The year was 1999. Helen Clark was Prime Minister, a Hilux ad was causing controversy, pants were baggy, mobile phones weren't very smart, and you couldn't use the internet if your mum was on the phone.
That year also saw thousands of hopeful young singers descend upon Auckland's Town Hall and other audition venues around the country, vying to be part of something no one had seen before.
Finally, after months of auditions, five singers were chosen to be part of the first manufactured pop group in the world. Joe Cotton, Megan Cassie (later Alatini), Carly Binding, Erika Takacs and Keri Harper became TrueBliss and the reality show that made them, Popstars, became a worldwide sensation.
TrueBliss shot to stardom in New Zealand overnight. Their debut album Dream and single Tonight both hit No 1, with platinum sales, and the group embarked on a sold-out tour of 17 cities and towns nationwide. Unfortunately for TrueBliss, their fame was somewhat short-lived and the success of Popstars globally saw them left behind.
TrueBliss members Joe Cotton and Megan Alatini have openly talked about their disappointment upon discovering that the success of Popstars would see it move on to Australia without them. Alatini told RNZ: "I was really disappointed that the concept for the show was taken over to Australia, rather than us as a band."
Without the support of the show behind them, TrueBliss struggled to find their way and the band broke up in 2000, just a year after Popstars premiered.
At the time of the break-up, Carly Binding was offered a recording contract as a solo artist, a move that Joe Cotton recalls painfully. Cotton told Re: News: "We were having a meeting ... and she [Binding] didn't show up ... Then it came through texts and whispers and things that she was going to stay with the manager because he had offered her a record deal, and the rest of us could just get stuffed."
Cotton, Alatini, Takacs and Harper all went their separate ways after that. Cotton became a radio announcer and Takacs a television presenter, Alatini pursued an acting career, while Harper continued performing, albeit on a smaller stage.
Four members of Truebliss still perform together - (from left) Joe Cotton, Keri Harper, Erica Takacs and Megan Alatini. Photo / Carmen Bird
With the exception of Binding, the other four members of Truebliss - Cotton, Alatini, Takacs and Harper – remain close and have even got the band back together a few times.
In 2012 they reformed to release a single for the NZ Child Cancer Foundation. The foursome performed at the 2014 Miss Universe NZ contest. More recently Truebliss has performed at venues around Auckland, including Viaduct stalwart Headquarters.
Where are they now?
TrueBliss live on in the collective New Zealand memory and the upcoming new series of Popstars, which begins tonight, has us thinking about them more and more. Many reading this would have owned their cassette single or attended one of their concerts, or simply love belting out Tonight at the top of their voice when alone in the car.
So as we get ready to meet new faces and voices on Popstars, we take a look at the five women who started it all and ask – where are they now?
Perhaps the best-known of the group, Cotton almost didn't audition at all for Popstars in 1999 because she was working, but her Dad rang the producers and begged them to let her audition in her lunch break.
Cotton has continued to pursue an entertainment career after TrueBliss disbanded. In 2000 she joined the covers band The Mermaids after moving from Wellington to Auckland.
Cotton began hosting TV2's Thursday to Saturday M2 show (a graveyard-shift alternative music programme) but it was cancelled in February 2003.
She popped up on the third series of Celebrity Treasure Island in 2004 and became a fill-in host on the C4 music channel show Select Live.
In 2007 Cotton was the winner of Pop's Ultimate Star, which showcased winners of various Kiwi TV singing contests. She appeared in a string of Kiwi shows such as The Great New Zealand Spelling Bee.
She moved into a radio hosting career, first with The Edge and later with More FM.
Canadian-born Cotton married Daniel Shields on Valentine's Day, 2009, and the day was filmed for the reality wedding programme Hitched.
In 2019 Cotton appeared on Anika Moa Unleashed where she talked about her time in TrueBliss.
Cotton, now 42, still works as a radio presenter and also performs as part of pop-covers duo Flamingo Kids, with Amber Claire. Describing themselves as a conceptual party band, with a vibe of "cosmic comic book glamour" they perform regularly around Auckland.
Photo / Facebook
South African-born Megan Cassie married former All Black Pita Alatini in February 2000. The pair had been together since they met in high school.
After TrueBliss ended she opened a hair-braiding shop in Dunedin before reappearing on screens in 2006's NZ Idol as a judge alongside Iain Stables and Frankie Stevens.
Together with her sisters Monique Cassie and Meryl Cassie, Alatini acted in and recorded music for the sci-fi series The Tribe.
She competed on the third season of New Zealand's Dancing with the Stars, finishing a controversial second place. The Cassie sisters formed the band Nubian Angelz, performing at private functions, while Alatini continued to appear as a celebrity guest on several shows, including being a judge on New Zealand Idol in 2006. Alatini and her husband lived in Japan for several years.
Alatini, now 44 and a mother of three, still acts and sings, is an MC for large-scale events and hosts web series The Itinerary, for Go with Tourism. She also became a flight attendant with Air New Zealand in 2015.
Photo / Facebook
After TrueBliss Erika Takacs hosted the weekly Coke RTR Top 20 music show, which ran for three years on TV2 from 2000. She also appeared in commercials for the chain store Video Ezy and on Celebrity Treasure Island. She was signed to Sony for a single, which is still unreleased.
Takacs married stunt co-ordinator Allan Poppleton, whose long line of credits include The Last Samurai, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Water Horse, The Hunger Games and Wolverine.
Takacs is the only member of the group who is not currently performing music independently, but she has appeared with TrueBliss several times in recent years.
Now 43, she keeps busy as department coordinator for her husband's stunt coordinating business. The couple has four children and live in Auckland.
Photo / Facebook
Just 19 when she started in TrueBliss, Harper has kept the lowest profile since leaving the group.
She has made appearances at Auckland's Coca Cola Christmas in the Park in 2002 and 2005, and was in the series final of So You Wanna Be A Popstar?
Harper has done some musical theatre work, including a stint with Michael Barrymore in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
In 2007 she competed in Pop's Ultimate Star but was the first contestant to be eliminated. The same year she married Sam Coxhead and the couple now live in Taupō with their two daughters.
Harper, now 41, performs with Taupō-based cover band, Missy & the Jets, who "play everything for everyone". She also owns design company Pickle Design. Harper still performs with TrueBliss from time to time.
Arguably the most successful member, Carly Binding left TrueBliss and launched a solo career in 2000.
She scored six top-40 hits and a gold-selling album, Passenger, which peaked at No 6 on the NZ charts, as well as donating her hit song This Is It to the New Zealand Aids Foundation's "Love Is ..." campaign.
Her last album, So Radiate, was released in July 2006. In 2007 Binding was invited to play at the music festival SXSW in Austin, Texas, which led to her spending a further four months in the United States playing regular shows at venues on the Sunset Strip and in Los Angeles.
In 2012 the classically trained singer appeared on stage at the Q Theatre in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Tell Me On A Sunday.
Binding, now 43, had a long-term relationship with former Kiwi league star and All Black Matthew Ridge. The pair had a son, London, now 9, but they separated in 2014. In 2019 Binding had another baby boy, Felix, with her current partner, Andy Mateljan. They live in Auckland.
Binding is the only member of TrueBliss who has not participated in any of the reformations and she declined to appear on Anika Moa's reunion special in 2019.
The rumour mill is spinning with speculation TrueBliss might make an appearance on the new Popstars series. For those who still remember all of the words to Tonight and even some of the dance routines, let's hope it's true.
- Popstars airs Monday - Wednesday, 7.30pm on TVNZ 2.
This article was first published on the NZ Herald and is republished here with permission.