Last week, a long-awaited announcement was made that excited every devoted pop music fan. This news was especially thrilling for those who consider “Biology” to be one of the greatest songs of the 21st century and are aware that Cheryl, now known by just her first name, has a strong fear of cotton wool. The dream of many Girls Aloud fans has come true as the group is reuniting and tickets are now available for purchase.
Reworded: Girls Aloud, along with the Shangri-Las and the Runaways, are considered one of the top girl bands in history. Although I was born in 1989, I should have been a fan of the Spice Girls. I even owned a collectible photo album that is now being sold on eBay. I could imitate Mel C’s signature leg-kick, as she is also from Liverpool and a dedicated supporter of LFC. However, the Spice Girls’ music never resonated with me.
The success of Girls Aloud, a band formed through a music competition that I did not follow, during my moody teenage years when I preferred to listen to Interpol’s “Specialist” on repeat, is proof of their captivating blend of exceptional music and charming personalities.
The group was not intended to become the standout performers on Popstars: The Rivals, which was ITV and Simon Cowell’s modified version of their previous series, Popstars (where even the underdogs, Liberty X, found unexpected success). The concept of the revamped show was straightforward: the competing boy band and girl band would battle for the coveted 2002 Christmas number one spot.
At first, it appeared that the group with the long and difficult name, One True Voice, would come out victorious. However, their lackluster version of a mediocre Bee Gees album track was chosen as the boys’ entry, while Girls Aloud unleashed their high-energy single “Sound of the Underground” with surf riffs and drum’n’bass beats, along with a gritty music video filmed in an abandoned warehouse. This song reached No. 1 and held the spot for four weeks, solidifying Girls Aloud’s success.
Much of the band’s phenomenal success and longevity – 21 Top 10 singles, four of them No 1s – was, undoubtedly, down to the genius production outfit Xenomania. Responsible for Sound of the Underground (apparently inspired by late-90s dance hit Addicted to Bass and nursery rhyme The Wheels on the Bus), Xenomania, founded by producer Brian Higgins, would go on to become permanent collaborators.
In Higgins’ hit factory (actually a Grade II manor house in rural Kent), he, the group and chief songwriter Miranda Cooper would squirrel away, recording songs as glorious and experimental as Biology (which kicks off with a sample of the Animals, eschews the usual linear verse-chorus structure, and changes direction three times); Love Machine (recorded in 18 parts, melding rockabilly and 80s synth sensibilities); and the frankly batshit Sexy! No No No (electro-punk with a Nazareth sample).
But it’s lesser-known album cuts that hold a special place in my heart. The barmy Miss You Bow Wow on their final album, Out of Control, or its stablemate Love Is The Key, which goes from creepy hymn intro to line-dancing country swagger to a harmonica solo played by Johnny Marr. Or Graffiti My Soul, which sounds like Run DMC and Aerosmith’s Walk This Way performed by Willie Nelson in the Hacienda, then remixed by the Prodigy.
The songs considered “flops,” like Long Hot Summer, still managed to reach No 7 and stood out among the typical chart-topping tracks. Even the songs that were not as experimental, such as The Promise which took only seven minutes to write and the ballad Life Got Cold, were exceptional examples of their respective genres.
However, the female members of the group were essential. While they may have been uncertain at times about Xenomania’s unconventional ideas (Nicola Roberts expressed concerns about “Sound of the Underground” because drum and bass wasn’t popular in their hometown at the time), they contributed greatly to the songwriting process and are credited on four of the top tracks from “Out of Control.” As shown by their beginnings on a talent show, each member had strong singing abilities and unique vocal styles that fit perfectly with Xenomania’s puzzle-like approach.
My admiration for the band extended beyond just their music: these five young women were constantly dealing with the challenges of media scrutiny and internet criticism. Despite the constant threat of invasive paparazzi and negative comments about her fair complexion, Roberts and her bandmates maintained their strong northern (or Northern Irish) personalities, wit, and down-to-earth sense of humor. In 2009, the band was awarded the Twenty Quid Music Prize from Popjustice, a lighthearted but sincere alternative to the exclusive Mercury Prize. Roberts personally showed up at a pub to accept the award.
I have listened to nearly all of the bands that were signed to the indie-grunge label Sub Pop in the early 2000s, but I had never visited Seattle. Although I was a big fan of late 90s hip-hop and had posters of artists on my wall, I wasn’t completely certain which side was affiliated with the Crips. However, I could relate to their use of flat vowel sounds and love for tequila shots. The band’s fashion choices in the 2000s, including small handbags, straightened hair with BaByliss products, and spaghetti strap tops, were unfortunately relatable to me as well.
Their comical appearances on the E4 show Off the Record, and the show Ghosthunting with… Girls Aloud, only further emphasized the idea that one could easily become friends with this group. For example, Cheryl’s complete lack of interest in climbing a hill in Athens just for a view she could see in pictures, or Roberts adamantly refusing to participate in a seance, which is understandable.
I attended four live performances by the band, one of which was their last emotional show as a five-member group in Liverpool. They also played at a unique event alongside Jay-Z and Coldplay at Wembley, where they impressed with their own performance. Despite incorporating popular elements like elaborate stage productions and costumes, their shows remained focused on delivering a strong set list with high energy and a clear passion for their fans, particularly when playing in their hometowns.
The band released a total of five studio albums and two compilations, all of which were certified platinum. They also released two live albums. Despite initial skepticism from mainstream rock publications like NME and Q, who often criticized “manufactured” music, the band gained widespread admiration from fans like myself and Popjustice. They even won over noted tastemakers Pitchfork. In addition to collaborations with Johnny Marr, the band also received praise from other musicians such as Peter Hook, Bloc Party, and Arctic Monkeys. The latter even performed a cover of the band’s song “Love Machine” on Radio 1’s Live Lounge. Throughout their career, I never had a favorite or least favorite member of the band.
After their time in the group Aloud, their careers took different paths. Cheryl achieved success with five singles reaching number one and later became a judge on an ITV talent show. Coyle pursued a solo music career, opened a pub in Los Angeles, and had a memorable moment on television that has since become popular in memes. Kimberley Walsh, known for her calm demeanor, has found success as a stage actor and presenter. Roberts also ventured into solo work, releasing a well-received album called Cinderella’s Eyes which combined electro-pop, disco, and even rap. She also launched her own makeup line.
And then there was Sarah Harding. The vivacious rebel with the cropped blond hair, who’d always worked her arse off whether a college student in Stockport, or a BT call-handler, or a Pizza Hut waitress, or writing a memoir, whose rowdy reputation (“it’s about time!” she yelled upon a Brit awards win) was undercut by her delicate harmonies on, in particular, Whole Lotta History and The Promise. Harding died of breast cancer aged 39, and it is in her memory the 2024 reunion tour is dedicated.
The obituaries for Harding mainly highlighted the turbulent moments in her personal life, which was not a fair representation of her impact on the successful and uplifting pop legacy of Girls Aloud. It is a shame that this was the case, especially since they are set to reunite in May. I am eagerly anticipating their reunion tour and I am determined to attend.