / Steve Welton-Jaimes / Darren Bennett / Wise Buddah
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #1
  • Weeks on Chart: 17

We forgot to mention it on last week’s entry for Sugababes, but between that, this week and next, we are covering hits that actually started life in very different places with totally different artists. Unlike “Freak Like Me” however, there is an argument that this week’s 2002 banger could only ever have existed when it did.

To tell the story properly we have to cast the wayback machine to five years previously, in 1997. Originally born in West Germany in 1972, Tarkan Tevetoğlu – better known mononymly as Tarkan – moved to Turkey with his family in 1986.

He released his first album in 1994, but it was with the release of his third album and its lead single “Şımarık” (literally translated as “Spoilt”) that he broke through in the rest of Europe in a big way.

Selling over 2m copies, it was a chart topper in Belgium, and a top 3 hit in seven other countries including France, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. Sung entirely in Turkish, it’s hypnotic, string laden Middle Eastern sound was punctuated on its chorus by a distinctive kissing sound effect, making Tarkan something of a heartthrob.

Here in the UK however, it was largely unknown – save for being the soundtrack of a thousand high street kebab shops or, more widely, used in Graham Norton’s trailers for his chat show which was then airing on Channel 4. It was only a matter of time, therefore, before some bright spark would happen upon a way of bringing this continental smash to English speaking territories.

The song was re-written in English with totally new lyrics – whilst still keeping the same melody and backing – as “Kiss Kiss”. First to have a go with it was US singer Stella Soleil in March 2001, but her version was a flop, only peaking at #27 on the Mainstream Top 40 of the Billboard charts.

It’s at this juncture of the story that London Records back home in Blighty entered the equation, having just newly signed Holly Rachel Vukadinović, better known by her stage name of Holly Valance. Born to an English mother and a dad originally from Serbia former Yugoslavia in 1983, she was an actress and one time model from Melbourne, Australia, who was perhaps best known to UK audiences at this point for playing Felicity (or Flick as she was more commonly known), the petulant middle daughter of the Scully family in long running soap opera Neighbours.

During her time on Ramsay Street, she had set sparks flying as something of a flirtatious temptress, not least of all from her major and explosive storyline where she ended up having an affair with her sister Steph’s fiance Marc, which was revealed at the altar on their wedding day – as one does(!)

Having been recording on the QT with a small independent label in Australia called Engine Room, just to experiment and see what would come out of it, London Records soon got wind of Holly’s extracurricular activities, and immediately saw an opportunity to make her the latest graduate of the soap, following Kylie Minogue and Natalie Imbruglia, to break it into the music industry.

However, coming from a daytime soap and crossing over to the charts still had, even with the commercial and critical success of both those two ladies, a degree of snobbery attached to it. But “Kiss Kiss” was undoubtedly the perfect vehicle from which to launch Holly Valance. Certainly, it is hard to imagine any other contemporary of the time being the best fit.

With a song that could almost border on being novelty, she played it with a degree of tact and non chalance, very much coming across the seductive siren on lines like “When I look at you, I wanna be, I wanna be / Somewhere closer to heaven with neanderthal man” or “You can be mine, baby what’s your star sign / Won’t you take a step into the lion’s den?”

Indeed, this recasting of her as a sex symbol through song would also cross over into what has become one of the lasting legacies of “Kiss Kiss”; it’s distinctive and very racy promo video directed by the late Tim Royes, scenes of which saw Holly gyrating around a neon lit backdrop apparently naked (in reality a flesh coloured bikini), with only the flares of flashing lightbulbs enhanced by computer graphics to protect her modesty.

Both the sight of an apparently denuded Holly on MTV and The Box, combined with blanket radio play and the very athletic dance routine she whipped out for the many TV performances of the single (case in point here from Top of the Pops), ensured that she was not only a pinup and favourite of the lads mags like FHM and Loaded, but that a hit was on the cards.

Having sold over 143,000 copies on its release at the end of April 2002, “Kiss Kiss” stormed straight to the top of the UK charts, and would also do the same a month later in her native Aussie, in the process becoming one of the defining songs of that summer. She was also the third former star of Neighbours to have a UK number one single, following Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan.

From a single that could so easily have been a one hit wonder, Holly did have a fairly steady chart career in the next year and a bit that followed. Produced by, of all people, Nellee Hooper (Bjork, Massive Attack, No Doubt), her second single “Down Boy” entered at #2 in October, whilst third single “Naughty Girl” was a top 20 at Christmas, with her album Footprints going gold and reaching #9.

A messy and protracted legal battle with her original manager and the underperformance of her second album State Of Mind all but called time on her venturings in the world of pop by 2004, instead switching attentions first to an acting career in Hollywood (which included starring in Taken alongside Liam Neeson) and a turn on Strictly Come Dancing in 2011. But Holly will at least always be remembered by “Kiss Kiss”, a distinctively different chart topper that bought Eastern promise to the airwaves at the start of summer 2002.

Don’t forget to follow our brand new playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 2002. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments, Tweet us or message us on Instagram, using the hashtag #StoryofPop2002.

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