Published on November 29th, 1998 | by Gerry Galipault0
Sweetbox’s optimism resonates around the world
In financially strapped Asia, many have adopted Sweetbox’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” as their always-look-on-the-bright-side-of-life anthem.
American-born Tina Harris, lead singer, rapper and lyricist for the German-based dance outfit, has received countless letters from abroad, particularly Japan, where money’s getting too tight (and tighter) to mention. All the letters have a central theme: “I don’t have much money and I’m worried about the future, but when I heard your song, it gave me hope.”
“The fact that these people went out and bought my CD,” Harris said recently, “even though they’re tightening their belts and trying to make ends meet, it just makes me all the more appreciative of what I have and what’s happening for me.
“The fans, they’re really the ones who are in control of my success, not the record company or radio or MTV. That’s why there’s a great appreciation for the fans, from my point of view. That’s why I’m never too tired to sign autographs or whatever; I need them as much as they need my music.”
Harris must have a serious case of writer’s cramp after “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” with its crafty melding of rap, pop and classical, was a major hit in 45 countries over the past year and a half, was used in Lancome’s advertising campaign for the new fragrance O Oui! and is finally honing in on the U.S. Top 40. The song is at No. 47 this week on Billboard’s pop chart and closing in on No. 1 on P&P’s Picks chart.
The song has so much going for it: a glorious hip-hop beat wrapped around the German Symphony Orchestra Babelsberg’s version of “Air” from J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 3. Harris raps in coherent, fearless fashion, then passionately sings the sanguine chorus: “Everything’s gonna be alright, everything’s gonna be okay.”
It may be a beacon for suffering Asian economies, but that wasn’t Harris’ intention. She wrote it after a seemingly good relationship went bad.
“I was with this guy for about two-and-a-half years,” she said, “and he told me he didn’t want to be with me. At the time, I had started doing the music and I was gone a lot. It was like a blow to me. After someone tells you, ‘I love you,’ then suddenly ‘I don’t want to be with you anymore,’ it’s like, ‘Whoa, something’s wrong here.’ You’re like in a coma, but deep down, I was thinking, ‘Everything’s going to be fine.’
“In the song, you hear or think I’m talking about someone who’s in a coma. To me, he was in a mental coma; something was blocking him from knowing that he was happy with me. What it was, he couldn’t deal with sharing me with everybody else and me being gone for five months.”
The bulk of Sweetbox’s debut RCA album, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” deals with Harris’ failed romance.
“It starts with ‘Don’t Go Away,’ meaning for him not to go away, be happy with who he is,” Harris said, “because he wasn’t the finest person, appearance-wise. The vibe of ‘He Loves Me’ or ‘If I Can’t Have You’ (a cover of the Yvonne Elliman hit), all these songs stem from that relationship. And then I found out he cheated on me within the relationship, so that’s where I was aggressive with ‘Never Never.’ The album’s about relationships and reflections of things that I’ve been through in each stage.
“It was cathartic, in a way, but like I say, the sun comes up and you move on. You can always remember the good times, and that’s what I choose to do, not ‘Oh, I can’t believe he cheated on me, and I can’t believe she was my friend.’ I had a good time, I liked this and this and that, but I’m not going to try to make the same mistakes again. Move on.”
Harris’ musical indoctrination came as a dancer with the German dance group Snap! Watching her cousin, singer Turbo B (real name: Durron Butler), work audiences into a frenzy made Harris long for the spotlight. She began writing songs and went through a variety of producers before meeting dance producer Geo (Ace of Base, Bananarama, Culture Beat).
The daughter of a career soldier, Harris was exposed to all sorts of musical styles growing up on a U.S. base in Germany. German Top 40 radio played a mixture of rock, pop, soul and funk, elements she wanted to incorporate into her sound. Geo had the same thing in mind.
“Before I met Geo, I went through a lot of producers,” Harris said. “In Europe, it’s very common that the artist is the puppet. They say, ‘Here’s the music, here’s the lyrics, here’s your clothes, here’s your record company, just be here on these days.’ I wanted to say, ‘I want to wear what I want to wear, I want to have my own input lyrically and write my own lyrics.’ I wanted to be creatively in control of the sound so that I can have something five years from now, just not to make music, like ‘Let’s make a Spice Girls song, change the melody a little and make a hit.’ Geo and I came together; he knew what he wanted and I knew what I wanted, and we built this thing.”
They built the inventive title track almost by accident.
“Every time I go into the studio,” Harris said, “we start off with a warm-up. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes vocally, and (Geo) usually plays something on the piano. One day, he was playing classical music. It wasn’t Bach at the time. And I started singing ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,’ warming up and messing around. With him playing that and me singing, three hours later I finished writing the lyrics. He had added some pieces and collected this and that and put it together as a demo. Ever since that, we work off a vibe like that in the studio.”
Rather than sampling a Bach piece from another recording, Geo enlisted Boris Jojic to arrange “Air” for “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” and hired the German Symphony Orchestra Babelsberg to perform it.
Out of respect, Harris and Geo gave songwriting credits to the great 18th century composer, even though it wasn’t legally required.
If Bach was sitting at the end of the conference table in RCA’s Times Square offices, Harris would tell him: ” ‘You’re totally awesome. I hope you’re not flipping out over what we’ve done to your song. It’s just a different time, and you’re a musician so you should know about creativity. I can only say thank you.’ That’s the most definitive part of the success of this song.”
BWF (before we forget): One week here, one week gone. “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” was positioned at No. 47 on Billboard’s Hot 100 on Nov. 28. The following week, the song disappeared. Why? Billboard unveiled its retooled Hot 100 chart, with an expanded radio panel and the inclusion of airplay-only tracks. That meant several songs, including “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You” and Stars On 54’s dance cover of “If You Could Read My Mind,” all relying on retail sales, fell by the wayside.