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V*Enna Bibliography: (click on each album cover to view tracks and V*Enna lyrics)
Britney Spears begs you to hit her, baby, one more time. The Backstreet Boys want it that way. And Christina Aguilera is all too willing to be your genie in a bottle. These young purveyors of pop culture currently dominate the charts, but their mission doesn't seem to go beyond making millions by telling teens whatever they want to hear about love, life and living for yourself.
Enter V*enna, the girl group that goes beyond their musical peers' materialistic message with a mission that encompasses a twofold ministry: to use the medium of pop music to reach kids for Christ, and to challenge them to grow in their faith instead of following the crowd.
Lucy Britten grew up near Bristol, England, in an old vicarage, surrounded by siblings, foster kids and pets that included sheep, chickens, fish and a dog that's also called Lucy (we're sure it's a compliment). Although she attended church and her grandfather was an archdeacon who traveled the world, living in places like Nairobi and Cyprus, her own faith grew gradually.
"I fell in with what my mum would call the wrong crowd at school. I was living for myself but not realizing it," she explains. But before returning for her second year of university, it all suddenly "clicked" and she was baptized. That year she also discovered her love for singing and there was no turning back. "It consumed me and I just thought, I don't want a regular job."
Across the Atlantic Ocean, Sharnessa Shelton was growing up in Longview, Washington, in what she describes as a "a very Christian, but not strict, home." She adds, "I was raised in a very cool environment by parents who gave me just enough room to grow into what God wanted me to be, but there was a good amount of discipline as well."
While being homeschooled, Sharnessa nurtured her love of music and dance with tap, jazz and lyrical technique lessons, as well as participating in choir and ensemble at the local private school. Then, at 16, she directed, choreographed and produced her first show at her church. Another followed two years later. "It's a real passion for me, using the arts for God's glory. It's something I know will always be a part of my life," she says.
To further hone her skills, Sharnessa enrolled in the School of Creative Ministries in London, England. It was there that she met Mark Pennells, founder of WorldWide Message Tribe and a producer and band consultant. Pennells was already familiar with Lucy's passion for music, and sensed that the two girls shared a vision for spreading the gospel through pop music with a message-particularly within primary schools.
Their experience with kids, especially young girls, has been preparing them for this opportunity their whole lives. Lucy trained as a primary school teacher and she currently has eight brothers and sisters including the children her family fosters. Sharnessa spent time in New York as a nanny for three girls and her 13-year-old sister keeps her in touch with teens.
Quickly becoming "really good mates" with a common purpose, they based themselves in Manchester and set to work choreographing dance numbers to compliment the songs Mark Pennells and his longtime writing pal Zarc Porter composed especially for them. Within a matter of months the catchy, "Britney meets ABBA," style of the early demos caught the attention of Essential Records' President Robert Beeson, and the group soon had a Stateside partner in their ministry.
V*enna's first entry into the retail market was their enhanced maxi-single, All the Way to Heaven, that was released in late February 2000. "All the Way to Heaven", the infectious title cut, debuted at #1 on Soundscan Singles Charts and stayed for 14 weeks to date and garnered the #6 position on the Contemporary Hits (CH) charts.
Following an intensive mix of studio time and concert appearances, the girls are ready to take both sides of the Atlantic by storm with their debut full length project Where I Wanna Be, which was also produced by Pennells and Porter. "When we compare All The Way To Heaven-The Enhanced Maxi Single to Where I Wanna Be, the full album is much more Euro-pop and has a lot more edge to it. It still has the same high energy sound and feel to it, but there is more attitude on the full album," says Porter.
"The entire recording process was very smooth. We really didn't know what direction the album was going to take, but when we recorded Where I Wanna Be, it set the tone and formed the direction we took," Porter explains. "Lucy and Sharnessa are such musical singers and very musically minded, which make the recording process go quickly and smoothly."
V*enna's strong passion for both discipleship and evangelism is clear and equally yoked throughout the entire album. Where I Wanna Be's edgy and melodically driven title cut dives into the desire to emulate Christ in every aspect of our lives, whereas the straightforward approach with "Why Did I Let You Go?" and "Do You Wanna Know" falls directly into the vein of discipleship.
Their concert appearances will start out in British primary schools, a common route for many performers both Christian and secular in that country and offers a tremendous opportunity to reach kids. Then in the US, where Christians aren't as free to speak about their faith in schools, V*enna will focus more on discipleship by challenging kids at festivals and conferences to strive for what God has for them and not to settle for second best.
"We really want to see kids accept the challenge and not waste their teen years," Sharnessa explains. "Especially here in the States, kids live from party to party, from mall to mall, from weekend to weekend, and that's their focus. Everything's a fashion show. Everything is about boyfriends and girlfriends and that is such a waste of a valuable season of life. The teen years can be such an incredible time of growth."
Lucy, remembering her own school experiences also wants to encourage the kids they encounter to be more proactive. "I wasn't actually aware when I was making decisions. We want to show kids that if they are following the crowd, they're making decisions they may regret later. We want to make them aware that they are at an age where they can make their own decisions."
"We just can't wait to have stories to tell people about kids coming to know Jesus, whether it's through something we've said, or just to hear stories that we've helped to plant seeds," Lucy says, excitement building in her voice. "More than anything, we want to be a bit of love in their lives." Then she smiles broadly before adding, "I just can't wait!"