Back when I was just an unassuming fruity little 8-year old a singing competition was shown on the telly, Popstars: The Rivals. I don’t remember this show very well but that’s probably just because Louis Walsh and Pete Waterman were judges. A TV pairing more redundant than a toast sandwich. But what was spawned from this show was a truly mesmerizing girl band. Hand-picked by the public from an indistinguishable crowd of chunky highlights and low rise jeans. They were called Girls Aloud.
Sound of the Underground was Girls Aloud’s debut single. It was actually the first single I ever purchased and it is by far the best. Starting with the breathy sex appeal of Sarah and Cheryl and climaxing with the powerhouse vocals of Nadine, the song is perfectly crafted. It’s release was genius trojan horse. Everyone expected that rival boy band One True Voice would win the race for number 1. Boy bands have traditionally fared much better than girl groups. Their wet blanket charm has a tendency to captivated teenage girls who do not yet have the insight to realise that they’re just five tossers in turtlenecks. The heartbreaking revelation that the one you fancy has sent a dickpic to a 17-year-old or turns up on the cover of Hello! with a hunky backing dancer above the caption ‘My Coming Out Story!’ One True Voice were a particularly soggy incarnation of the boy band. Their debut single was ‘Sacred Trust’ an indescribable turd of a song accompanied by a music video that tells the story of a bad 5-a-side football team, that appear to have been sponsored by Matalan, driving around an airport car park in a BMW that they can’t afford. The song was universally panned and inspired 14 million Dad’s of the prog rock era to say ‘What the fuck is this shite?’ One True Voice were trashed by the far superior Girls Aloud. The boys had graciously let the girls into their fortress of sickly emotion and were defeated by song about going out the lash. They were completely outmanoeuvred.
Girls Aloud’s debut single sounded like it may be a one off gem but this was not the case at all. In fact it was the first in a long line of lunatic songs that could only be sung by the girls. Their follow up single ‘No Good Advice’ was equally unpredictable in it’s structure and lyricism. The groups songs very rarely followed the formulaic structure of the average pop song (verse-chorus-verse-chorus-slightly different verse-chorus). Girls Aloud shunned this comfortable approach, favouring songs that were a patchwork of sounds, tempos and rhythms. The lyrics were equally as wild. Much of the time they actually made very little sense. It sometimes felt as if a notepad has been passed around along with a big ole’ fatty at an after party and everyone had written a line each. But this was a welcome change from the army of songs that skilfully rhymed ‘air’ with ‘care’. When Girls Aloud released ‘Love Machine’, from their sophomore album ‘What Will The Neighbours Say?’ it cemented their status as pop royalty. The classy tease of a song shimmies in your ears with ease. It’s release proved that the girls were no case of style over substance like so many pop groups, and yet they avoided the pretentiousness of acts that were trying so hard to put substance before style. Instead their style was their substance.
Although Girls Aloud are undoubtably my favourite girl group there is a long list of greats that made their way into my ‘pop classics’ playlist. All Saints, TLC, The Spice Girls and Sugababes are just a few others that have had not only great success but critical acclaim. The common link between them all is that they all had to find their niche to be successful. Unlike boy bands, who have the good fortune to be able to score a number one hit by sitting on bar stools and winging out a dreary version of a 1970’s ballad, girl groups have to have to possess an identity if they want to have any chance of a chart appearance.
All Saints were the anti-girl group, they weren’t there to be sexy, they weren’t there to dance for you, if you invited them to a party they would say that they’d come but they probably wouldn’t. They perspired a coolness that was unattainable by most and owned a sound that allowed teenage boys to openly admit that a girl group were actually alright. Their brand was much less fighting over the mirror and much more fighting over an old pair of Timberlands. The Sugababes (incarnations one and two) we’re the girls that lived in a different world than you. They didn’t spend their time begging strangers to buy them WKD’s outside of bargain booze. They were above that. They knew all of the best clubs to go to and were able to breeze in with their mates driving licence that looked nothing like them. They hung out with boys that were older than you and you were too immature to even get close to them. Look at you with your Hollister polo drenched in Lynx Africa, you need to take a long look in the mirror mate. You’re punching! The Sugababes deserve a special shout out for their talents. ‘Overload’ and ‘Freak Like Me’ are two of the best songs ever made. Not one of the best songs by a girl group or one of the best pop songs ever. Those sorts of qualifiers are patronising to their greatness, they’re just two of the best songs ever.
Finally there’s the most famous of them all, The Spice Girls. Five girls with five different looks who constantly dressed themselves as if they were attending a drag queens funeral. Which is pretty fantastic. They appeared from the darkness at a time when Britpop ruled. Music was dominated by a load of blokes with wank haircuts wearing oversized coats. There was some great music but a lot of it does feel like it was a contest to see who could sing in the most regional accept. Britpop music often sounded like spoken work poems paired with over the top backing tracks. But then the Spice Girls crashed onto the scene like the Hindenburg filled with glitter and taught people to have fun again. They were ridiculous, outrageous and they demanded attention. Yes ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?’ brought Oasis critical acclaim but ‘Spiceworld’ brought The Spice Girls to Nelson Mandela’s front door. So ask yourself who the real winners are. Their music was dismissed by some as immature and snubbed for being music primarily targeted a younger audience. An irritating criticism that I never understood. Why shouldn’t children be able to enjoy fun music. Were parents supposed to tie their children down and force them to listen to Richard Ashcroft inform them that life’s shit and they’ll probably end up being a smack addict. That’s why I loved Girls Aloud when I was a child. They loved life. I wanted to follow in their footsteps and have a blast. I did not want to walk on a beach with Chris Martin and talk about my feelings.
Although girl groups have to work hard to be successful credible artist I think that’s what makes them so brilliant. Having to discover their identity and needing to make such a strong case for being allowed to exist in the music industry has resulted in a long line of memorable acts who have released a catalogue of songs that have truly stood the test of time. It’s too easy for boy bands. You may be able to make a quick buck by getting a group of pink faced teenage boys to sing a Bee Gee’s cover but those songs will be used to clear the dance floor at the end of the night in twenty years time.