For the last two decades, English pop singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor has been more than happy to divert her fans with performances of her deliciously cutthroat nudisco anthem “Murder on the Dancefloor.” With top 10 chart placements all over Europe and Australia upon its 2002 release, the song became an indelible part of the star’s career.
“That song took me places I’d never been before, and it was always quite a special one for me,” Ellis-Bextor tells Billboard over a Zoom call, sporting a knit-pink sweater and perched atop a cushioned wicker chair. “[It] took me to Latin America and Southeast Asia and all around Europe — it was already a song I associated with adventure and new things and a friendly, glorious chapter of my life.”
So, when the star found out that her song at long last debuted at No. 98 on this week’s Billboard Hot 100 (dated Jan. 13, 2023), more than 20 years after its original release, she was naturally flabbergasted. “It’s glorious, it’s magical, really,” she says, disbelief still tinging her voice. “But it’s very hard to process, if I’m honest.”
The new wave of attention for “Murder on the Dancefloor” comes largely thanks to the song’s inclusion in the pivotal final scene of Emerald Fennell’s twisted 2023 thriller, Saltburn [spoliers ahead!]. At the conclusion of the film, Oxford student and certified maniac Oliver Quick (played by Barry Keoghan) revels in having murdered his crush/obsession Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi) and his entire family the only way he knows how — dancing buck naked through the sprawling estate he inherited from them to Ellis-Bextor’s gleeful track.
It’s a scene that’s equal parts disturbing and hilarious, which Ellis-Bextor says is the perfect tone for her song’s inclusion. “I think Barry Keoghan’s character in the movie and mine in the music video are not so dissimilar,” she offers.
Below, Sophie Ellis-Bextor chats with Billboard about her song’s revival into pop cultural conversation, the bevy of TikTok trends it’s spawned over the last month and why she’ll never grow tired of singing her seminal single.
“Murder on the Dancefloor” is officially having a renaissance! What does it mean for you to have this song re-entering the public consciousness 20-plus years into its existence?
I think I’m still getting my head around that a little bit! My relationship with the song is great, I perform it all the time — it’s been the song that people associate the most with me. But to have it having this little wild adventure on the charts is actually bonkers.
I’m sure this was not on your bingo card for this year.
It wasn’t, but I think I learned a long time ago that the bingo cards — they’re not really what they’re made out to be. You have to be open to the unexpected. Because it’s nice to be surprised, actually.
This song now officially marks your first-ever entry on the Hot 100, debuting at No. 98 this week. I know the new wave of attention has been very recent, but have you noticed any difference in the reaction between the U.K. audiences who really responded to it originally, and the newer American audience that’s discovering it today?
Yeah, nothing really happened in America with the song when it came out in 2002. To have it doing new things now is really extraordinary. To have new people discover it now, people who didn’t know at all, is insane.
The only way I’m really seeing that is through all the viral stuff, because it is all quite recent. Lots of exciting things happened for me because of “Murder on the Dancefloor” when it first came out — real career highlights. But this resurgence is something that’s next level, because when you start out your career, everything’s about asking “where might that lead?” Or, “if that happens, then you get to do this.” This time, I don’t really want to think like that. Momentum is such a glorious, exciting thing, and I just want to enjoy whatever happens.
The newfound success for the song is largely thanks to its inclusion in the wild final scene of Saltburn. Walk me through the process of how you got involved in the movie — when did Emerald Fennell or the production first reach out to you? How much of the plot were you aware of?
I knew very few facts! They asked for permission about a year ago, maybe around springtime last year. I knew the name of the film. I knew that Emerald Fennell was the writer and director, so it was in safe hands. And I knew the scene would involve a character dancing to the entirety of the song completely naked. That was it! And that was all I needed, so I said “yes,” immediately. When we got to the summer, I started to hear a little bit of buzz around the movie, and I was invited to go to a screening. So I went along with my whole family — my mom, my teenage son, my husband, my brother. Actually, they coped very well, even when I had a couple of challenging moments.
I’m sure you did — having your son next to you through that film must have been intense!
Well, he’s 19, so it wasn’t too bad — though he was still sitting between his mother and his grandma! But not only did we survive, we all really loved it, and my son said it was one of his favorite films he’d ever seen. I thought it was brilliant; it entertained me, it was dark, it was funny, it looked beautiful, and the music is used throughout the movie in a really clever way.
