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Saltburn, TikTok and a naked Barry Keoghan: Sophie Ellis-Bextor rejoices over Murder on the Dancefloor’s revival

Exclusive: British pop star and ‘Saltburn’ writer and director Emerald Fennell react to a renewed appreciation for Ellis-Bextor’s 2001 hit, as it goes viral on TikTok and re-enters the charts after featuring in the class satire

Roisin O'Connor
Music Editor
Thursday 04 January 2024 07:50 GMT
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Sophie Ellis-Bextor discusses hit song's revival following Saltburn success

It was one of the defining songs of the early Noughties – a shimmering mirrorball drop to send people dancing into the new Millennium – and now it’s being discovered by a whole new generation.

“Murder on the Dancefloor”, the disco-infused 2001 hit by Sophie Ellis-Bextor, is poised to make its return to the UK pop charts thanks to its starring role in Emerald Fennell’s 2023 film Saltburn. The sexually charged film became an unlikely Christmas hit with British households after it was released on Amazon Prime in time for the festive break.

Written and directed by Fennell, it uses the 22-year-old track as the backdrop to a prolonged nude scene, which has spawned a TikTok trend where users imitate the now-infamous film’s ending.

“Murder on the Dancefloor” is now No 7 on Spotify’s Top 50 UK chart, and predicted to re-enter the Official UK Singles Chart at No 27 this Friday (5 January).

Ellis-Bextor, 44, told The Independent that she has been blown away by the renewed love for the song.

“It’s been pretty wild actually, but I’m definitely here for it,” she said. “I’ve always loved the fact that I’m not really in control of what happens to me and my music for a lot of the time, and I’ve always just been open to these new adventures and seeing what can happen.”

Sophie Ellis-Bextor in the music video for ‘Murder on the Dancefloor’ (Sophie Ellis-Bextor / YouTube)

Her interest was piqued after director and writer Fennell approached her about using the song and explained how she intended to use it: “I’m really up for seeing someone dancing naked for the whole song at the end of a movie,” she said. “I wanted to see what that looked like.”

To have the song featured in the film was “wonderful in itself”, she said, “but the fact that it’s connected with people outside of it is actually just extraordinary.”

Irish actor Keoghan stars in the movie as Oliver Quick, a scholarship student who befriends the popular and wealthy Felix (Jacob Elordi), and is consequently invited to spend the summer at his family’s estate, Saltburn.

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Barry Keoghan in ‘Saltburn’ (Amazon Studios)

The soundtrack comprises a number of popular songs from the Nineties and Noughties, including “Country House” by Blur, “Mr Brightside” by The Killers, and “This Modern Love” by Bloc Party.

But it’s “Murder on the Dancefloor” that has captured viewers’ imagination, thanks to a memorable scene where Keoghan’s character dances naked around the manor.

Fennell told The Independent: “The final dance needed to feel like a moment of triumph. A post-coital, joyful act of desecration and territory taking. There’s no other song to me that so perfectly contains all the evil glee, the sheer FUN, the irresistible camp of ‘Murder on the Dancefloor’.

“The beat, the words, Sophie’s incredible deadpan delivery. A sweet butter-wouldn’t-melt threat. If there’s a song that’ll make you dance no matter what, this is it, and Oliver needed to make us all dance to his tune.”

Lauren Kreisler, director of brand & digital at the Official Charts Company, told The Independent that prior to Saltburn’s release, it was averaging 292,000 streams per week. Between 31 December 2023 to 3 January 2024, it surpassed one million ahead of its first Top 40 appearance in over two decades.

“We love to see the British public rediscovering chart classics, or young audiences discovering them for the first time, even, as happened with Kate Bush topping the Official Chart thanks to Stranger Things,” she said.

“The Official Chart has always reflected British popular culture, 10 years ago we introduced streaming data into the Official Singles Chart, and in the streaming era we’ve seen that a memorable song paired with a ‘memorable’ scene can be dynamite for chart success.”

Viral clips have also been doing the rounds on TikTok where fans recreate the moment from Saltburn, with Ellis-Bextor herself sharing a clip of her dancing to the track on New Year’s Eve.

