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8th November 2023

90s Baby Pop live in Manchester: A night of nostalgia

90s Baby POP returned to Manchester Arena for its annual celebration of nineties and noughties bangers – and it was naughtier and spookier than ever
90s Baby Pop live in Manchester: A night of nostalgia
Photo: Jay Darcy @ The Mancunion

The 90s Baby Pop event was hosted by Jonny Meah and Nick Coulson, who opened the night and appeared in between each act, breaking up the action and giving the audience a breather, with Coulson playing a variety of bops to keep the momentum going. Jonny was a brilliant host. He’s warm, welcoming, and doesn’t take himself too seriously. Often, he’d wander into the crowd, whether to chat with his family who were seated behind me, or just watch the show and take in the action.

Each artist had their own unique moving graphics onscreen behind them, with Sonique’s being especially funky. With some big headliners amidst the lineup, bigger acts had video montages introducing them, which masterfully built up anticipation.

The first act of the night was Lolly, who sang her hit cover of Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, a cover of Kim Wilde’s ‘Kids in America’, and her hit cover of Toni Basil’s ‘Mickey’, all complete with cheerleading pom poms! Manchester’s Sweet Female Attitude (Leanne Brown), who previously played We Love the 90’s, followed a dance medley with ‘Flowers’: as Jonny said, perhaps “the best garage song of all time.”

Livin’ Joy ft. Luzahnn, who previously appeared at 90s Baby Classical, performed the band’s hit songs ‘Don’t Stop Movin’ and ‘Dreamer’. Originally sung by Tamoko Joy and Janice Robinson, her power-packed voice did both tunes justice. Baby D (Dee Fearon), who also performed at last year’s 90s Baby Classical, serenaded the audience with ‘Let Me Be Your Fantasy’.

The party really got going when Sonique came onstage in a skeleton leotard and sang her hit cover of Nina Simone’s ‘I Put a Spell on You’ (it was Halloween Saturday – she got the memo!). She followed it up with her signature song, ‘It Feels So Good’, with incredible stage presence and roaring vocals to match.

Kosheen (vocalist Sian Evans), donning a stunning sparkly silver dress, sang ‘Hide U’ and ‘Catch’. Offering something calmer after Sonique’s energetic set, the audience seemed unfamiliar with her work.

Boyzlife – a supergroup comprising Keith Duffy of Boyzone and Brian McFadden of Westlife – got the crowd going again. They began with two bops (Boyzone’s ‘Picture of You’ and Westlife’s ‘World of Our Own’) but went on and slowed things down for the second half of their act, with each band’s first UK Number 1: Boyzone’s cover of the Bee Gee’s ‘Words’ and Westlife’s debut single, ‘Swear It Again’. The pairing is interesting; neither singer is the most charismatic performer. Nonetheless, they both had lots of fun onstage, with the audience responding in a similar fashion.

Ultra Naté, one of the most-anticipated artists, wore a sparkly pink leotard, complete with feathered cuffs and a black belt. Her three-song set included her hit cover of The Pointer Sisters’ ‘Dare Me’ and her signature song, ‘Free’.

Then reached the next three artists, all familiar with the We Love the 90’s parties after their performances back in 2019. Their return was heavily appreciated.

SNAP! sang ‘The Power’ and ‘Rhythm is a Dancer’, both originally sung by Thea Austin, but Penny Ford’s live rendition was no less impactful.  Rednex – which has had countless line-ups and now consists of a pool of 17 singers, with three men and one woman chosen for each gig – sang their signature song ‘Cotton Eye Joe’. Both the singing and instrumentals appeared to be mimed. Whilst this may be a cop-out to some, it didn’t seem to matter, with much of the audience linking arms and country dancing along to it.

Culture Beat were next. Jackie Sangster looked fierce with her huge afro and blue and white leotard. The duo performed ‘Got to Get It’ and, of course, ‘Mr. Vain’. Whilst Jackie is not the original singer, she joined the group in 2001 and rerecorded the latter as ‘Mr. Vain Recall’ in 2003.

Only four of the original 10 members of Blazin’ Squad (the self-proclaimed pioneers of chav culture) remain, including Love Island‘s Marcel Somerville. After a “Blazin’ Squad jukebox” medley, they sang ‘Flip Reverse’ and their debut single, ‘Crossroads’, a retitled and reimagined cover of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s ‘Tha Crossroads’.

