This year is shaping up as the year of the pop comeback: In the past week alone, Bananarama have announced a return to their original line-up while country-pop superstar Shania Twain has teased her first album in 15 long years.

No comeback seems more unlikely than that of unashamedly cheesy British pop group Steps, who this week mark 20 years since their debut with the release of a new album - which this week sits at number two in the British charts, beaten only by sales behemoth Ed Sheeran.

It would have been hard to predict when the group debuted with the techno / line dance novelty song 5,6,7,8 back in 1997. An entirely manufactured group, even those that had put them together expected the group to be one-hit wonders - and based on that debut single, it would've been hard to disagree.

But the hits keep coming: Mercifully line-dance-free follow-up Last Thing On My Mind, the ABBA-esque ballad One For Sorrow and an inspired cover of the Bee Gees' Tragedy. Each came with a video in which Steps performed easy-to-follow dance moves - the 'Steps' of their group name.


By 2001, Steps had racked up 14 top 10 hits in a row in their native UK, and released three multi-platinum albums. These novelty one-hit wonders had become a force to be reckoned with.

Then, on Boxing Day 2001, Steps released an abrupt statement to fans announcing that they were splitting up. It was all over.

It was to be 10 long years before the public found out the truth about what had led to that breakup, when the docuseries Steps Reunion brought Claire, Faye, Lisa, Lee and H back together for tense meetings as they reopened old wounds on camera. It was Real Housewives for pop fans.

The series - available to watch in full on YouTube - is an eye-opening look at what life was really like for manufactured pop acts of the late 90s. Ian 'H' Watkins struggled to conceal his sexuality at the height of their fame - a secret even harder to keep when he entered into a relationship with the group's manager.

Simmering resentments spilt out in the studio as Claire was pushed to the forefront as the group's lead singer, to the frustration of the rest of the other female members.

Most shocking of all: Steps' breakup had not been a group decision. Instead, on the night of their final concert on December 22, 2001, just an hour before taking to the stage, Claire and H had handed the rest of the group legal letters informing them they would be leaving Steps - that the group was over.

That concert was recorded for television; the other members could be seen crying on stage throughout, clearly shell-shocked.

"Waking up the next day, we realised we had no manager, no record company - it was all gone," said Lisa in Steps Reunion.

"It was really s**t. It was s**t timing for the fans, as well."

H & Claire went on to form a duo, imaginatively called H & Claire, but were soon dropped by the record company after their debut album failed to trouble the top 40. They said they had no regrets about the split, both struggling with life in Steps.

"At some point you've got to say to yourself, 'It doesn't matter how much money I earn this year, I'm miserable,'" said Claire.

The televised group therapy session that was Steps Reunion managed to heal old wounds, and the next year, Steps embarked on a reunion tour and released an album of Christmas covers.

But 2017 marks the real comeback. Their new album - their first of original material in 17 years - has scored rave reviews and came close to topping the UK charts. Savage Garden frontman Darren Hayes lends a hand, penning the catchy title track. There's even a Benny-and-Bjorn-penned ABBA soundalike in Story of a Heart.

And yes, while all but one member of the group is in their 40s, those cheesy try-it-yourself dance moves are still on full show: