STEPS were a highly successful British pop group who achieved a series of top hit singles between 1997 and 2001. Their name was based around a simple marketing gimmick. Each of their music videos were carefully choreographed, and the dance steps were included with most of their single releases. STEPS formed on 7 May 1997 and disbanded on 26 December 2001,
Waterman's stated intention was to try to recreate the sound of ABBA and blend it with a more modern style. However, their first single "5,6,7,8" was a techno line dance and though not typical of what would become their style, it became their first hit, and later found its way onto a video game, "Dancing Stage Euromix 2," the European version of the popular Dance Dance Revolution Series. The single then went on to become one of the highest selling singles to never actually reach the top 10.
The hit singles continued, with their cover version of Bananarama's "Last Thing On My Mind", and the most ABBA-flavoured of their singles, "One for Sorrow", reaching the UK Top 10, peaking at No. 2. Their next single, a double A-side, with a cover version of the Bee Gees "Tragedy" and original track "Heartbeat" became their first number one single in January 1999, although released in November 1998.
Over the next year they hit the top 10 several times, with songs such as "Better Best Forgotten", "Love's Got a Hold on My Heart", "After The Love Has Gone", "Deeper Shade of Blue" (originally intended for Tina Cousins) and a double A sided single of "Say You'll Be Mine" with their version of Kylie Minogue's "Better The Devil You Know". Their second and final number one single "Stomp" reached the number one position in October 2000. They continued releasing singles and reached number two with both "It's the Way You Make Me Feel" and "Chain Reaction" (originally recorded by Diana Ross) before disbanding on 26 December 2001. Their run of 14 consecutive top 5 hits is a considerable achievement for a British act, bettered only by The Beatles and, more recently, Oasis.
STEPS was part of the ensemble that released "Thank ABBA for the Music" (a medley of ABBA's "Take A Chance On Me", "Dancing Queen", "Mamma Mia" and "Thank You for the Music") in March 1999, as performed at the Brit Awards. The other artists singing were Tina Cousins, Cleopatra, B*Witched, and Billie, known collectively as the Supertroupers. In the same year, STEPS was at the centre of a controversy surrounding the 'Best Newcomer' gong at the Brit Awards. Pete Waterman, the mastermind behind the group, claimed to have been told days before the ceremony that STEPS had won the award, as voted for by listeners of BBC Radio 1. However, on the night the award was handed to the Scottish band Belle & Sebastian, who were assumed to be rank outsiders. Despite the allegation that a significant amount of votes for Belle & Sebastian were traced to one location (two computers sited in a particular UK university campus), the band held onto their award as foul-play was denied by organisers of the Brit Awards. In 2000, STEPS were awarded the Brit Award for Best Selling Live Act of the year.
Steps also had their own talent show named "Steps to the stars", in which 3 acts, consisting of young people, performed for the public vote. It was revealed on the next show who would go through to final. This was shown on cBBC1 in 1999/2000. It aired for 2 series' and was presented by H and Claire although the group performed one of their classics at the end of every show. The show featured a young Danny Jones (McFly) in a band called "Y2K" in which he played guitar with his sister and their friend and also Gareth Gates, before he found fame on Pop Idol.
STEPS received some criticism for their tendency to cover other bands' tracks rather than develop original scores. They were also frequently criticized by fans, critics, and other musicians for their very frequent lipsyncing, and were sometimes accused of being marginally- or non-talented singers because of this fact.
More seriously, Lee Latchford Evans was criticised for the following allegedly racist remarks in an interview: "Foreign people and people from ethnic minorities should all go home so that there can be more jobs for proper English people." STEPS responded that the quote was taken out of context.
In 2001, following their shock Boxing Day split, the group were heavily criticised by their own fans. Many UK tabloid papers published the fans' disgust on their front pages, displaying quotes taken from STEPS message boards. After the group spent much of 2001 strongly dismissing claims of a split, fans were furious and accused the group of capitalising off the success of a host of merchandise released in the lucrative pre-Christmas market. However, it has since come to light that both H and Claire left the group on the last night of the STEPS "Gold: Greatest Hits" tour, due to their ongoing unhappiness within the band, although STEPS' official statement stated that the split was caused by their belief that they should end on a high, while they were at their best and could be remembered for being the best of their kind.
However, there is a conspiracy that the reason for the split was more 'fiscal' than 'we want to go out on a high.' Tim Byrne, the bands manager, saw H and Claire as the 'talent' in the band and orchestrated the split. By spliting, he was able to tout H and Claire around the major labels (Jive Records were a notoriously tight label) before finally getting the duo signed to Warners for a reputed £4 million (over 5 albums)