You might not recognize it by name alone. But the now-classic surging melody, funky bassline and roll-off-the-tongue chorus of “Lady (Hear Me Tonight),” the 2001 hit from French dance-pop duo Modjo, made the song one of the most iconic club anthems of its time, topping the Dance Club Songs chart and breaking the Billboard Hot 100.
And the song doesn’t appear to be fading out anytime soon. Roughly 16 years since earning hit status, the Modjo classic is recently back in the spotlight, thanks to artists like pop singer Austin Mahone, who last year dropped his own “Lady” quasi-cover featuring Pitbull, and now superproducer RedOne, who sampled Modjo’s signature track in his “Boom Boom” with Daddy Yankee and French Montana, released last Friday (Oct. 27).
The “Lady” resurgence brings back a flood of memories for former Modjo members Romain Tranchart (producer) and Yann Destal (vocals), who were young twenty-somethings at the American School of Modern Music in Paris when they signed a record deal with Universal.
In fact, the two didn’t settle on their band name — which references the term for sexual charisma “mojo” popularized by ’60s blues-rock heroes like Muddy Waters — until signing, and Tranchart maintains that “Lady” was only the “third or fourth” song they had at that point written.
“The size of the success [of “Lady”] was totally unexpected,” explains Tranchart, now 41. “I had in mind that we would sell maybe, in my wildest dreams, something like 50,000 copies — but we reached two million.”
The track finished 2001 as the year’s No. 8 biggest Dance Club Song, according to Billboard‘s year-end chart. But it performed even better overseas, where it spent four weeks atop the Official U.K. Singles Chart and climbed to the top 10 on charts in more than 15 countries from Brazil to Germany, including the band’s native France. And the track’s music video — where three teenage actors indulge in a carefree day-long escapade — has since become almost as iconic as the song itself, notching 35 million YouTube spins to date. “For a couple of years, my life was like wandering in some crazy Disneyland,” Tranchart explains. Destal, now 39, reflects, “My first thought was, ‘Wow, I have this little miracle happening to me.'”
Modjo unveiled their 12-track, self-titled debut album just months later, including an acoustic version of “Lady,” along with the duo’s two follow-up singles — the disco-tinged “Chillin,'” which hit No. 12 on the U.K. Singles Chart, and the strummer “What I Mean,” which peaked at No. 59.
But Modjo’s overnight success came with a downside, too, as the duo struggled to comprehend their sudden fame. “We were really not prepared for that success. We were just kids making music together,” Tranchart remembers. “I think we must have had just an urgent need to pause it, to keep our sanity.” And they did — Modjo ceased making music in 2003, though Tranchart and Destal remain friends.
Together, they now manage the Modjo catalogue through Premier Muzik and Universal, giving their blessing to sample requests like those from Mahone and RedOne. (Ironically, “Lady” itself features a sample from Chic‘s 1982 single “Soup For One.”)
Tranchart says that he gave Mahone and Pitbull the go-ahead long ago: “We knew that [Pitbull] was interested in doing a cover, or an adaptation, and we said we’d be okay for it,” he says. The request from RedOne came through back in 2015, when RedOne was working on a demo sampling “Lady.” But both Tranchart and Destal completely forgot that they had authorized the use until friends began emailing them links to RedOne’s “Boom Boom” this week, thinking Modjo had been ripped off.
“I wanted to call Romain about it, and he said, ‘No, no, this is the guy that we said okay to,'” Destal says, laughing. “And so that was good news.”
Destal says “Boom Boom” is “great stuff,” and Tranchart particularly enjoys how the Latin-flavored track bridges cultures: “My mom’s Sicilo-Tunisian and I grew up in Brasil, [so] there’s an echo somewhere,” he adds. “I’m very happy that 17 years [later], the song [“Lady”] still has life, and is like some kind of classic. It has a life of its own.”
These days, Tranchart is working on a solo album produced by Daft Punk‘s “I Feel It Coming” co-writer Eric Chédeville. Destal, who now leans more toward rock, is set to star in the upcoming French musical Welcome to Woodstock, which takes place in the ’60s and features covers of hits by Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who and other rock legends of the era. But when time permits, Destal says a Modjo reunion may follow.
“[Tranchart and I] are waiting until we all have time at the same time,” he says, “and maybe we’ll try to do something again.”