Whigfield’s back: ‘To be a pop star now you have to look like a slut’

Rebranded as Sannie, the Saturday Night singer speaks out on ageism in pop and how she could have been as big as the Spice Girls.

Whigfield is returning as Sannie to take things in a different direction – Loaded
Saturday Night Sannie Carlson says the music industry is a much different place to when she topped the charts in 1994.

In September 1994 John Major was Prime Minister of the UK, Roberto Baggio had just blazed his 1994 USA World Cup Final losing penalty over the bar, Britpop hadn’t quite reached its peak as Oasis were on the verge of releasing (What’s The Story) Morning Glory, and Whigfield was at the top of the UK singles chart with Saturday Night.

The world was a much different place.

After knocking the echoing din of Wet Wet Wet’s Love Is All Around off the top of the charts, Saturday Night enjoyed four weeks in the number one spot. Through doing so, it established itself as one of the most recognisable songs in pop history – played at Butlin’s discos across the land ever since.

“I was working so hard my face was literally falling off”

The single put the Danish pop sensation, real name Sannie Carlson, into the Guinness Book of World Records by becoming the first foreign artist to go straight to number one with a debut single. It also led to her being a regular feature on Top Of The Pops, and subsequently touring the world after Saturday Night became a hit in the rest of Europe, Canada and Asia.

But the bubblegum coated success of her debut single came a great cost. And as quickly as she had burst onto the pop scene, after a flurry of tours and performances, Whigfield all but disappeared.

“It was an amazing time,” Carlson explains. “I remember Elton John’s manager asking for my autograph. It was all just crazy. But I got pushed really hard as we didn’t know when the success was going to end.

Whigfield is returning as Sannie to take things in a different direction – Loaded
How Long It’s 22 years since Carlson last topped the charts.

“I like to work and love being busy, but it made me really sick. I always had jet lag and wasn’t sleeping. It got to a point where I just felt like being sick on stage. Around that time I was filming a video and when I was with the makeup artist she suddenly gasped. As she was putting makeup on my eye some skin just fell off.

“I was working so much my face was literally falling off. That’s when I realised it wasn’t worth it. I shouldn’t be making myself that ill.”

Carlson subsequently suggested to her producer that they try to incorporate her backing dancers, who had become a mainstay of the show through the infamous dance attached to Saturday Night, as she felt it would take some of the pressure off her.

“Some people from the Saturday Night era still party like there’s no tomorrow”

“This was before the Spice Girls,” she explains. “In those days money was thrown around by labels; it was everywhere. I could have been onto something, but he told me there was no way it would work.”

How wrong he was. But with that, Whigfield decided she was off.

“I called my manager and told him I was signing off,” she says. “I’d just had enough.”

Carlson retreated to Africa for a few years to get herself together. She did return three years later with Whigfield II, but it had little global impact. The heady days of Eurodance invading the UK charts was over.

Carlson has continued touring as Whigfield, playing a number of 90s festivals with other names from the era including Livin’ Joy, Baby D, Venga Boys, N-Trance and Sonia, as well as Five, S Club 7 and East 17.

Saturday Night singer Whigfield speaks out on ageism – Loaded
No nostalgia trip Despite still performing alongside other 90s pop stars, Carlson’s latest venture has no time for looking back.

“It’s still like one big happy family after all these years,’ she explains. “Some of them forget time has passed and are still partying like there’s no tomorrow, but it’s always just like a family reunion.”

Despite these shows, it’s as a songwriter for pop stars in her home country where Carlson has continued most of her musical output in recent years.

Now, having decided that she wanted to take what she had been writing for others and push herself in a new direction last year, she’s reinvented herself as Sannie.

After spending most of the past 12 months in the studio, she explains that she has five singles ready to go. The first of which, How Long, has been signed to dance label Armada Deep.

“My new music is a totally different vibe to what I was doing before,” Carlson explains. “It’s something that I’m going to go out and DJ.”

“After one label heard it their first question was: how old is she?”

The single has already has a number of remixes, including an ATFC edit, which bears a hallmark of Moloko’s Bring It Back, and sounds primed to take the Balearic summer by storm. Grant Nelson has taken it in a more four-to-the-floor house direction with his rework whilst Alex Neri & “GG” take things more towards head-down techno.

And this shift in aesthetic is entirely intentional.

“To fit into the industry as a woman now you need to bring real music,” Carlson explains. “If you want to be a pop star you basically have to be 16, never have kissed anyone, but look like a slut.

“I experienced ageism when I was first sending out my new material. After one guy at a label heard it, his first question was: ‘how old is she?’. Fortunately Armada stepped in.”

Speaking about the five tracks she has lined up, Carlson says that the one she wrote most recently sounds “a bit more Whiggy”.

A song more on the lines of Saturday Night will be good news for any die hard Whigfield fans out there.

But as the dance attached to it became as much a part of the single as the music, is there set to be another routine for any of her new music?

Carlson laughs: “Hell no!”

Sannie’s debut single How Long is out on February 8 through Armada Deep.

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Loaded reporter Robert McCallum has written for many leading culture magazines and websites about music, sport, science, politics, fashion and arts. Follow Robert at @therobmccallum

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