Flashback to 2000 – Britney Spears was still a virgin (pfft), Christina Aguilera was not yet dirrrty and bands like Spice Girls and NSYNC ruled the airwaves. Pop music was formulaic, clean, wholesome and – let’s be honest – a little boring. Then three average looking, moody teenage girls from Kingsbury in London decided to give it a crack. Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan and Siobhan Donaghy founded the Sugababes in 1998 and released their first single, ‘Overload’ in 2000. The song’s elegant fusion of pop and electronic influences over an R&B beat, paired with a simplistic video, separated the girl group from the pack and provided the foundation for a British pop institution that still exists today. Except for that the Sugababes today consist of three different members. Awkward.
In Australia they are probably best known for their 2005 summer hit, ‘Push the Button’, but in the UK they have survived seven albums, multiple tours, and three line-up changes. First to go was Siobhan. Originally pitched as the lead singer, jealousy and infighting between the girls lead to Siobhan leaving the group during a promotional tour through Asia. It was reported that during an interview she excused herself to the toilet, left the building and booked the first flight back to Britain. This is obviously a lesson in why you shouldn’t trust redheads. They quickly replaced her with the blonde Heidi Range and subsequently released their sophomore album, Angels with Dirty Faces.
This is when the ‘babes, if you will, truly hit the big time. Whilst their first album One Touch was a critical darling, it underperformed in the UK, and their next three singles all missed the top 10. Conversely, their first two singles with Heidi, the epic ‘Freak Like Me’ and ‘Round Round’ when straight to number 1. This all sounds good right? Except that Heidi brought very little to the table creatively. Whilst this allowed Mutya and Keisha to truly shine, it also allowed the music to become formulaic. Mutya would take the first verse, Keisha the second, and Heidi was let out of the cage every now and again to sing the final bridge. More than that, Heidi had the nerve to actually smile in interviews and not be difficult. This just made the others look like bitches, causing more infighting and Mutya later admitted that she simply pretended Heidi wasn’t there when she first joined the band.
Miraculously, this line-up survived two more albums, 2003’s Three and 2005’s Taller in More Ways before Mutya Buena called it a day. She claimed that she wanted to spend more time with her baby daughter but within 18 months she had a solo record out. Within a year she was a ‘celebrity’ on UK’s ‘Celebrity Big Brother’, illustrating why you shouldn’t lie to get out of pop groups. She was replaced with Amelle Berrabah, a sexy, rough-around-the-edges girl with similar heritage to Mutya. It soon became apparent that the Sugababes were turning into just another girl band, by being replaceable and relying on their looks and songs other people wrote in order to remain successful. Their 2007 album Change (geddit?) produced only one hit single, ‘About You Now’, written by hit-maker for hire Dr. Luke. Keisha, being the sole original member left, tried to take back control by writing the majority of the sixth album, Catfights and Spotlights without the other two girls, but could not produce a single megahit.
In 2009, their record label decided to outsource the writing and production of the babes’ 7th album Sweet 7 to Roc Nation, Jay Z’s record company. Now the girls had lost all say in their career, causing even more fractions to form within the destabilising pop group. Amelle started skipping gigs and eventually forced their managers to pick between herself and Keisha. Hmmm… the difficult sole original or the pliable, gracious newcomer? Clearly a hard choice. Keisha was booted out and replaced with Eurovision starlet Jade Ewen. To quote a current cultural fad, this is 50 shades of just wrong.
Fast forward three years, the Sugababes are without a record contract and are on “hiatus” until the “time is right” to release their eighth album. Sure. The good news is that the three original members have reformed under the new name Mutya Keisha Siobhan. Crap name, but they’re working on material with some of the best in the industry, including Xenomania, Emeli Sande and Cameron McVey, who helped pen ‘Overload’. Whilst no material has been released yet, NME writer and webmaster of the PopJustice website reports that it is “officially not shit”, which in PopJustice terms means “life-changing, epic pop music”.
The girls are now in their mid-late 20s, reasonably attractive without being supermodels, and all have had unsuccessful solo careers. This again separates them from most of the other girl groups around, a promising start to a career that will hopefully last more than one album and, thanks to that hideous name, not go through any line up changes. With the pop music world again looking formulaic, wholesome and bland thanks to the likes of Bieber and David Guetta, we again must look to these three girls to save the pop universe from itself.
Don’t fuck it up.