Personality Clash: Steps x Michelle Visage

Personality Clash: Steps x Michelle Visage

H and Faye Tozer cross-examine the Drag Race icon...

Pop is a form of escapism, a means for fans to remove themselves from the everyday and enter somewhere fantastic.

Sure, pop as a genre embodies emotional nuance - from the lowest of lows, to the highest of highs - but it's also this other imaginative realm, a place for people to realise their true selves.

Few groups embody that as much as Steps, whose unashamed sugar-rush reached new levels on 2020 album 'What The Future Holds'.

Released in a pandemic, with the country on lockdown, it found the UK pop heroes doing their utmost to inject some light and positivity into the conversation.

Album highlight 'Heartbreak In The City' became a real fan favourite, and it was recently re-worked alongside none other than Michelle Visage.

A true pop queen herself, this force of nature is renowned for her role on Drag Race, while her music heritage has few equals.

Clash hooked up with Michelle Visage and Steps pairing Faye Tozer and H to explore this collaboration, and found new ways to look past the darkness.

- - -

- - -

How did this collaboration come about?

Faye: Well! Michelle and I have had a very similar journey recently. We both did Jamie in the West End, we were on Strictly… our paths were trying to cross.

So then, when we were releasing our new album, we asked Michelle if she’d do an Instagram Live with us. She kindly agreed, and then we were chatting and chatting and chatting, and then we were just like: oh my God, you need to become the sixth member of Steps! You need to work with us! Come and do something, come and play! And then literally, Michelle agreed!

H: It was live on Instagram. We asked her: why have we never done anything before? And then this whole fabulous, glitter-tastic-ness happened!

Michelle: And of course, who was I to say ‘no’? Are you kidding me?! A DREAM. To be the sixth member of Steps? I am Michelle from Steps… officially!

H: Rylan will be so pissed off with you!

Michelle: I was actually texting Rylan, and he knows the whole album inside out, and I was like: do you want a sneak peak? And he’s like: I know this song really well, and you’re asking me if I want a sneak peak? So I sent it to him, and the picture he sent of his face when he saw it… it’s worth a thousand words. Rylan was like, well, in my head I never thought I would want to hear anyone else on a Steps record… and he just exploded! He told me, I know this song inside out, and it’s so hard to get into their sound because they’re so distinctive but you’ve effin done it and it sounds so bloody good!

H: I said that! You sound like you’ve been part of the band since Day Dot. You blend so well with our voices.

Faye: I was saying earlier, when does Michelle come in on this bit? Because you sound like one of us lot!

H: You sound like one of the girls. Totally.

Michelle: Well, that’s an honour for me. I felt so self-conscious, as I was just telling Faye, because my voice is so different, and it’s been a while since… well, I’ve done some songs with Ru that are poppy but it’s been a while!

I’m mainly out there singing these show tunes, so when I was in the studio recording my vocals they were like: pull it back, air it out! I was trying to sound like Claire and Lisa! And the more I got into that zone the more confident I became, but then I heard it and I was like… do I stick out like a sore thumb? And Faye’s like: what are you talking about, this is amazing?!

H: You messaged me, and said: I tried to make it smooth. And that’s what you’ve done! It’s perfect.

Michelle: Smooth doesn’t come easy.

- - -

- - -

It feels like a very natural collaboration.

Michelle: The way it happened was just so natural. There was no forcing of anybody. No twisting of anybody’s arms. I could get to the studio immediately, they remixed it. I was in quarantine in New Zealand when I heard it, doing our allowance of one hour walk. And I was like: oh my God! I wanted to play it for everybody. I was so excited because it was a moment of: Oh. My. Goodness. I am literally doing a song with THE Steps. I am! DONE. It was a moment.

H: What was super exciting for us, as well, is that we have never ever done a collab. And with this it just feels like serendipity. Everything has happened at the right time. All of the cogs have turned up in the right place. And for you to be part of our little gang… we always preach that the Steps world is a safe world and we want people to be their authentic selves. And you are an advocate for that, you’re such an ally to the LGBT+ community. It just feels like the perfect marriage. It’s just awesome!

Michelle: I think that’s what I’ve loved about Steps over the years, too. We all change, we all grow, and go through different phases in our lives. We have kids, we get married, we get divorced. Whatever the situation. And what I’ve loved steadfastly about Steps is that they’ve always celebrated who they were at any given moment in time. And went with it! And of course there’s the camp factor, and the most important factor which is the incredible music and their wonderful voices which blend so beautifully together. And the choreography! That’s what I love about you all… the message!