“Heading into 2024 like... Happy Saltburn New Year!” she captioned the post.

Written by Ellis-Bextor and Gregg Alexander, “Murder on the Dancefloor” was an international hit upon its release in 2001, but was pipped to No 1 by Daniel Bedingfield’s single “Gotta Get Thru This”.

Lyrics include the lines: “It's murder on the dance floor/ But you'd better not kill the groove/ DJ, gonna burn this goddamn house right down.”

Ellis-Bextor also starred in the accompanying music video by Grammy-winning director Sophie Muller, in which she participated in a Grease-style dance contest where she takes out her fellow contestants one by one.

The video (and the song’s) dark undertones meant it fit perfectly into Fennell’s class satire, she said.

“It’s pop music, of course, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have like a little bit of edge to it. I think [Fennell] really brought out the darkness in the lyrics.”

‘Emerald Fennell really brought out the darkness in the lyrics’: Sophie Ellis-Bextor on her song being used in ‘Saltburn’ (Prime Video)

Addressing the film’s more explicit films, which became the subject of online discourse over Christmas as horrified viewers warned against watching it with family, Ellis-Bextor revealed that she’d seen a preview screening with her own family, including her eldest son, 19, and her mum.

“My poor 19-year-old sat in between me and his grandma, and actually we all loved it,” she said. “We’re not too squeamish.”

Recalling the song’s release back in 2001, Ellis-Bextor said she felt as though many people had written her off as a “one-hit wonder”, following her No 1 single “Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)”.

“I think I’d had my fingers burned... I was in a band when I was a teenager, we’d had a lot of hype then been dropped, so I just never expected my first [solo] album to do what it did,” she said.

“Every single success that’s happened to me since then has been wholly appreciated, because it’s never a given. Singing was all I ever wanted to do, and I’m as much in love with what I do now as I’ve ever been. If it’s not fun, then you’re doing something wrong.”

Sophie Ellis-Baxtor at Glastonbury (Anthony Harvey/Shutterstock)

Fans are certainly having fun with the track on TikTok, where the hashtag #MurderOnTheDancefloor has racked up over 38.8 million views. The track itself features in over 266,000 videos.

“It’s a brilliant, upbeat song that is another example of how music fans on TikTok don’t care if a song is new or old,” Darina Connolly, head of music partnerships UK & Ireland at TikTok, told The Independent.

“There’s no stigma of old music – everything is new music. What’s great is that so many people who have watched Saltburn and then celebrated the song on TikTok weren’t even alive when the track was first released, which is reminiscent of tracks like Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill”, “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac or “Just the Two of Us” by Bill Withers, which have all had massive success on the platform.”

Explaining TikTok’s ability to revive decades-old songs and give them a new lease of life, she said: “At the heart of TikTok is its unpredictability, but it’s fundamentally about a love of great music. For example, last year, Jain's 'Makeba' became one of our biggest tracks of the year largely in part to a Bill Hader meme that went viral. The platform is powered by creators of all ages, with the opportunity for anything to take off and reach massive audiences.”

She added: “We’re over the moon about Sophie’s re-entry to the Top 40 and can’t wait to see where she lands. It’s fantastic to see her not just climbing the charts but also diving into the fun on TikTok, engaging directly with creators and making the most of this exciting moment.”

(Sophie Ellis-Bextor / YouTube)

Ellis-Bextor has continued to perform “Murder on the Dancefloor” live, including at a glittering Brit Awards 2023 afterparty thrown by record label Universal, where she was backed by her husband and fellow musician, Richard Jones.

She also made an rapturously received appearance at the Eurovision Village in Liverpool last year, where the annual song contest was being held, sparking calls from fans to let her represent the UK in 2024.

Ellis-Bextor has landed six other top 10 singles in the official UK singles charts, including “Mixed Up World” and “Catch You”. She attracted a new audience during the pandemic with her lockdown kitchen discos, along with her podcast Spinning Plates.

Her latest album, Hana, was released last year. Saltburn is available now on Amazon Prime.

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