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Girls’ bands made British pop great – so where are the good ones? Pop and rock

T.he girl band is in crisis. With Little Mix taking a break and ending the Confetti tour, touted as their last shows “for now”, the UK, for the first time in almost 30 years, has no main girl band.

This is a grim prospect as girly bands have often acted as agitators in the male-dominated music scene in the UK. The Spice Girls are the most obvious example of this that emerged in 1996 among the embarrassing Britpop boyfriend, but successive groups similarly disrupted the status quo: Girls Aloud’s boisterous noise broke through the explosion of independent music in the mid-1990s; All Saints and Sugababes offered sophistication instead of Europop chewing gum; and Mis-Teeq brought bold sexuality to a garage in the UK.

But for each success story, there have been a half-dozen unsuccessful attempts to exploit it. Following the entry of the Spice Girls, the major label machine launched various groups, but despite some decent hits, the likes of Atomic Kitten, B * Witched, and Honeyz never achieved the same cultural dominance. The situation is worse after Little Mix: the girly bands that hope to fill the void are, frankly, bland.

SVN, the group consisting of the original cast of the musical Six Plus Double, sells the cliche boss-empowering anthems that seem outdated in the era of heavy emo pop by Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo. This horribly named CuteBad, a new group backed by Xenomania, the makers of the Girls Aloud hits, feels like they’re desperately chasing K-pop maximalism, but are already struggling to keep the band members. Xenomania’s other outfit, Unperfect, split before takeoff, while groups such as Ring the Alarm and Four of Diamonds tried unsuccessfully to grab the attention of pop fans.

Only the London trio FLO aroused any emotions. Their debut single, Cardboard Box, produced by MNEK, is an entertaining nostalgic R&B hit from the beginning of the 21st century, though it lacks the sizzling originality of Overload Sugababes, a group that FLO is heavily stylized for. It can be unfair to write these groups off before they have flourished: much of their failure is due to a simple lack of good melodies. However, they don’t seem to understand what makes the girly band great.

Twenty-five years ago, Sporty, Scary, Posh, Ginger and Baby were all identifiable as a red double-decker bus. The Spice Girls ‘message of girl power, raised and commodified from its inception riot grrrl, marked a new era of women’s and girls’ empowerment where women’s independence and friendship was a priority, and helped promote third wave feminism – increasingly sex-positive and race-inclusive – to the mainstream.

The group’s anarchism helped in this: from the first few frames of Wannabe’s video bursting into the elegant halls of London’s St Pancras building, they disrupted the elitist elitism that characterized British culture. . This behavior carried over into real life as well: the interviews with the team were chaotic, interrupting the (usually male) interviewers and cackling with laughter.

Mockery of each other and of whoever interviewed them was also common, although stupidity was almost always punctuated by emotional honesty or seriousness on topics such as sexism and misogyny, uttered without media-trained polishing. Such unfiltered charisma is absent in a band like SVN, whose essential feminist bromides fit better with an advertising moisturizer than they resonate with a more refined generational understanding of girl power.

The individualization of the five members of the Spice Girls has also given fans plenty of access points. If you haven’t been referring to Mel B’s pugnacious belligerence or the confident vampire Geri, then Emma Bunton’s genius, Victoria’s distance, or Mel C’s determination may be a better fit for your temperament. But taken as a whole, they represented the diversity of women’s friendship groups across the UK, where each person had something unique to offer. Today, record labels seem to be geared towards marketing girly bands as single individuals, a fatal misunderstanding of the dynamics of female groups – and the individualized culture of social media: it was impossible to distinguish members of the Four Diamonds, while CuteBad’s emphasis on party girl aesthetics has so far stripped members of their personalities.

Spice Girls in 1997. Photo: Spice Productions / Allstar

The Spice Girls wouldn’t matter if their music was rubbish, but unlike the Hi-NRG dance pop and new jack swing that characterized most pop bands of the time, their music ranged from groovy R&B, disco, funk, girly age groups. 60. and later pop changed into Latin. Aside from R&B FLO, which stands out from the pop landscape that now favors atmospheric songwriters and samples from the early 2000s, all the other UK girl bands have produced music without any identity. CuteBad You Don’t Really Wanna lacks a noticeable melodic thread, and Gots to Give the Girl, Unperfect’s debut single, was an attempt at a relaxed California breeze right down to narcolepsy.

