editorial Feature leader

Sound of the Underground

Last night saw the first of three nights on all-girl group Girls Aloud’s farewell tour after ten years at the top of pop music.
Winners of ITV reality TV programme Popstars: The Rivals, they have long split opinion amongst music fans, some of whom see them as manufactured pop puppets and the others seeing them as a front for a great songwriting team who have created hits with a bag of crossover appeal. Here’s why I’ll be disappointed to see them split for good.

When Nicola, Sarah, Nadine, Cheryl and Kimberley were chosen by a public vote on Popstars: The Rivals it unknowingly started a revolution in UK pop music. Boybands like A1 were all too depressingly present, bashing out a generic and bland product that 5ive would have dismissed as being “too cheesy”.

The premise of the show was to create two separate pop groups; a boy band (managed by nostalgia weasel Pete Waterman) and a girl group (managed by Louis Walsh). The boy band entitled One True Voice was everything that Waterman represented; a dated, dishwater dull and downright dire ‘vocal harmony group’ that embodied all that was wrong with pop music in Britain at the time.
Over in the Girls’ brigade something very different was emerging.

When ‘Sound of the Underground’ received its first play it killed off any influence that Waterman still held within the world of music. This was something absolutely unexpected, shocking almost. Stabs of synth, an off kilter rhythm and a sequined handbag full of attitude, it was hard to believe that this was a song written without the knowledge who would be in the final line-up. Defeated before the race for number one even began, Waterman desperately tried to cast doubts over whether or not the vocals in the record were recorded by the same five female winners to no avail. Seven days later it was revealed that Girls Aloud had trounced the competition, and so a new era of British pop began.

There’s little point in denying that a huge part of the genius of Girls Aloud is down to songwriter Brian Higgins a.k.a. Xenomania. The Girls achieved twenty consecutive top ten UK singles, something unlikely to be repeated for a long time. Perhaps a large part of the success they have enjoyed is down to their continuing evolution; as easy as it would be for a second album to contain another ten ‘Sound of the Underground’ we got the Supremes-esque ‘Love Machine’ and the high energy ‘Wake Me Up’ which kept the Girls Aloud brand fresh and interesting.

The stylistic changes continued, and always ahead of the trend too. Where ‘See The Day’ might have reaffirmed that Girls Aloud really shouldn’t do covers, ‘Biology’ (named the best pop song of the last decade by Pete Cashmore of NME fame) showcased incredible intricacy to merge together blues-pop, eurodisco and about three separate choruses into a coherent and downright exhilarating example of how pop music can be of real artistic merit and relevance. The cheeky delivery wasn’t half bad either.

In fact that’s possibly the best way to describe the relationship between Xenomania and Girls Aloud. A huge pop tune such as the multi-layered ‘Call The Shots’, the effortlessly brilliant ‘Can’t Speak French’ or supremely sophisticated ‘The Promise’ would be pitched up and the group would without fail knock it straight out of the ball park.

Their farewell tour is undoubtedly the best possible time to see them. Hit after hit, one slice of pop perfection after another (and their version of the Pointer Sisters ‘Jump’ if only to prove my previous point about Girls Aloud and cover songs) set to a stage show with floating stages, confetti, pyrotechnics and more than a hefty dose of camp glamour. Some may deride them as manufactured pop puppets, but lest we forget that the Sex Pistols were manufactured too and they turned out to be pretty damn influential as well.

Whatever the future holds for each member of Girls Aloud remains to be seen. Despite being the most popular, Cheryl Cole has fallen into the trap of releasing rather generic pop music but should still retain her place at the top table of popular music. Nadine Coyle has her own beachside bar over the pond and has self-released a solo album but it’s possibly Nicola Roberts that shows the most promise to carry the Girls Aloud flame for innovation within pop. Her debut solo record ‘Cinderella’s Eyes’ which boasts producer credits from the likes of Joe Mount of Metronomy and Diplo is an inconsistent yet highly enjoyable listen that improves with time.

The legacy of Girls Aloud remains that British pop music has gained the potential to be inventive and commercially popular at the same time. It’s hard to imagine a reality show producing as mouthwatering a combination as Xenomania and Girls Aloud in the future where records are rush-released and stripped of all character in order to snare another meaningless Christmas number one.

Farewell to the best pop act since the Shangri-Las.