The Sugababes Discography Rate

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Also, this:

is not an argument!
Let me put it this way: Promises and Situation's Heavy don't evoke much emotion from me. They're just there, and I probably wouldn't actively listen to them. That's not to say I wouldn't get it if someone else liked them, though!
 
If I could hold you close, like you were never gone...






































And If I'm ugly then so are you...




































Tried to face it all alone, had to find my own way home...



























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Ugly
Score: 7.633

11 x 2
@VivaForever, @supersoon (ΝΝΝΝΝ)

Highest: 10/10 x 11 (@AlexD, @MrJames, @Elysium, @Lost In Japan., @Terminus, @Reboot, @High Heel Feminist, @Conan, @scottdisick94, @Remorque, @Blayke)
Lowest: 3/10 x 1 (@GhettoPrincess)
My score: 8.5/10
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Successful empowerment anthems are a tough gig. They need to have a message or narrative hook general enough to have broad appeal, but one that is expressed with enough specificity that it avoids feeling generic. They need to have good enough production that marries well with the message and, importantly, is fine-tuned enough to have lasting power. And finally, they need to be performed well enough that the message comes off as believable.

“Ugly” is a notable empowerment anthem because it fails most of the criteria above and yet somehow still … works. Its message is, of course, laudable – taking on issues of body image and self-esteeem and conveying the idea that ‘ugly’ is a matter of perspective and one that in the end does not matter at all because of its inutility as a signifier. Yet it’s expressed in such an awkward way. The verses are strong, taking on a narrative bent and describing incrementally the pains of growing, being very much coherent and touching. The chorus, on the other hand, is replete with non-sequitors and missing auxiliaries; the first part of it (“people are all the same”) appears as a statement of fact yet as it goes on it appears to be aspirational instead, which makes you wonder if it’s some sort of normative claim (i.e. “people should be all the same” etc.). The resulting sense of confusion is barely alleviated by the “and if I’m ugly then so are you” closer, which feels like a declaration that doesn’t quite follow. It was apparently written by Dallas Austin in a day after looking at the tabloid cuttings file on the girls he was sent. While intuiting a very empathetic message simply from the darker side of the girls’ press coverage is certainly creditable, the minimal effort expended on the songwriting clearly shows. What really gets me and annoys me to no end is that the chorus could be improved with just a few words (i.e. just one rudimentary take: “if people are all the same / And we only get judged by what we do / Personality will reflect name”).

Likewise, the production attempts to keep up with the breezier pop angle of Taller but is on the whole very basic. The acoustic stylings, with keyboard bits added in and a shuffling synth layered on, while pleasant to listen to, is very much MOR central. It is just about the most ‘pure’ pop song on the album, but that is almost by default as it has no discernible edges, and ultimately, nothing of actual interest from a production perspective.

So why the hell is this so moving? “Ugly” works almost purely because it is sold to the heavens and back by the Sugababes. There’s Keisha, bringing unbridled soul to an account of the hurt of not feeling accepted by virtue of looking different; the shame and guilt springing from the compromises you make in order to feel accepted; and finally the acceptance that comes, not from others but yourself, when you realise security that comes with growing into yourself and the insecurity others have about difference. There’s Heidi, her on-the-edge-of-shattering voice full of the pain of the words being spoken about and against you. Her voice melts into a series of anguished cries which almost arrests the whole song before that final chorus. And there’s fucking Mutya. Emoting the reality of having early insecurity quelled by parental reassurance, and going onto anchor the whole song, particularly with a series of subtly gorgeous adlibs slowly bursting over its conclusion. There’s such a beautiful sincerity to her performance, enough to cancel and render void the lyrical clunkiness and gel perfectly with the feathery musical arrangement.

It’s all the more poignant because, of course, this was the last Sugababes single to feature Mutya. A mere two weeks after its release, she would leave the band. That her swansong as a Sugababe is incredibly at odds with her public image and musical persona (as derived from the many festy, hard-hitting Sugabables singles she helmed), and indeed one that is quite unusual for the band as a whole (having never delved into such explicit empowerment anthem or lightweight pop territories before this), makes the whole package as ill-fitting yet somehow plausible as its chorus (and in an even more time-stamped sense, as the album’s title).

