We couldn’t get enough of them. Their songs were our soundtrack, and we laughed, danced, cried and loved along with them. They flashed across our radio and TV burning brightly — but where have they been lately? As you’ll find out in our new regular feature Where Ya Been?, sometimes the stories behind your favorite songs are more interesting than the hits themselves.
Biggest hit: 2001’s “He Loves U Not”
Claim to fame: Members came together after responding to an 800-number solicitation for a girl group and impressed Bad Boy boss Sean “Puffy” Combs so much in a hotel audition that he signed them on the spot.
Why do I know that name?: Before “American Idol,” there was Dream. The Southern California R&B quartet consisted of Ashley Poole, Diana Ortiz, Holly Arnstein and Melissa Schuman. Poole got on board by calling (800) BE-A-STAR, while Schuman and Arnstein auditioned at the suggestion of their vocal coaches, with the latter recommending her lifelong friend Ortiz for the prefab four.
Their manager set up a Beverly Hills Hotel audition for Combs, who initially seemed unimpressed with the 14-year-olds. “It was really scary but awesome,” Poole said of the audition. “We sang some songs for Puffy from our demo, he shook our hands and said, ’Good luck.’ We were like, ’Oh, didn’t get that!’ And then 10 minutes later, he was sending us a contract to sign.”
The road to riches: Their debut album, It Was All a Dream, was released in January 2001, when all four were 16 or younger, and spawned the pop/urban hit “He Loves U Not.” Legendary music-biz titan Clive Davis told the girls that the song would have been a hit no matter who sang it, but Poole said the fact that “four white girls on a hip-hop label” sang it made the song even more massive. The girls performed at the NFL’s Pro Bowl in 2001, toured with ’NSYNC, Britney Spears, 98 Degrees and future Where Ya Been? subjects the Baha Men. Dream appeared at the American Music Awards and the VMAs. And, of course, Poole, 20, who is working on her debut solo album, said they thought the ride would last “forever.”
Reality bites: Schuman left in 2002 to pursue acting and was replaced by Kasey Sheridan. The follow-up single to “He Loves U Not” tanked, in part, Arnstein said, because it came out just before the September 11 terrorist attacks.
So the girls hit the studio to record album number two, Reality, which hung in limbo as release dates came and went. The video for the first single, “Crazy,” portrayed the formerly fresh-scrubbed teens in a sexier light, a decision that was the beginning of the end.
“I think the second album is 100 times better than our first one,” said Arnstein, 20, who is preparing to go to San Francisco State to study psychology and now sings in the “Fleetwood Mac meet Coldplay” band Whirlmagnet. “There was this push for us to be more sexual and this emphasis on being skinny. We always had this mentality that we were real, we were really friends and really in love with music and having a good time. Suddenly that was not the game. It was, ’How much weight can you lose and how sexual can you be?’ ”
Reality was never released in the U.S., and the group’s members drifted apart, with lead singer Blake the first to jump ship. “The music and chemistry were amazing, and we really were best friends and family,” Poole said. “We did love each other, but we were very young, and as anyone who has ever been 18 knows, it’s a confusing time in your life.”
The moral: If the Dream seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Who: Marcy Playground
Biggest hit: 1997’s “Sex and Candy”
Claim to fame: Held record for longest run at #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart at 18 weeks — until they were beaten by Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me.”
Why do I know that name?: In the book on “one-hit wonders,” Marcy Playground’s ubiquitous late-’90s hit deserves a whole chapter. The song got so big, singer John Wozniak said, it had its own accountant. The band, which also features bassist Dylan Keefe and drummer Dan Rieser, got together in New York in the mid-’90s and took the name of the experimental elementary school Wozniak attended in the late ’70s. Marcy Playground signed with Capitol and released their self-titled debut in February 1997 to little acclaim. But a DJ at a San Diego station started playing the strangely alluring “Sex and Candy,” and pretty soon it was getting so much radio play that Wozniak said the head of radio promotions at Capitol actually said, “We gotta f—in’ shut down this record! It’s killin’ your guys’ career!”
Dude, what happened to you?: “We were actually pretty frickin’ flabbergasted with the hugeness of it all,” Wozniak said. “It was like going from playing fun little pickup games of grade-school T-ball to, all of a sudden, being a major-league baseball team in the pennant race for the World Series. If you listen to that song, it’s pretty clear it wasn’t written to be a hit. It’s just a quirky little weird song. But it was too much. It’s literally on hundreds of compilations. It became a quintessential ’90s moment, and that’s cool and I’m happy about that, but we had to tone it down a bit.”
Now that’s a good story: Wozniak said as “Sex and Candy” was emerging as a hit, he stood firm when his manager asked if he’d be interested in selling his publishing rights. ” ’At some point a company will come along and offer you a bunch of money to sell it,’ my manager said. But I said, ’No way,’ ” Wozniak said. “As the song climbed the charts, the offers kept coming in: $100,000, $500,000, $750,000, and my manager and lawyer are screaming at me saying, ’You have to do this!’ I kept saying no, then to get them off my back, I said if someone offers $1 million in cash and $750,000 for my next record, I’ll take it, knowing that would never happen. They told me I was insane and that nobody would do that. A week after the song hit #1, they came to me and said they had three offers for that amount. I just thought, ’Wow, that’s kind of dark’ — but hell yeah, I took it!”
For our next trick: The follow-up, 1999’s Shapeshifter, tanked, which Wozniak said was fine, since they purposely tried to make a noncommercial album. Fed up with the expectations put upon them because of “Candy,” the guys asked to be dropped from Capitol. Rieser began playing with Norah Jones; Keefe got a job with National Public Radio; and Wozniak bought the legendary Mushroom recording studio (BTO, Heart) in Vancouver, British Columbia, and filled it with vintage recording equipment. The band released the album MPIII in 2004 on the Reality Entertainment label, and Wozniak just finished his heartfelt singer/songwriter solo debut, Leaving Wonderland ( … In a Fit of Rage) and is looking for a label to release it.
“I would never want another ’Sex and Candy,’ ” Wozniak, 35, said. “I don’t mind having a hit, but ’Sex and Candy’ was too much for anybody, especially as a first hit.”
The moral: Hit song + its own accountant = career killer.
To catch up with more missing artists, check out “Where Ya Been? Willa Ford Strips Down, Jesse Camp Drops Out” .
Ever wonder what happened to Crazy Town? How about the Baha Men? Vitamin C? Tell us which faded stars you’d like us to check up on, and you just might find them in a future edition of Where Ya Been? Send us your suggestions and we’ll get digging.