(The Diary of a Pop Defender)
We’ve stopped caring about girl bands and that people, is a crime. We’ve stopped playing the game of guessing/knowing who sings which bit and knowing why. We’ve stopped reading interviews in their voices and changing our favourite member every five minutes, we’ve stopped playing songs so much they’ve melted a vital part of our brains. We’ve started to become snarky, resentful, insular creatures baying for cellulite shots and teary break ups/downs.
We’re obsessing over the Daily Mail’s ‘sidebar of shame’ watching doe-eyed Frankie disappear into rehab and unhappily tutting at Sarah Harding’s latest foray into tabloid shame. Oh the Saturdays! Nobody really cares about how bad your last single was we just want to see you all exit the studio in ‘casual’ clothes and maybe have no make-up on and look a bit fat.
Maybe it’s due to the lack of any actual real quality girl bands that is giving us a collective dose of the Regina George’s. The Saturdays are too anodyne to be useful or interesting, Girls Aloud are on permanent hiatus, Little Mix sound like a disgusting cereal from the makers of ‘Banana Bubbles’ they’re the girl band who think they’re a milkshake.
Although perhaps with the news that the original Sugababes may find time in between their busy schedule of butt inplants, hiding their shivs in their beehives and giving randomers on the street the evils to finally get back together and do some actual work, this may jerk us into some reminder that girl bands are not all fairy princess pink and OAP friendly.
Yes, we had Girls Aloud, yes they churned out some of the most visceral moments of pop voodoo this side of Kylie, they were also of reality infused, real-girl stock with a penchant for moodiness and underlying bitch-fights amid the ‘friends forever’ sheen. They blasted Lily Allen and her ‘poor-little rich girl’ Common People fantasy, they consistently showed up Chris Moyles to be the over-paid, idiotic hairy tub of lard he is but then they also managed to disintegrate into ego wars and horrific bouts of body fascism unhappiness if Nicola Roberts solo album is anything to go by.
Even with their feisty temperaments we still had to watch them bend and snap in a variety of different, tinier get ups, streaked with tan, sticky with gloss and sometimes vacant of stare.
We had to endure Cheryl becoming this tiny vole woman, blinking into the sunlight with her ‘ignorance is bliss’ mantra, ready to be moulded and shaped before being anointed by Pope Cowell as some kind of benign, bizarre ‘Diana of the North Barbie’ (but with better hair) We had to watch Sarah Harding twist her visage into a tribute to Pete Burns and become a permanent tabloid fixture, a dark fable on the sour side of fame featuring close ups of her enormo-lips for good measure.
This should have never happened to Girls Aloud, this is the drastic fate of lesser bands devoid of personality. Whither their early chutzpah? Was it so easily destroyed by unfaithful, rat like husbands, cheap T.V dreams, a crummy bar with a terrible moniker and a cosmetic line no-one buys from? Ending on their strongest period to date, they missed out on their glorious second act, their entrance into womanhood, their grown-up album of razor like incisiveness that spoke to the on-the-bus-Friday night girls about the fuzzy end of the lollipop and the glitter that peels off on Saturday morning. Of dreams not fully realised but the strength in a certain kind of bitter reality that can scoff at childish fantasy.
They could still triumph, still flourish and re-form to remind myopic pop audiences of the defining power of a great girl band. Sadly, they have come to be our only hope in these marshmallow soft days of chicken-boned, giggling girl bands but it was not always so, maybe we have to look further back to gain inspiration for the future…
The 90s and Noughties were not just a time when Girl Power was only a Chupa-Chup suck and a girlie wink away, it was a time that possessed a girl band so incredibly cool they could have been in the T-Birds, that’s right, not the Pink Ladies but the fucking T- Birds. That band was All Saints. If ever there was a time that we needed them more it is now.
It actually seems wrong to use the condescending ‘girl band’ tag for them they were a band of big ol’ mad bitches.
There was something about the way that they were filled with insouciance that made them feel more real than their hyperactive day-glo counterparts. They were moody, they barely disguised their abhorrence of the industry and sometimes for each other and generally behaved like every girl who has been on a holiday with their friends for far too long. There was much eye-rolling whispering and giggling behind hands, much drinking, smoking and brawling.
