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16 Year Old Billie Hope To Pollinate The US

16-Year-Old Billie Hopes To Pollinate A U.S. Career With Pop/Dance 'Honey'.

Chuck Taylor 1 May 1999

(c) 1999 Information Access Company. All rights reserved.

SHE WANTS YOU: When 16-yearold Billie Piper sings before the opening and dosing ceremonies of the Women's World Cup games in June, she may as well take

home a trophy herself.

Since last July, the youth-branded pop singer has seen her first two singles debut at No. 1 in the U.K., becoming the first-ever British female solo artist to debut at No. 1 on the chart and, at 15, the youngest female solo singer to top the chart there since 14-year-old Helen Shapiro took "You Don't Know" to No.1 37 years earlier.

In addition, her third and fourth singles both hit the chart at No. 8, while her debut album, "Honey To The B," released by Virgin Records on Oct. 19, 1998, is double-platinum there (for sales of 600,000 units).

The album is also double-platinum in New Zealand (30,000 units) and is approaching gold status in Canada (50,000 units), while Japanese sales are almost 70,000. There has also been healthy support in Taiwan and the Middle East.

With such a crown full of achievements, the Swindon, England-born Billie is now ready and oh-so-willing to begin an assault on U.S. turf. Her album will drop here May 18 on Virgin America.

"My ambitions have really come true," says Billie during a break from rehearsals for the U.K.'s Radio Academy Awards, to be held Wednesday (28), where she's a presenter. "There's so much I'm still naive about, but coming to America will give me a chance to learn so much more. There are a lot more challenges I can strive for and hopefully achieve."

There's more to conquering America, too, she admits. "I want to live in Malibu-'Baywatch' was filmed there. I'm so determined to live in the U.S., even if it's in a hut. People there are pleased when you do well, unlike in England. I love the nature of the people, the climate, the whole American vibe." And, she notes, "I love the food portions."

"We believe she has the ability to travel internationally with her music," says Ray Cooper, co-president of Virgin America. "The dynamics of her songs could have a strong appeal in the U.S., let alone her own personal vision and look and style. We had such success with the Spice Girls, and from a company perspective, we think she's a great artist who can continue in that tradition."

Hugh Goldsmith, who signed Billie to upstart Virgin imprint Innocent in 1997, says he recognized something special from the moment he saw her in TV ads for the British teen magazine Smash Hits, where Billie had landed a modeling contract. "We were particularly keen on working with a young solo female," he says. "I thought, this girl looks like a star."

Billie's first single in the U.S., "She Wants You," is an uplifting flight of pure pop/dance fancy and is just finding its legs here, with early support from radio stations in Washington, D.C.; Tampa, Fla.; San Francisco; Memphis; and San Diego. From early indications, the song could shape up to be one of the major hits to flit across the airwaves this summer.

"The dance-leaning guys will hit this first, but I find it to be a good, mass-appeal mainstream top 40 song," says Dale O'Brien, PD of WWZZ (Z-104) Washington, D.C., the first station in the country to play it. "It's exactly the kind of record we're looking for here, with great production and a good hook that comes in fast."

O'Brien based his decision to spin "She Wants You" without hesitation, in part, on the success the outlet had with Rockell's "When I'm Gone," which he says tested well, as well as earlier success with acts like La Bouche and Real McCoy, who haven't been active in a while.

"When looking for this kind of stuff, you often have to force yourself to like something that's got tempo, when the reality is, it's just another piece of shit," O'Brien says. "But records like these fit perfectly as is."

Mark Adams, PD of KZQZ (Z-95.7) San Francisco, has also found success with acts like Rockell, Vengaboys, and the 'N Sync/Backstreet Boys/Britney Spears kind of '90s power pop.

He stresses, "This is not just a mindless copycat dance record. It's got a really nice sound, and it's distinctive. I think Billie sounds older, too, which is another element that I'm very happy about. She doesn't give off that bubble-gum teen pop image that a lot of those artists have unfortunately fallen into.

"People need to offer that pop/dance sound, but they don't want to sound like their entire audience is 12. I think that's one way Billie can break out of the pack," Adams says.

The same battle has been an issue of concern for programmers in the U.K., where the youth sound is even more prevalent than it is stateside.

When she debuted at the top of the chart with her U.K. debut single, "Because We Want To," a teen anthem complete with chanted chorus, radio was slow with its support initially, with airplay lagging dramatically behind sales.

National pop station Atlantic 252 only came on board with the second single, "Girlfriend," because it felt that "Because We Want To" was too young for its 17-24 demographic.

"She seemed to be being aimed at the under-15s," says head of music Sarah Henderson, "but after that it was a little more grown-up, straightforward catchy pop. We aimed it at the younger end of our audience in the evenings."

The fourth U.K. single, "Honey To The Bee," is seen there as a shift toward a more mature style, which has been welcomed by London dance station Kiss 100.

"She's gone through a slight change of direction," says the station's head of music, Simon Sadler, who is playing Billie for the first time. "It's definitely a rhythmic-based, dance-type pop record, and it fits in nicely with what we're doing at the moment."

"The latest single is the one we've played most heavily," adds Henderson. "At its peak, it was getting about 50 plays a week."

With "She Wants You" already at retail in the U.S., Virgin's Cooper says the initial reaction has been good on that front. "Everyone has come back agreeing with us that there is potential for this artist," he says.

To back the promise, the label has already secured MTV exposure and is hoping to cash in on a TV special on the UPN cable network that focuses on Billie, which aired April 23 (it will repeat twice in the coming weeks).

And then there's her performance of "Because We Want To," selected as the theme for the Women's World Cup tournament, which will be broadcast on ABC beginning in mid-June.

"It's a good song for young women," Billie says. "It's not all about girl power but represents youth power and girl power in one. It's about being an individual, being focused, unique, finding your direction, and not letting anyone put you down along the way"

Meanwhile, Billie is enjoying the ride of her own focused and unique path up the pop charts. The former teen model intends to continue with her music, with an eye toward acting in the future.

"I'm a very spontaneous person, so I don't like to predict too much," she says. "Hopefully in five years, I'll be an established artist all over the world, with some acting roles."

For now, though, there's one goal she's keeping face forward: "America, here I come. I hope it all works out."

Assistance in preparing this story was provided by Dominic Pride and Sally Stratton in London