Why Do We All Love The Veronicas’ ‘Untouched’ So Much?
'Untouched' is, arguably, bigger now than it was 12 years ago. What gives?
— This article was first published in 2019. —
Cardi B might have made her Australian debut at this year’s Field Day, but it was a short appearance by The Veronicas that shook Sydney to the core, as the sisters appeared mid-afternoon during Mallrat’s set to perform their 2007 hit ‘Untouched’.
The crowd went absolutely wild, jumping up and down with the abandon usually reserved for a headline act’s biggest song — rumour has it their rendition of the chorus carried from The Domain across the city.
“I have never witnessed a more incredible crowd performance than when Mallrat brought the twins out to sing ‘Untouched’ with her,” Hit Network radio host and ‘Untouched’ superfan Nic Kelly told Music Junkee. “Every single word was yelled.”
It was the hit of the day — but was it a hit back in the day? Short answer, yes — it reached #2 on the ARIA charts — but it’s not even their highest charting single. A quick look at that year’s charts reveal it was the 78th biggest single of the year, while ‘Hook Me Up’, the title track from their second album, landed much higher on the list, at #22.
Cracking the top 100 singles of the year is more than a respectable feat, of course — especially as it was released in December, and only continued to climb the charts in ’08 to reach #21 on 2008’s year-end list — but it seems that ‘Untouched’ is more ubiquitous with The Veronicas now, 12 years later, than at release. Let’s put it this way: the song’s certainly holding a lot more clout than most of those higher-selling singles. When was the last time someone listened to Hinder?
Over on Spotify, ‘Untouched’ is about 20 million streams ahead of any other of The Veronicas’ songs — but the real testament isn’t in numbers, but in memes. It’s hard to throw a virtual rock without hitting a reference to ‘Untouched’ in Facebook music meme groups or Twitter.
Merely a mention of the song appears to make for easy virility (trust us, we would know. Seriously.) People absolutely love it, and they love to let you know they love it. But what is it about this 12-year-old pop song that pops off?
‘I Want You So Much’
Lets break this down and run through some facts.
‘Untouched’ was the second single from sophomore album Hook Me Up. It was written by The Veronicas with the song’s producer, Toby Gad. Gad’s worked with them time-and-time again over the years, and while you might not know his name, you know his work.
Beyond ‘Untouched’, Gad’s the producer behind, among many other hits, Beyoncé’s ‘If I Were A Boy’, Demi Lovato’s ‘Skyscraper’ and 2007’s ARIA chart topper, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ by Fergie.
Unlike those ballads, ‘Untouched’ is fast. Really fast. It sits at 176BPMs, which, for late ’00s comparisons, is a good bit quicker than both Rihanna’s ‘Rude Boy’ or Vampire Weekend’s ‘A-Punk’, and a lot quicker than most current hits.
17 yr old me:
21 yr old me:
29 yr old me:
50 yr old me:
93 yr old me:
— LJBTQ+ (@JBfromDC89) March 25, 2019
“I think it’s an extremely well-written, well-produced pop song,” says Kelly. “I can’t think of many other smashes from that era (maybe Metro Station’s ‘Shake It’) that were 176BPM either — it’s a really daring tempo to attack from a pop perspective, but the energy Jess & Lisa give the vocals match it to a tee.”
It’s still a daring BPM: arguably, even more so now. Back in 2017, Rolling Stone traced how the Billboard 200 charts have been on a sharp BPM decline this decade — but why?
While RS ponder whether escapist bangers simply don’t fit our dreary post-Trump socio-political moment, the reality is these trends tend to come and go in waves in pop music. With ‘alt-pop’ and hip-hop dominating, most of our biggest smash hits dropped down to mark an average of around 90.5BPMs.
Even before you factor in potent mid’00s nostalgia, ‘Untouched’ is, by BPM alone, an electric time-warp — but it’s much more than its fast beat. It’s floor-to-the-wall packed with melodrama, mixing in genres and influences — from its pop-punk guitars, that hectic club beat to The Veronica’s sing-talk vocals, like a PG13 Peaches. And, of course, those violins.
the violin was invented solely for Untouched by The Veronicas
— grug (formerly ella) (@grug_official) December 15, 2018
“The second you hear them, it’s a euphoria rush,” says Kelly.