The closest an All Saint ever came to being a boring, uncool old WAG was getting Lee Sharpe to give them a jockey back out of the MET Bar whilst Stan Collymore held their shoes and vodka.
They were always full of wary composure whether being interviewed by a trouser-rubbing Chris Evan’s (at the height of his megalomania) or a curious child on Live & Kicking, they treated everyone the same in a distant, uncomfortable, manner. Witness possibly the coolest Saint of all Mel Blatt staring down a gurning Evans after he announced her pregnancy live on TFI Friday, there is no cooing, no ‘awwing’ from her, just utter despondency and an angry grin at the fact that he had chosen to make something so private public. Imagine that today, imagine Una Saturday bucking the cutesy maternal trend and actually saying something derogatory to Chris Moyles? Sigh.
Sadly in a later interview Evans asked the Saints to arrange themselves according to ‘who was the heaviest and who was the lightest’ why no-one had the good sense to punch him in the ball sack we’ll never know especially as this was immediately after he asked who wanted to ‘have a baby’ with him. Oh those 90s with their laddie Britpop ‘how’s your father’ mentality it was SUCH a laugh.
Anyway another reason to think fondly of All Saints was the fact that they wore ACTUAL CLOTHES. If you look at any of their interviews or photos there’s nary a spindle heel or a bum-riding skirt in sight. They dressed like real human girls in jeans and tops and runners and were damn sexy with it too. If only stylists today had the good sense to just pop a coat on the next young hit makers in training they could save one Geordie girl from hypothermia this year.
They also infamously took clothes to the most serious, hilarious extent when they actually broke up over a jacket. Not a knuckle dragging boy or envy over someone hogging all the good vocal parts but a jacket. Their sartorial worth and comfort was stupidly important to them and mirrored the ridiculousness of all arguments amongst friends.
Obviously the most important thing was the songs and like every brilliant band with girls in them, All Saints had hits by the baggy combat load. Not just the grammatically incorrect, sadgirl blues of Never Ever or the perky, idiocy of I Know Where It’s At or the majestic electro wonder Pure Shores the true measure of their pop greatness is to be found on the Saints and Sinners album.
Black Coffee encompasses the space between Ray of Light era Madonna and the bruised otherworldliness of Manchild by Neneh Cherry. As its title suggests it’s a bitter, dark, grown up pop song about the slow burning, masochistic dance between pleasure and pain within a relationship. Moving through mundane vignettes and the ever changing moods on any given day between two people stuttered out by Shaznay and the soaring almost pleading chorus from the Appleton’s it’s possibly one of the most honest pop songs about the mechanics of a relationship ever written and with William Orbit’s extra added bleeps and loops and fantastically deranged electronic sledgehammer finale it becomes a gold standard masterpiece which helps erase all memories of the Under the Bridge/Lady Marmalade tragedy (All Saints did not need to sing cover songs thankyouverymuch)
This slice of true brilliance coupled with the introduction to this sombre side of the Saints, the turbulent, bruising War of Nerves spelled out very clearly that they were not going to conform for anyone. They were playing this game on their own terms which must have had a direct influence on their sassy, uncompromising heirs the terrifying Sugababes.
Unfortunately most girl bands will never reach these dizzy musical heights as they mostly don’t write their own songs or have an excellent team to write something remarkable or trust Mollie Saturday with a pen. The sludge that clogs up most girl band repartees these days is something akin to a musical Ibiza Uncovered, following the plastic trajectory of the Black Eye Peas mantra ‘Go party with my gurls’ ‘Get drunk at the bar’ ‘Dance my little head off’ ‘Shake a body part in ya face’ etc… and until they wipe the perma-grins off their faces and are willing to be a bit more human they’ll be doing the gyrating, singing Playboy bunny routine until they naturally become obsolete at 30.
So girl bands it’s time to grow up a bit, put some more clothes on and actually say something other than what the PR tells you to. It’s time to start being yourself and if she’s a horrible, miserable cow all the better for it. Take a leaf out of All Saints and OriginalBabes book and remember that your music is not just for the toddlers and furiously wanking teens it’s for everyone , we’re all listening, we’re all waiting to turn our radio’s up rather than hitting refresh on some gossip site.