H: Talking about choreography, we’re going to be doing some of that this week, aren’t we?

Michelle: Yes we are! 5-6-7-8!

H: Do you have any signature moves you’d like in there? Go on! Hit us!

Michelle: Oh I’m a showgirl!

H: Aren’t we all, babe?

What makes this the right moment for Steps to embark on a collaboration?

H: I think there’s a lot of different reasons. I think the world is absolutely ready for some happy. We’re coming out of a very dark time and there’s light at the end of the tunnel. For me, Steps has always been this celebratory safe space. And especially since February has been LGBTQ+ history month here in the UK, and it’s the anniversary of Section 28 being abolished. All of those things. Our worlds are colliding, and it’s such a unique way of educating and celebrating and having fuckloads of fun!

Michelle: That’s the name of my new book! Fuckloads of fun.

You’re right about times being dark. Do you feel that sometimes showing joy can be rebellious?

Michelle: My God I think experiencing joy - always - as much as you can is just… imperative. Through the darkness you’ll find light and there’s so much light in joy. And right now - as H said earlier - more than ever we need that joy and happiness. When I first heard the mastered version of this I was literally dancing from the first vocal, and then the beat kicks in and you can’t help but feel good. And not just because it’s got me on it! But because the song itself makes you feel good. Steps as a whole represent that joy to me. I think it’s super important in all aspects and avenues of your life to find the joy in every single minute that you can. It’s not always available but if you can… grab it.

Faye: I think it’s a really interesting word… ‘rebellious’. I think quite interestingly with Steps’ career and our journey, some people have almost frowned upon the joy that we express or the energy that we have onstage. And now it’s so amazing to feel like we own that and we’re unapologetic about it and that people are now opening up and saying how much they thrive upon us, and how they’ve grown up with us but only now can they shout it out from the rooftops… and say that they don’t care and just swim in it all!

For me, we’re so lucky. And you don’t realise until you get to see yourself in this other light, where you’ve grown, and gone past that experience. We work so hard but we love what we do, and it’s so nice to be able to do it openly and not apologise for it. And say yeah, let your hair down and dance completely and sing along and don’t care what other people think. It’s a really amazing thing for people to be able to do, and we all need to do that more - especially in these times! Because we need to release our energy and our frustration.

Michelle: So, wait… people frowned upon you doing that?

Faye: Well, yeah! I think you find music snobbery. I think we found that a little bit off in the early days. I think it took until our first reunion to think, do you know what? We’ve always done this, this is who we are, this is the band that we are as people, and as performers, and this is the music we deliver. And it was so nice to then just go: no, I actually do love it! And I’m not sorry about it.

H: I am such a pop boy. I always say that. I love great pop music. And we’ve never been ashamed of owning and embracing who we are. We had loads of closet Steps fans back in the day, and I think now the years have rolled on and people are more sure of themselves and nostalgia has kicked in… they are Steps fans loud and proud! But haven’t changed. We’ve always flown the Steps flag. It doesn’t matter who you are just come and be your fucking authentic selves. It’s just a party!

Michelle: Good!

- - -

- - - 

Is that energy a reciprocal thing? Do you find yourselves being inspired by the crowd in turn?

H: Oh yeah. We keep saying that our concerts are just fully inclusive. They are safe spaces for people to just live their best lives. I remember on the last tour, there was a guy in the front row, and his t-shirt said: Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself! And you literally… we turned the lights up, we put the spotlight on him, with all the cameras, and the whole crowd applauded. I’ve got goosebumps thinking about it. Moments like that make what you do so worthwhile.

Faye: It was a beautiful thing on our last summer tour, when people would come up and give us flags… every gig someone would give us the rainbow flag and we were singing our song ‘Neon Blue’ and the lyrics are: “Come as you are because you’re great and you don’t need to change a thing…”

People were having such an amazing time, and it was just… oh, we’re so lucky! We have such an immersive experience with our audiences because they really want to be there, and they want you to see them, and they’ve got messages for you. Because of social media I think it’s even more exciting these days because they can tell you what they want, and show you what they’ve done. They’re getting together with their like-minded friends coming to the concerts. It’s a pretty amazing thing.