East 17, with original member Terry Coldwell, began their three-song set with their debut single, ‘House of Love’, and ended it with their kind of Christmas song, ‘Stay Another Day’.

Louise Redknapp, who now goes by “Louise”, performed with three backing singers and dancers. Her performance was billed as being part of her Heavy Love Tour. She covered an Eternal song, ‘Just a Step from Heaven (Reimagined)’, as well as one of her solo hits, a cover of Average White Band’s ‘Let’s Go Round Again’.

Nick Coulson was given a break, with H from Steps delivering a dazzling DJ set, which included a Steps medley. He deceived the audience, cleverly beginning the medley by saying “5, 6, 7, 8”, yet not playing the classic hit.

911, one of only two acts to have performed at last year’s event, had a mighty five-song set, which they ended with their biggest hit, ‘A Little Bit More’ (a Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show cover) and ‘Bodyshakin’, the latter lifting the mood back up.

They were followed by another boyband, A1, who sang ‘Same Old Brand New You’, ‘Caught in the Middle’, and their hit cover of a-ha’s ‘Take On Me’.

Haddaway was outstanding live. He began his set with ‘Life’, an international hit; but many in the audience seemed not to recognise it. “You might not know that one but you will know this one,” he responded to the soft audience response, before singing ‘What Is Love’, with a female backing singer who perfectly captured the uncredited female vocal on the track.

The event then shifted gears with Nadine Coyle from Girls Aloud, who wore a pristine white pantsuit, last year’s Manchester Pride headliner. Rather than sing any solo material, she sang two Girls Aloud hits: their debut single, ‘Sound of the Underground’, and the musical masterpiece ‘Biology’.

Jamelia, who looked the part in a sparkly gold dress, began her set with an electrifying rendition of ‘Beware of the Dog’, before slowing things down with ‘Thank You’ and bringing the mood back up with her hit cover of Christine Milton’s ‘Superstar’.

Then came the main event: Samantha Mumba. She delivered a mini concert, complete with lots of backing dancers. She was dressed like a sexy, modern Cruella de Vil, complete with red lining in her black and white fur coat. She began her set with her debut and signature song, ‘Gotta Tell You’, which is number 74 on “Billboard’s Greatest Choruses of the 21st Century”.

This was followed by the soothing ‘Always Come Back to You Love’, new songs ‘Body and ‘The Lie’, ‘Baby, Come Over (This is Our Night)’ (the US version of ‘Baby Come On Over’, which samples Kool & the Gangs’ ‘Ladies Night’), and new song ‘Run’. The latter ended with some spectacular Irish dancing.

Jenny Berggren from Ace of Base wore a sparkly leotard and huge feather scarf, with her backing dancers wearing identical leotards with one feathered sleeve each (they all ditched the impractical feathers after the first song). She sang the same three songs she sang at We Love the 90’s: ‘The Sign’, ‘All That She Wants’, and ‘Beautiful Life’.

Whilst all four members of Ace of Base recorded vocals for ‘All That She Wants’, Jenny’s were cut on the final release – but she has reclaimed the song!

5ive, who also performed at the event last year, has lost two members. Lead singer J Brown did not take part in the second reunion, followed by Abz Love, who did but later left. Whilst the band may have been more of a “Thr33” than a 5ive, they stayed true to their original essence, ending their mighty set with ‘Keep On Movin” – and the audience did not stop movin’!

The final boyband of the night was Blue. They began their set with their debut single, ‘All Rise’, before singing ‘Fly By II’ (a remixed version of album track ‘Fly By’) and ‘One Love’. The night was closed with none other than Greek-Cypriot British-Australian icon Peter Andre, who ended his set with ‘Mysterious Girl’.

Indeed, what makes this event so brilliant is that, with 25 acts, there really is something for everyone. Whilst much of the crowd seemed present for the boybands, personally, I was there for the brilliant Black female soloists – Sonique, Ultra Naté, Jamelia, and Samantha Mumba – who, inarguably, delivered the best performances of the night.

90s Baby Pop was and continues to be a success. Whilst the event is long (the six hours may leave you struggling to keep your eyes open), there really is nothing like seeing artists sing their signature songs live. With a whopping 25 acts all singing their best hits, the bops just keep on coming. So many bangers, you’ll be craving mash!

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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