Growing up in public

Holly Valance is in a hurry to recreate herself as a serious artist. Who, asks Charlotte Cripps, does she think she's kidding?
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The Independent Culture

Holly Valance released her debut single, "Kiss Kiss", in the spring of 2002. It was a cover of a song that had been a big hit in Turkey, and Valance's innovation was to accompany her version with a provocative video for which she wore a flesh-coloured bikini that gave the illusion that she was naked. It went to No 1. The subsequent album, Footprints, made the UK Top 10, and a further two hit singles followed in the same undemanding, poppy vein. But now the 20-year-old Valance, the latest in a long line of Australian soap stars to enter the pop world - she was formerly in Neighbours - has had a change of tune.

Plundering the sounds of early 1980s electro-futurists such as The Human League and Depeche Mode, and the recent revivalists of the movement, her new album, State of Mind - also the name of the album's lead single - sees Valance reinventing herself as an edgy, electro-pop babe.

No matter how suggestive Valance may hope to sound, her electro-pop is a watered-down version of the real thing, and her positivist lyrics are more in the long line of self-help mantras disguised as lyrics that have blighted dance-pop at least since the time of "I Will Survive". "The more you think you've won," the track "Roll Over" states, "the stronger I become." It's hardly Billie Holiday, is it?

In stark contrast with the relentlessly upbeat nature of her music, Valance has been in a bit of trouble recently. She lost the court battle against her former manager, Scott Michaelson, who played Brad Willis, the big blond lad in Neighbours. The judge branded her "calculating and cynical" after hearing her appeal, but it's impossible to canvass her views on that judgment since her management has stressed that she won't talk about the case and its fallout.

But, certainly, Holly Valance the pop star is well put together. Recently, she had a hip photo shoot with Rankin, and her current, super-slick video, "State of Mind", is directed by Jake Nava, who has worked with Beyoncé. She is keen to be seen to be in control: "I was involved from beginning to end," she insists, "saying what I wanted and helping to write the tracks with two dudes in Detroit - the bassist Chris Peters and his brother Drew Peters, both from Electric Six - and bigwigs like Rick Nowels, Billy Steinberg and Tom Nichols, who wrote for Madonna, Céline Dion and Dido - that sort of thing." She adds hopefully: "I'd like to do a successful, gritty art-house cult film - something with blood and guts, and completely offbeat - in the next year."

Yet although her new album sounds as though it has been trapped in the VIP section of Ibiza's Manumission club, Valance enjoys nothing more than staying at home in Bayswater, in west London, cooking lamb and hosting dinner parties - "anything Greek - with red wine".

"I'm pretty low-profile. I can't go to bars and stumble out in a mini-skirt like other teenagers," she says. "I find myself followed by fans and paparazzi. I never wanted to be famous... What is so interesting about me buying a pint of milk?"

So is Holly Valance the pop star a wholly record-company-manufactured phenomenon? The Australian girl with a Serbo-Croat father, who was christened Holly Vukadinovic, didn't change her name in pursuit of success, she tells me. "I'm not that shallow. The family changed its name to Valance years ago."

In fact, the biggest change she has ever encountered is moving countries. "I miss my family in Australia. I'm the eldest of a big family - six kids - but call them all a million times a day." She mentions something about a phone bill. I'm not quite sure why that would worry her, but perhaps the amount of time she spends on the telephone cuts into her spare time a bit. "I'm working 24 hours a day," she admits. "Not like you lot who have weekends off."

'State of Mind' is out on Monday on London Records