H: Michelle, that’s why this is a perfect marriage… for you and us. Because we celebrate who we are. We are complete allies to the LGBTQ+ community, it’s the dream. And I can’t wait to hear this song in an arena when everyone is slamming their tits off! It’s going to be amazing!

Michelle: Yeah, me too! There’s no place like home. And when I met you, it just felt like home. It felt right. What I’ve loved about you for years is that you are always unapologetically, unabashedly who are you. And you love everybody for who you are. With Steps, it’s really weird. It’s not like it’s girl’s music or boy’s music… you don’t feel any of that, you feel like it’s party music! Love yourself and love everybody else. That’s the beauty of Steps.

You met doing IG Live, has digital been important for you with live shows off the agenda?

Michelle: I am, who could replace live performing? When lockdown started I started hosting some of the drag shows online, and they were big - they went on for weeks! It was like… Glastonbury! Just huge, it kept going. But we got to perform at Wembley two years ago and there’s no feeling like stepping out onstage at an arena in front of 10,000 people and you feel the love that’s in that room. It’s amazing! We are grateful to have this medium - don’t get me wrong - but nothing feels the way it feels when you’re performing onstage. Even if you’re in a bar… nothing replaces that.

Faye: Oh, you’re so right. It’s a real physical energy that you can’t replace. It’s amazing that we’ve had this as a tool, and we’re able to get out there and do as much as we can, but I can remember when we came back and did our first re-union tour… we had these pods, and it was the first night of our arena tour and literally, the doors of the pods opened, we stepped out, and you could physically feel the air from all those people screaming. You could physically feel it! And the rush of adrenaline… you just can’t explain what that’s like. And everyone in the room is there for you because they want to have a really great time. You just can’t find that everywhere else.

H: I think the next time we’re onstage it’ll probably be the first concert to happen in an arena… and that’ll be something else. I mean: wowsers! People have had to do what they’ve had to do to keep promoting themselves, to earn money throughout lockdown… and I really feel for the Queens on the last season of Drag Race US because they couldn’t do their thing. But hopefully that’ll happen this year.

Michelle: Of course! Once the touring starts happening. They haven’t had their moment to get out there. It’s not even about the money, it’s about feeling the love of what you’ve achieved on TV. So yeah, it’s a celebration. And there’ll be able to do that - they’re not forgotten!

H: We were able to button our lips and hold everything. But it was literally the day after lockdown that we had to start that. When we get out there it’s gonna be one of the first and I am beside myself! Bring it on!

How have you kept those energy levels up during lockdown?

H: Today is my first child-free day in I don’t know how long! Oh my goodness, my kids are back in school and… I’m a different person! It’s been mental. Just crazy.

Michelle: Does caffeine count?

H: And tequila!

- - -

- - -

Michelle: Listen - you gotta do what you gotta do to make yourself feel good. In all honesty, I think that people are too hard on themselves during lockdown. This has affected so many people - not to take the tone down - in so many different ways. Whether that’s food issues, or drinking… all sorts of stuff!

At the end of the day, what happens is we’re so self-aware and self-abusive and we need to stop that because this is something that not only have we never been through before as a world… but also, we’re all in it together for the first time in history. Every single country has been effected by this pandemic. So I think that people need to be kinder to themselves. If you want to eat friggin banana bread then bake it and eat it. Tomorrow is a new day! And you’ll have time to get back on track, just stop abusing yourself mentally. Give yourself a break!

H: I totally agree. I’ve beaten myself up many times, but you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do. Like everybody else I’ve been taking it one day at a time. Luckily we’ve got things to look forward to professionally, and now there’s a vaccine which - fingers crossed - is working. And it’s ahead of schedule. So there is massive light for us all at the end of the tunnel.

Michelle: I mean, we have just been ruined by that maniac for the past four years… so I’m hoping we’re on track! 

H: It looks like he’s going down!

Michelle: Down, baby. Believe it.

Is this partnership going to continue in the future?

Faye: Well! I think Michelle is definitely the busiest woman in showbiz right now. I think what we want to do, when our tour happens - in November, December this year - we’re going to hound her on the phone everyday until she performs with us onstage.

Michelle: I would love nothing more. And November, December sounds pretty good to me right now!

Faye: Put it in the diary.

H: You could do a Lulu… descend from the roof, take centre stage and steal the whole show!

Michelle: I mean, if you’ll allow it!

- - -

- - -

Join us on the ad-free creative social network Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks, exclusive content and access to Clash Live events and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.


Follow Clash

Buy Clash Magazine