The Story of Pop: 2002 (Chapter 20)

Every Thursday at 9am, we transport you back to the UK singles chart as it looked exactly 20 years ago with The Story of Pop: 2002. This week: some former rejected Popstars come good with the song of the summer…

  • Artist: Liberty X
  • Song: Just A Little
  • Released: 13/05/2002
  • Writers / Producers: Michelle Escoffery / George Hammond Hagan / John Hammond Hagan / The BigPockets
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #1
  • Weeks on Chart: 18

Music based reality TV shows, when they were first in their infancy, established a few narratives that have stuck with the genre ever since. Yes, there’s the oftentimes funny / painful / moving / exciting auditions, the rejections, and then finding the winner.

But there is also what we will call “the underdog”, of which we will meet a handful of examples on the rest of this series to come. And in the case of ITV’s Popstars in 2001, it was this week’s act who established such a narrative.

As millions watched “Nasty” Nigel, Nicki and Paul select the five lucky hopefuls for Hear’Say, they also saw dreams of popstardom get crushed for the five who were so close, but yet so far: Jessica Taylor, Kevin Simm, Kelli Young, Tony Lundon and Michelle Heaton.

Bought back to London for press interviews after the final selection show was aired on TV, the five ‘rejects’ sung together live on a radio phone in. A light bulb moment then clicked for them all, when they realised how good they sounded together.

On the spur of the moment, they decided to go live on GMTV with Lorraine Kelly the following morning to announce that they were going to form a band too. And thus, from the jaws of defeat, Liberty X was born. Multi millionaire Richard Branson promptly signed the fledgling five piece to his record label V2; an unusual choice of label, for it counted the more alternative likes of The White Stripes and Stereophonics on its roster.

Of course, the press at the time weren’t quite so congratulatory. Tabloid headlines of the time declared “BRANSON SIGNS THE FLOPSTARS”. With 2022 eyes on, it was a bizarre turn of events to be writing off a brand new pop act before they’d even released a single, but this was logical in 2001, apparently.

For their first couple of singles, the group were simply called Liberty. After releasing on white label to clubs with no name attached to it, their first single, the UK garage-lite “Thinking It Over” went top 5 in September of that year, whilst the follow up “Doin’ It” made the top 15 in December. And then came a hiatus that was largely instigated by a change to the name that stuck.

After being pursued by a 70s man band who were also called Liberty, they lost a court case over rights to the name, and so – with help from a competition in The Sun newspaper – were renamed as Liberty X. This rechristening also came about just as Hear’Say were rapidly becoming yesterday’s model.

Not only had their hastily recorded second album Everybody been a write off (it had entered and peaked at #24), but Kym Marsh had also flounced out the band in January 2002 after a series of rows, to be replaced by Johnny Shentall, former member of Boom! and fiance to Steps star Lisa Scott-Lee, as their career began descending into a tailspin it would never recover from.

It was whilst this was all happening that Liberty X found the song that would ensure they were cemented into pop legend status. Michelle had been in a writing session when she was first played the demo of “Just A Little”. Immediately grabbed by the song’s distinct opening lines “Sexy, everything about you so sexy”, within a week the slinky R&B influenced banger was theirs.

The music video was also eye-catching: based around the Catherine Zeta Jones blockbuster Entrapment, it depicted the band as thieves conducting a heist for a rare diamond – all whilst performing a dance routine where they twirled canes and the girls all wore black rubber catsuits.

Both song and video were never off the airwaves for all of that summer, and following its release on 13th May, “Just A Little” stormed straight to the top of the charts for Liberty X, eventually going onto be a BRIT Award winner for Best Single in 2003 and being the ninth biggest selling single of 2002.

More hits followed later in the year from their double platinum debut album Thinking It Over: a cover of Mantronix’s club classic “Got To Have Your Love” made #2 in September, whilst “Holding On For You” made the top 5 in December, and a collaboration with Richard X on the stunning “Being Nobody” the following year was a top 3 smash.

Ask anyone who has fond memories of the long summer of 2002, and undoubtedly “Just A Little” being its soundtrack will feature highly. Furthermore, it proved Liberty X were not only the true winners of Popstars after all, but it allowed them to break down the barn door for a number of runners up on shows like theirs to follow after them.

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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