What makes “Ugly” so special in the final instance is that, as clunky as it is, as basic as it is, and as cheesy as it is, it’s still incredibly important to hear women talk about themselves. To hear them address issues of beauty and insecurity and self-worth through the vehicle of pop culture. Because there’s really not enough of it, in pop music or otherwise. It’s even more important to hear women of colour do this. It’s easy to not catch on to it, to ignore it or forget it (especially because the song’s basic aura aids this, as does the band itself never explicitly acknowledging it) but the Sugababes were, for their entire existence through four different lineup changes, a girlband composed of a majority of women of colour. This was rather uncommon for a modern British girlband, especially for one that achieved such a level of fame and success. That came with the downsides of the relentless focus on physical appearance – from the press, fans and the public – that all female celebrities face, but a focus that was quick to turn to racism, especially to embellish their built up personas. “Ugly” is a rebuke to the cries of Keisha’s “hard-nosed” and “flat” features embossing stories of her as the band’s bully and of Mutya’s “ugliness” (“Mutt-ya” etc.) abetting stories of her as the sullen, unsmiling catty one. And later still, it fires back on Amelle’s “boyish” features as cover for her being the unstable, messy band member, or Jade’s “monkey-ish” features accompanying ideas of her as a helpless puppet. The significance of “Ugly” then, speaks volumes in perspective across swathes of time.

And to seal the package, an incredibly lovely video of the last time Mutya, Keisha and Heidi were on screen together. The simple premise of a talent show audition used to quietly upsell the song, with the girls looking absolutely gorgeous and interacting with the auditionees in such endearing ways (watch out for cameos from Mini Mutya and Siobhán). When the last set of harmonies kicks in the final chorus, it’s just this warming glow.
 
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It’s “catchy but a bit cheesy,” for P'NutButter (7.5). Ironheade (7) shows his ability to look beyond just the components of a song in judging its value, “My, but this does have its detractors. It's MOR, it's inane, it's basic, they say. Well, yes, but that honestly doesn't bother me as much as it should. It's a pleasant acoustic pop number with some sparkly keyboards adding a little texture, fine enough, but nothing to get fussed about really. It does have one real strength that lifts it above the mundane, though - even though it's as boilerplate an empowerment lyric as you can get, the girls really dig into the lyric and sell it with all they've got, never coming across as insincere or pandering like these songs all too often can. Not to mention, it's another great performance from Mutya, attacking it with a tough, steely defiance that's pretty impressive and, by coincidence, makes for a rather nice send-off single-wise. See ya 'round, Real Girl.”

acl throws this the low score of a 6 but has a lot of interesting things to say, “I liked this when it came out, the sentiment is nice and they look stunning in the video. I always felt Keisha’s line about doing things that made her ashamed was about Siobhán, which fed nicely in my justification for staning Keisha despite the bullying allegations. In my totally without basis opinion Keisha was sidelined for the more sellable white girl who the Great British general public (Daily Mail reading racist middle England ignorants who vote for the bland white people with no rhythm or soul on x factor) could be comfortable with; and so she became harder and maybe a little ahem forthright. Anyway the song is borderline until Heidi’s middle 8 where it descends into a nursery rhyme so it gets a 6.” Jam (5) is not as generous in score or thought, “Nice enough but a bit ‘meh’. Heidi’s bit sounds great though.”

Heartless londonrain (5.5) sprays my rate with his hateful bile, “This is Dallas Austin blatantly trying to recreate "Unpretty" for the UK pop market, with no writing input from the Sugababes. This is just not a good song – the lyrics are too laboured, and there's nothing special about the production or tune. "Personality reflects name"? Really?” “I blame this for Little Mix,” snarls Filler (4). I myself blame Kelendria Trene Rowland. Hating ass scrub Chanex (3.5) comes up with a TLC reference that’s not “Unpretty” to justify ha hate, “I know logically it's got a great message...but too treacly for my tastes...like unbearably so. Also as a sidebar it sounds a lot like “Damaged” by TLC which is infinitely better.” DJHazey (6) decides that this is where he’s going to draw the line over cheesy lyrics, “The overall message is obviously strong here, but the delivery and some of the lyrics are kind of cheesy, I'm sorry.”