Violins don’t just open ‘Untouched’, they define it. As soon as we hear those strings, we’re taught to understand we’re in for something majestic and sweeping. Then the snare comes in, and we’ve taken a left turn. Then the guitars, shredding hard and in-time with each string, before the song’s lyrics begin: “You go ooh ooh/I go ahh ahh”.
Violins don’t just open ‘Untouched’: they define it.
Wait a minute: before we go too deep, what is ‘Untouched’ even about? During press for the song’s UK release in 2009, The Veronicas said the song is about missing loved ones and craving their physical presence.
“‘Untouched’ is about difficult, long distance relationships,” Lisa told Female First. “It’s about feeling untouched by the people in your life because you’re so far away from them all the time… But even though it sounds so depressing, it’s really quite an upbeat, fun song.”
Like pop’s most masterful songs, ‘Untouched’ is happy-sad, a cathartic thrash through pining — and, lets be honest, needing to fuck. The song’s filled with ‘oohs’, ‘las’ and ‘ahhs’, which, broadly speaking, are uvulars: sounds springing forth from the back of the tongue.
Their desires are stuck between language and feeling — their need to be touched is either frustratingly restricted to the lyrics’ simple rhyming rhythms (“I feel so untouched right now/and I want you so much/That I just can’t resist you/It’s not enough to say that I miss you“), or expressed best in grunts.
Much how they’re ‘untouched’ by their lovers due to distance, The Veronicas are in a state of not being inarticulate, but ‘un-articulate’, relying on pointing to their sonic surroundings to capture the depth of what they can only gesture towards with their own voices. Because it’s not just The Veronicas who grunt: those strings do the exact same thing. ‘Dun-dun-dun-dun’ is melodramatic, ridiculous, signalling the swirl of emotions to come.
“‘Untouched’ is peak pop writing,” singer Brendan Maclean tells Music Junkee. “The unforgettable opening strings strap you in, the snare kicks in and the roller coaster is away and doesn’t stop. The chorus is alone is a work of art, starting in minor and giving you the tension and drama under the lyrics ‘I feel so untouched right now’, then leading us to that total release in the major chords as we all scream, ‘Goin’ crazy from the moment I met you!'”
Kira Puru agrees, saying the song does a lot in its 4 minutes and 15 seconds.
“As a pop writer myself,” she tells Music Junkee, “I love to study songs that are fresh and immediate but feel nostalgic somehow, that manage to be simple but hold so much depth and complexity, songs that feel like they give you something no other song does but still touches on a universal theme. ‘Untouched’ does this flawlessly. Also it just feels SO good to sing. Why is that?”
“Can you be a adult with great communication skills, healthy boundaries and mad dating game and still be in love like this though? I don’t know!”
It’s damn hard to not scream-sing along to ‘Untouched’, even 12 years later. Perhaps because it’s 12 years later: the song was already bombastically huge between its BPM, those violins and dramatic-ass guitars, but time has only blown it out. Listening carries memories of ’07, or whenever you first heard it — and for a lot of us, the ridiculousness of whatever we were feeling then (and now) comes flooding back.
“‘Untouched’ reminds me of being absolutely full-blown obsessed with someone in the early days of a new romance,” says Puru. “Feeling sick all the time and obsessing over individual exchanges for hours on end, being completely consumed by them and then finally getting down with them and realising that feeling isn’t gonna go away any time soon. Can you be a adult with great communication skills, healthy boundaries and mad dating game and still be in love like this though? I don’t know!”
It’s that ridiculousness that makes it prime for memes, too, something which carries a mix of cringe, nostalgia and genuine affect. Kelly notes that Australian music meme pages tend to be mostly populated by 18-25 year olds, and “if you do the math”, that means the kids who are making memes were somewhere around their pre- and early-teens when ‘Untouched’ dropped. That’s a potent time.
Then again, the song’s just an absolute banger. Maybe it just boils down to the fact that ‘Untouched’ is a classic: just ask André Rieu.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. Follow him on Twitter.