I was standing in my grandparents’ living room when I heard on the evening news that Steps had split up. Though my interest in Steps had waned considerably by this point, I was still left with the strange feeling, at the tender age of ten, that an era had ended. Steps were, in many ways, my first love. They were the first pop group I felt completely devoted to, the first in a long line of pop obsessions that would soon follow.
Steps were a big part of my childhood and feature heavily in several of my early memories. I remember watching them on SM:TV Live on a Saturday morning when Ant, Dec and Cat were holding a phone in poll to find the nation’s favourite Steps song with the winning song to be performed at the end of the show. There were three options to pick from, including my absolute favourite, ‘One For Sorrow’. But for some reason that I still don’t fully understand, I voted for ‘Tragedy’, reasoning at the time that it was going to win anyway – which of course it did.
So with the news that Steps are reuniting with a brand new album and tour, many fans are excited about the prospect of new music. But I can’t feel some trepidation about the news. Having seen bands like the Spice Girls repeatedly try and trash their own legacy through misjudged comebacks, I worry about what a Steps reunion will bring. To any sane pop fan, it’s fairly obvious what should be on the table – more high energy, camp, dance-pop singles that made them famous in the first place. The danger, however, is that Steps will try and fit in with the current pop landscape and bring out an album of EDM or light dubstep tracks, a move that would not only flop quite steptacuarly on the charts, but would also alienate fans.
In an interview with Popjustice, Lisa Scott-Lee said of the new tracks “These songs are current, they’re dance anthems, and I’d certainly be in the club dancing to them.” On the one hand, an album full of dance anthems sounds like exactly the kind of thing Steps should be working on, but the word ‘current’ is a bit of a red flag here. The thing is, even during their heyday in the late 90s, Steps were never current. Pete Waterman, one of Steps’ primary songwriters, repeatedly stated his intention to recreate the sound of ABBA in Steps’ music, often referring to them as “ABBA on speed”. While Steps certainly gave their ABBA-influenced music a modern twist, they were never regarded as cool or cutting edge, viewed with a certain irony even at their most popular.
Perhaps due to the ultra-campness of their music, Steps are often unfairly underrated when it comes to the quality of their music. At their best, they were champions of the sadbanger, blending emotive lyrics with dance music to create huge floorfillers, combining elements of Europop, dance and RnB to formulate a unique sound that, although rooted firmly in the late 90s, has nonetheless left an enduring legacy. To update the Steps formula to suit a modern audience would be a terrible move given that the current appeal of Steps relies so much on the nostalgia that surrounds them. As the world goes to shit, Steps offer a reminder of a time when things were basically sort of OK.
Steps have already made some dodgy decisions since their initial reformation in 2011. The ensuing tour included a segment in which Lee Latchford-Evans performed a solo mashup of ‘Moves Like Jagger’ and ‘S&M’, something that no one really deserved. It’s this kind of shtick that can really derail a good reunion as it just smacks of desperation and irrelevance. Fans don’t want Steps to be dragged into the current day because everything here is pretty crap. So while the new Steps reunion does offer a great deal of promise, it’s important that Steps stay true to their late 90s origins and revel in the nostalgia that surrounds them rather than reject it. After all, in 2017, it feels like we need a bit of nostalgic escapism more than ever.