Agreed, and I think that’s especially true for “Murder on the Dancefloor” — it fits perfectly into this dark, campy ending, and when you’re listening to the lyrics of the song in this context, they become a bit more sinister. Did you experience any of that feeling when you were first watching it?
Yes, definitely. But then I think that song sort of lent itself a bit to that originally, as well. Because in the music video, I’m not playing a goodie. I’m a nasty person who’s been very mischievous — I kill people, I poison someone, I chloroform someone, I’m whipping people out all over the place just to win a dance competition.
As you mentioned, the scene also ended up creating multiple viral TikTok trends, the most popular showing people executing the film’s choreography while moving through their homes. Did you ever imagine a song of yours becoming a Tiktok trend?
Absolutely not! I’m a 44-year-old woman; I’m not saying you can’t use TikTok if you’re that age, but it’s a lot less likely, right? I have my eldest son, and my next one down is nearly 15, so we have TikTok in the house, but it’s never coming from my phone. It is fascinating, though, because one minute [my sons] will be listening to The Shangri-Las, and then it’ll be Wham!, and then it will be a modern pop record. The songs come from all over, from different decades. It’s like a record shop that’s got everything in stock. It’s really changed the way that kids listen to music — it doesn’t have to be about what’s newly released, it’s about what really makes them feel good in the moment.
I do think sometimes it feels like I’ve been invited to a party that I never thought I’d be part of. I saw Vogue used [the song] for a series of clips of people on the red carpet of an awards show, and then it’s just some kids and their dogs dancing to it. That gives me so much joy, because nobody wants their songs to just peter out. You want the conversation to keep going, you want to know that someone somewhere is getting a lift from it.
It’s also worth noting that this is not the only sync that this song received earlier this year — one of my personal favorites was the song being featured as a lip sync on season 3 of Drag Race Down Under last year. What did you make of that performance?
It was so amazing. I mean, just being included in Drag Race is such an honor, full stop. I got to be a guest judge on Drag Race UK last year, and I just love the fact that that’s so mainstream now, because it’s so groundbreaking. I think the thing about Drag Race that I love is that there is this facade that’s very pulled together and considered and incredible, but then you’ve got the story behind it. That’s always the bit that brings the heart and the vulnerability and I just think the juxtaposition of that is so incredible.
This is part of an ongoing trend in music, where these songs get syncs in major movies and TV shows, and then see record-breaking gains. “Running Up That Hill” comes to mind, as does Matchbox Twenty’s “Push” from Barbie. What do you think it is about these song placements that leads to such huge results for artists like yourself?
Oh, golly. I suppose for me the conversation probably starts before that, when you ask why those directors wanted to use those songs. And sometimes, it’s something that’s a little bit in the ether already. With “Running Up That Hill,” Stranger Things was certainly the tipping point, but I remember seeing it used in Pose a few years before that in this scene was really moving. It can feel like there were a few little seeds you planted, and then suddenly you turn around and there’s a forest. Nothing like this happens in a void. I think that’s why it’s really important to appreciate how special it is, because there is no equation where it can be utterly manufactured. You need people to feel like they’re part of it.
This has long been the song that people know you best for. Some performers get fatigued with their “signature songs” — have you found yourself feeling at all fatigued with “Murder?”
Oh, no. I mean, I wouldn’t want to do a gig where I just sang it seven times in a row, but I’m a music fan before I’m a singer. So I always think like I’m in the crowd; I always want to create a good shape for the show, where it’s got to finish with something that hopefully seals the deal. That journey has invariably, for 20-odd years, always ended with “Murder on the Dancefloor.” I feel like sometimes, when artists get funny about the songs that they’re known for, I want to sit them down and say “Don’t take that for granted, mate! Don’t do some weird different version. Sing the one I know the way I know it!”
Obviously, I hope that people come to me through this song and then find a couple of other things they like. That would be wonderful, I’ve laid a lot of work out for them to go have a little look-see. But if I’m known for one song for the rest of my life, I’m not going to be churlish about it. I’ve already had an embarrassment of riches as it is — this is just one more.
The post “Sophie Ellis-Bextor Thinks ‘Murder on the Dancefloor’ Hitting the Hot 100 Is ‘Actually Bonkers’” by Stephen Daw was published on 01/11/2024 by www.billboard.com