Are we on the cusp of a girl group renaissance?

Girl groups have already dominated the UK Top 40, along with our CD collections, pub quizzes, karaoke nights and wardrobes (Getty/PA/The Independent)

The year is 2003. Keisha Buchanan, Mutya Buena and Siobhan Doherty of the Sugababes are on the Pyramid Stage in Glastonbury, dressed in matching faded low-waisted jeans, black T-shirts and hoop earrings. They sway their hips from side to side as thousands of sticky-eyed fans sing their lyrics back to them. Its harmonies are fascinating; smooth choreography; unmistakably Noughties style. This is the era of the Great British Girlband.

This weekend, the original Sugababes will reunite on the Glastonbury stage for the first time in 19 years. They are the only UK girl group on the lineup, and are performing just over a month after pop trio Little Mix went on hiatus to pursue a solo career. At first glance, the future landscape of girl groups in contemporary pop looks decidedly flat. Is there any hope of a revival?

Girl groups have once dominated the UK Top 40, along with our CD collections, pub contests, karaoke nights and wardrobe. In 2002, you could turn on the radio to hear Girls Aloud’s “Sound of the Underground,” Atomic Kitten’s cover of “The Tide Is High,” or the Sugababes’ assertive “Freak Like Me.” All the best-selling singles and all the songs that stood for rebellion and good old girl power.

Publicist Simon Jones remembers that time well. How could he not? He has worked with some of the biggest pop bands in the UK: Mis-Teeq, Blue, McFly, One Direction and Little Mix. “The landscape has changed so massively that I don’t know how a group like [Little Mix] would blow up now,” Jones, who runs his own public relations firm, tells me. “We no longer have a massive reality competition that casts TV stars. The X Factor it was a showcase for the nation. Every Saturday and Sunday night, you are building a fan base ready for when you leave the show.” Like clockwork, the final would air over a weekend, with the winner’s single released on Monday: “Everyone would go out and buy it and you’d see these massive amounts of sales.”

When Little Mix won The X Factor finale in 2011, they sold 210,000 copies of their winning single, a cover of Damien Rice’s “Cannonball”. They were the last new female band to break into the UK Top 40. “Maybe for these artists to flourish, we need that kind of platform again,” suggests Jones. At the moment, he would be reluctant to introduce a new girl band to his star-studded roster. Gone are the days when a resource in greatest hits or Top of Pops could launch a new act. “I’ve been offered so much in the last five years that I’ve just said no,” he says. “Because those avenues of launching these acts no longer exist.”

The British wave of girl groups in the nineties and nineties were often manufactured by their record companies. The Sugababes were created in 1998 by Ron Tom, six years after founding All Saints. Mis-Teeq was formed with the help of Louise Porter and her producer Big Out Ltd (at one point including Tina Barrett in its lineup, before joining S Club 7). The future Spice Girls appeared for an audition at London’s Danceworks Studios in 1993, after managers Bob and Chris Herbert placed an ad in hopes of forming a girl group to compete with the boy bands of the time.

Entering a market dominated by solo artists is a commercial and economic challenge, according to Adam Klein, who works with Fascination Management, the label behind Girls Aloud, All Saints and The Saturdays. “It’s easier to make a living selling records and touring when you’re sharing the profits with fewer people and fewer other band members,” he says. “Not to mention the choreography and vocal training often required to refine a group of people who might start out as outsiders on stylish graphics conquerors like Little Mix, Blackpink or Girls Aloud.”

But there is hope. Constantly growing her fan base is FLO, who looks set to take Little Mix’s glowing baton. Formed by Renée Downer, Stella Quaresma and Jorja Douglas, all in their 20s, the trio met at school and bonded over their shared love of singing. But it wasn’t until they met at an audition that they chose to start performing together. Now signed to Island, FLO’s debut single “Cardboard Box” has over four million streams. It’s a very promising start, says Jones. “They stood out because they have really brilliant music and everyone is excited. [about it].” A tale of post-breakup revenge, “Cardboard Box” features vibrant harmonies, captivating solos and the kind of inspiring and empowering challenge that made its predecessors stars.

Sugababes in 2001 (Richard Young/Shutterstock)

Sugababes in 2001 (Richard Young/Shutterstock)

“There’s nothing more powerful than talented women coming together to create music,” group members tell me via email. “We felt like the world really needed a new group making great music – so why not take this into our own hands!” They grew up listening to the Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child, combining their love for both to create a new R&B sound. While the trio admit that breaking into the industry is never easy, the unity of being in a girl group keeps them moving. “We feel grateful to be navigating through the most challenging parts together,” they say. “Being a successful girl group is not easy, but we love what we do and we can only hope that everyone loves our music as much as we do.”

Jones is convinced that there is still great demand for this type of group among music fans. “I think the audience and the appetite are always there,” he says. “The Spice Girls, Sugababes, Girls Aloud and Little Mix all had a dual fan base – lots of girls and lots of teenagers. But at the same time, they have a huge LGBTQ+ fan base.” For Klein, the recipe for success is in a hit single. “It only takes a really great single from a believable band to turn the tide back to girl bands again,” he says. “I am confident that this will happen, and the next great all-female band is undoubtedly just around the corner.”

follow Glastonbury live updates here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.