British girl bands that emerged in the aftermath of the Spice Girls often failed to capture their unlawful spontaneity. Sometimes it was by design: All Saints, with their sophisticated trip-hop, were like Silk Cut and a glass of wine versus cotton candy Spice Girls. The effortless cool was also the starting MO for the Sugababes, although they also arrived with an uneasy sense of unhappy ambivalence and an innovative sound in the form of Overload. (You wonder if the anarchy of the Spice Girls – stealing their pre-fame mother tapes, kicking out their manager – has made the recording industry tighter on fiercely child-friendly girly bands that followed in their footsteps like B * Witched. )

Only Girls Aloud came close to regaining the full spirit of chaos of the Spice Girls. Their music was often idiosyncratic: although they weren’t immune to bland covers, songs like Biology and Sexy! No No No… different hooks and textures sewn together. Distinct identities helped sell these pop curiosities: Cheryl Tweedy and the late, gorgeous Sarah Harding have become tabloid regulars, not only famous for their nightly antics but also for being goofy (like Cheryl’s criticism of other pop stars like Nicole Scherzinger and Lily Allen). . Again, they all felt like individuals who could come together to create something bigger.

Little Mix performing on the farewell tour in March.
Little Mix performing on the farewell tour in March. Photo: Georgie Gibbon / Rex / Shutterstock

Little Mix took more time to prove their worth: as the first band to win The X Factor, they found it harder to distance themselves from their reality TV beginnings, especially when they arrived as One Direction was controlling the pop world. They had a feeling of sisterly solidarity that they had not felt since the Spice Girls first days: the band members cared for each other very much (although Jesy Nelson’s departure revealed some dissatisfaction they had previously concealed).

Like many of their fans, Little Mix has fallen victim to public abuse and bullying intensified by Instagram and Twitter. . And that’s exactly what Little Mix did in responding to the taunts of Noel Gallagher and Piers Morgan and parting ways with Simon Cowell’s label.

Little Mix also raised the level of the British girl band. Performances by bands like Saturdays and even Girls Aloud were joyful for them (it was probably part of their charm), but Little Mix moved towards precise choreography and strong vocals. While voice power was never a prerequisite for a girly band, the subdued, energetic, girly styling of this new collection will be very gray after Little Mix’s explosive arena finale.

However, Spice Girls, Girls Aloud and Little Mix benefited from the pop market that was not as saturated with artists as it is today, and in the case of the latter two, from reality TV’s huge springboard. Today, mindless TikTok stars are generating a growing distrust of artificiality – something that is incompatible with imaginary groups of girls. Anyone with a whiff of label interference is quickly shot down as an industrial plant. As Dorian Lynskey wrote in The Guardian of the broader powerlessness surrounding the band’s format, in rock or pop, the limited phone screen size and TikTok portrait format favor the solo artist. Shrinking record label budgets can also be to blame – girly bands with multiple members, glam line-ups, choreographers and travel needs are a bad investment – and with musicians earning so little on music these days, why would any singer part with their royalties? in four ways?

Sweet Bad
Sweet Bad. Photo: Jack Alexander

So, in the era of a solo artist, the collaboration of these solo artists is the closest to a girl band. Sometimes, like Charli XCX, Christine and the Queens and various Caroline Polachek bands, they are explorations of sympatico pop sensitivity; others, such as the collaboration between Dua Lipa and Megan Thee Stallion Sweetest Pie, are calculated positioning exercises. Supergroups like the US-based Boygenius, which includes Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus, could also mark the next iteration of the girly band: the thought of Bree Runway, Raye and other British pop stars who will be full of Avengers is from certainly attractive. K-pop is obviously a space where a girly band thrives: bands like Blackpink, Twice and Everglow offer whip-inducing choreography, bombastic bangers, and luminescent visuals with astonishingly high production values ​​that make British efforts seem embarrassingly budgetary by comparison.

But the new girly band is what the UK needs. If the Spice Girls took Britain’s lazy male energy from the 90s and feminized it heavily, whoever follows Little Mix must likewise use the spirit of the era. They will require chemistry, strong personalities, disregard, a collection of firecrackers, and the ability to deal with the mood of the country: one that has now been ravaged by a decade of austerity, the effects of Brexit and fierce culture wars. Gloomy times, now calmed down by sad pop bedroom girls, also need to be lightened up with bold, dynamic talent rather than the guesswork of big labels. It is a powerful task, but only then will Britain diversify its life again – God knows we need it.

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