Time does not heal all things for theincredibleflipper (7), “I loved it back then but now it feels very of its time.” uno (7.5) also finds it’s gone off, “I used to love the song, but that was years ago, and I don't think it's aged very well. Still a great song, but I don't feel like it has that Sugababes flair. It's a bit generic.” Mina (7) tries being measured for a change, “A nice sentiment that isn't often expressed in song, but it's brought down by overly simplistic lyrics.”

On the other hand, mrdonut (9.5) finds that time helps one find taste, “When I first heard this I felt as if I should hate its Self-Help ethos and declare it to be a cheesy snoozefest. But over time I fell deeply in love with it, particularly Mutya’s verse and Keisha’s delivery of “taller in more ways”. It has never lessened its grip on me since.” tylerc904 (9) politely serves some tea, “A little trite and basic, but phenomenal still. The video is a fav, the ladies never looked better in my opinion.” PCDPG (8) also loved the video, “A special song, because it's the last single to feature Mutya. I loved how they looked in the music video. All grown up and best friends. The lyrics can be a bit cheesy, but for some reason it works.” Add kal (8) to the pile, “In hindsight, I find this a tad too saccharine. A nice enough song with a cute message behind it. The music video brings it up by a point or two.”

CasuallyCrazed (8) also sticks up for it, “Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, it’s obvious. It’s not “Unpretty” or “Beautiful,” but it’s still a defining self-empowerment anthem for them.” stopthestatic (8.6) also has no dairy intolerances, “I’m all for corny songs with uplifting messages. I also just love how Keisha sings the album’s titular line - ‘I grew taller than them in more ways…’”.” The song sure came in handy for lovely little Runawaywithme (8), “I have always really liked this song, even though it really hasn’t aged very well at all. at the time it was popular I was being picked on in school quite a lot and I was bullied for not being mascuiailne enough and being very girly and different to everyone else so I would listen to this song and make myself feel better and it would sometimes work and I would a little feel stronger. I also think that the girls all sound beautiful on this and genuinely emotive and whenever I listen to it I can’t help but smile, and I think that the band really made it work with their vocals and made it sound genuine, as if another girl band attempted it, it would probably sound cheesy and just a bit shit.”

Berserkerboi (8) goes all in stanning for Mutya, “In the great, diverse and rich catalog that the 'Babes have to showcase Mutya's voice – I, to this day, cannot believe that her verse in “Ugly” is the one to bring tears to my eyes. Even so many years later, her powerful 'They said you're more beautiful and that's the way they show that they wish they had your smile' just arrest me in its splendour. If anyone ever thought Mutya got by just on having such a powerful and unique voice, this just goes to show the character behind it. I did not experience bullying for my looks per se but at a time when I was a little bigger and wanting to look into becoming a model, it certainly had impact. I may have underscored it a bit with an 8 thinking about it now but I have to admit, after Mutya's verse, Keisha and Heidi – especially – do not have the same impact with their bits for me.”

Solenciennes’ (9) defence of the song turns into some bizzaro slash fiction cached straight out the Sugababes fan forum from 2006, “okay, it’s a rip off of TLC’s “Unpretty”, but that doesn’t make it not good and while it’s strange to think this was Mutya’s last single, in that it’s slightly underwhelming as a goodbye, it’s also brilliant that her ‘final word’ as a Sugababe as such was to politely tell everyone who had been calling her a dog for the last five years to fuck off, essentially. It’s a feel good anti-bullying bit of fluff, but there’s a darker side to the song by way of the music video, too. Firstly, Mutya’s new born daughter appears here, serving as an ominous nod to Mutya’s impending departure and the future birth of 3.0. There’s the Siobhán Donaghy lookalike-from-behind watching Mutya, Keisha and Heidi towards the end of the song, another omen that Mutya was about to leave. There’s the endless run of people performing tricks and showing off their talents, in other words, auditioning in front of them (not pictured: Amelle wielding a machete in a Mutya mask). Poor Mutya didn’t know that when people wished they had her smile, they were also wishing to have her job, her voice and her future. You can particularly see it in the eyes of the little blonde girl in green, she grew up to be Mollie from The Saturdays and the four men holding up the chalkboards reading “people are all the same” who grew up to be the rest of The Saturdays. Disturbing stuff.” Quite.

Blayke (10) once again displays his uncanny knack for zeroing in on the exact part of a Sugabop that gets me, “This will always be Mutya’s swan song to me. I remember being devastated because this song was making the rounds and the press release of her departure was out a bit later. The video and song is a bit cheesy but gorgeous enough in its simplicity. Heidi’s middle-8 is fantastic and Mutya’s adlibs to the end of the sound are brilliant. I don’t know if anyone else can hear it but one of my FAVOURITE moments of this song is straight after they first sing “If I’m ugly then so are you” (in the choruses [Ed: in only the final chorus really]) there’s this little “umph/ooh!” noise from Mutya that really gives me life. If you can’t hear it, check out the ‘Suga Shaker Remix’ of “Ugly” and you will hear it repeated constantly in the intro of the remix.”

Constantino (9) is shook enough to discard Ms Vanilla I Scream, “WAIT at this moving me… when will Christina?? Even though I prefer the Sugababes when they’re being edgy and dangerous… this is a really lovely motivational kiss-off bop.” The shrillusive chanteuse gets ha revenge though by ripping off “Overload” with her klepto-hunty Dianne Warren. MrJames (10) recounts that “I remember being so obsessed with this at the time.” As I’ve mentioned before, Taller was when the Babes truly went global (at least in the Western Europe/Asia/Australasian spheres), and “Ugly”, following on from the ridiculously “Push The Button”, was inescapable even in little old New Zealand, reaching #5 to match the #3 it got to in the UK. I, too, of course, was obsessed.
 
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Finally, I’ve mentioned before how one of the most rewarding things about running this rate has been receving and reading some really personal stories and connections with this band’s catalogue. This contribution is right up there in those stakes and made me particularly emotional. It should be a guide, bar and inspiration (in a completely non-intimidating way) for you all to send me at least a few words on what particularly moves you about what these women have gifted us with. So, come the fuck through my queen VivaForever, “Okay, I was going to give my 11 to “Push the Button” for being 1) amazing, 2) my most-played Babes song, and 3) actually iconic. But then I remembered that Ugly was in here, and I was like, okay, that's an easy decision. This song has meant a great deal to me as I transition to female. Hell, it meant a lot to me before I even knew I was trans, and just hated how I looked. (Which, now I look back like, oh, that was gender dysphoria. That's what that was. But at the time I thought I just hated my face.) It really is funny how well some of the lyrics speak to my experience as a trans woman, e.g. the line about 'taller in more ways.' Even outside of the trans thing, it's remarkable how much this song aligns with my own experiences.

It makes me terribly frustrated how underrated this song is on here and in general. I really believe it's because it's one of those songs – Saint Etienne's “Soft Like Me” is another – that men simply cannot appreciate, because they can't understand it, because it's about an experience totally outside their world. I've thought before that if I were ever to get a tattoo, I would want the lyric 'If I'm ugly, then so are you' written in a script font on my side. Sometimes when I'm really struggling I'll write it there in a Sharpie for myself. So in the end, it was no competition. “Push the Button” and “No Can Do” are enormous bops that I will always wholeheartedly adore. “Change”, “Unbreakable Heart”, and “Murder One” have helped me through some really hard times. But “Ugly” is the one that continually helps me through. And like, if it's the song I'm considering having tattooed on me, that's probably a sign it needs to be my 11.”







The short-lived duo Heisha/Keidi (right after Mutya's departure and before Amelle's entry) being introduced by Queen Julianne no less at the Nobel peace Prize Concert.



 
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londonrain

Staff member
I totally agree that Keisha and Mutya sing the hell out of this song - I'm not sure how they could have done any better with the song they were given, and Mutya in particular really shines (and I say this as someone who generally prefers Keisha's vocals to Mutya's).

However this:
The chorus, on the other hand, is replete with non-sequitors and missing auxiliaries; the first part of it (“people are all the same”) appears as a statement of fact yet as it goes on it appears to be aspirational instead, which makes you wonder if it’s some sort of normative claim (i.e. “people should be all the same” etc.). The resulting sense of confusion is barely alleviated by the “and if I’m ugly then so are you” closer, which feels like a declaration that doesn’t quite follow. It was apparently written by Dallas Austin in a day after looking at the tabloid cuttings file on the girls he was sent. While intuiting a very empathetic message simply from the darker side of the girls’ press coverage is certainly creditable, the minimal effort expended on the songwriting clearly shows. What really gets me and annoys me to no end is that the chorus could be improved with just a few words (i.e. just one rudimentary take: “if people are all the same / And we only get judged by what we do / Personality will reflect name”).
is a problem I just can't get over with this song. The production and the singing here are designed to really show off the lyrics and make you listen (as opposed to, say, some of their heavily produced basic bops) and yet Dallas Austin really does feel like he's phoning it in on some of the writing.

For a song so personal, I wish the 'Babes had actually written or co-written this - they could have fleshed out the good bits of the lyrics (basically Mutya and Keisha's verses) and really made this into something truly fantastic instead of this weird rollercoaster of good/bad lyrics as we lurch from the verses to the choruses. "Unpretty" moves me as a song because of how well it's written and how moving the lyrics are, and how effective the message of self-empowerment is, and it irritates me that Dallas Austin couldn't have brought that level of songwriting to the choruses on "Ugly".

@VivaForever, though - I want to stand up and applaud for your write-up. This song isn't for me, but if it had that impact on you then it's clearly justified its existence in this world ten times over.
 
D

Deleted member 3416

Hooray, an elimination I can really get behind. I just think it's way too bland for them even if the message behind it is a good one.
 

londonrain

Staff member
okay I just realised I wrote 1,000 words myself on the fortieth elimination in one sitting and I hope you read it all and its worth it enough to justify the pace which I do know is slow-going because I really cannot do this on the quick and cheap not at this stage okthankyou xx

I wouldn't worry about the pace. Frankly, at this stage I expect every elimination is going to need a page or two of breathing space, just so that whoever has just lost their 11 can vent and recover in time for the next elimination.
 
Ugly came out when I was an awkward, confused, highly unpopular 12-year-old, so I really felt like I could relate to it at the time. I still love the song's message today.
 
Constantino (9) is shook enough to discard Ms Vanilla I Scream, “WAIT at this moving me… when will Christina?? Even though I prefer the Sugababes when they’re being edgy and dangerous… this is a really lovely motivational kiss-off bop.” The shrillusive chanteuse gets ha revenge though by ripping off “Overload” with her klepto-hunty Dianne Warren.

@BEST FICTION

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Solenciennes

Staff member
Ugly is an important song in their discography and while its shortcomings have been detailed by @beyoncésweave with clinical precision I think it really does overcome them by virtue of the sincerity of their delivery. The verses are fantastic; and the chorus is catchy even if it's awful. But aren't most choruses kind of awfully catchy or catchily awful? Anyway, I have a special place in my heart for this song because I think you could really see Mutya shrinking on stage every time they performed it, looking like she was about to cry, and then after she left you could see that Keisha and Heidi had never been closer than they were at that point, determined to overcome the setback of Mutya's departure. So I think on an unconscious level I have a few different understandings of what this song means, that really just exist in my mind as a stan, but they all ride on that wave of positive thinking in the face of other people being cruel.

I like that "hell is other people" quote, which I read means that your worst fears about yourself are mirrored back at you by other people - you wouldn't know if you had any flaws if it weren't for other people making you feel that you had them, whether it's your appearance or your beliefs, because you're you, why wouldn't you be perfect the way you are? This song is a sort of defiant way of reclaiming some self belief when other people are telling you that you're ugly, or wrong, for just being who you are.



TL;DR this song lets me project a lot of ways to fight self doubt onto it even though the actual lyrics only really capture a small part of those sorts of doubts and I'm really glad that they recorded it and I think it's a fitting departing message from Mutya whose awesome talent has always been undercut by people being brutal about her appearance and her background instead of just appreciating the voice.
 
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