Maybe the best post on the whole forum, ever?? And yas at you including Last Goodbye in the opening paragraph (I listened to every one of those songs as I clicked), one of my favourite non-Suga girlgroup ballads ever.On the eve of our finale, one last polemic:
THE GREATEST GIRLBAND
There’s something about girlbands, isn’t there?
From beats of pure joy; to heart pounding, mind altering stompings; to moments of pure bliss; to hair-raising high notes; to grimy body pulverisations; to sequences of perfect coordination; to moments of wistful meaning; to growls of steeliness; to instants of forlorn chic; to mind clasping pulsations; to grooves of concrete power; to flashes of performative empowerment; to even to those pure vanilla thrills – the pure spectacle of seeing a collective of women singing, performing, harmonising in synchronicity has thrilled homosexuals and other humans since the Ancient Greek Choruses.
This is also precisely the reason why girlband fandom is so messy, and why every single thread for a girlband on this forum, without fail, turns into a clusterfuck. At some point or the other, the appreciation turns swiftly into comparison, between bands and within bands. Most of this comparison, if the messeries you can observe on this forum alone are to go by, is conditioned by the horrendous misogyny – and more often than not, the racism – that constricts women working in the music industry: the obsession with physical appearance, norms of how talent should be displayed and gendered standards of acceptable behaviour. But there are general metrics with which these things can be judged: vocal ability, performing skills, songwriting quality, and so on, mixed in with such mess which often makes those conversations hard to disengage from, even as they spiral into horror.
By most of these metrics, the Sugababes come off tops against most other girlbands. But this is not a space to engage in such comparisons. It’s a rote, reductive and often unnecessary way to engage with music, and with girlbands in particular. Besides, as “objective” as one might try to be, these things are invariably coloured by preferences and prejudices.
So this argument is entirely subjective. This rate has covered the comprehensive breadth of the Sugababes’ discography and its sheer range: from pure pop to R&B-lite to grimy R&B to urban power R&B to dance pop to pop rock to neo-soul to smatterings of UK garage and downtempo thrown in for good measure. To match, the vast array of songwriting topics, from romantic complications and relationships – early crushes, full blown love, breaking hearts, having your heart broken, and when relationships turn toxic – to sex – being sexual and negotiating sexual relationships and discovering what you like – to finding empowerment – in your body to in the self – and beyond – familial relationships, the music industry, dealing with death, finding contentment.
What makes the band superlative is the flipside of this whole gamut: the Sugababes encompass the widest scope of feeling. From pure joy to contentment to bliss to empowerment to deepest despair; there are songs for those moments of euphoria, of grief, of being in the throes of depression, of being indelibly in love, of being horny, of being alone and of being at peace. That, undoubtedly, is a more expansive emotional scope than what any girlband has attempted, before or since. And it’s the thing that ties the whole discography together. They make you feel so much. For me, that’s the clincher.
Beyond this, and if more substance was needed, the Sugababes are a remarkable case study of the pop music conception of the girlband. I’ve documented the band’s many, many ructions over the years; and at their core, the fascinating phenomenon of a band replacing itself cleanly over a decade. There’s undeniable philosophical interest there, for sure, but even beyond this, there is instrumental interest. The Sugababes are a glaring, prickly, textured example of the highs and lows the music industry produces, particularly through women. The projection of immeasurable talent, and the equal tearing down of that talent. The creation of such camaraderie, partnership and mutual reinforcement of musical ability; and the fostering of the toxic conditions to destroy those relationships. The generation of such commercial success so as to be able to reach so many people, within a socioeconomic construct that works only to profit off that connection and nothing more. And the platform provided to induce so much emotion in people, and the denial of the very same humanity to the women producing those triggers.
What makes the Sugababes so absorbing is, in the end, the combination of the two: that despite all those raptures – through member departures and dismissals and record label droppings and commercial failures and critical beatings – they were able to induce feeling, over and over and over again. That a succession of six women – four of them of colour and across three lineups always composed of a majority of women of colour – for over a decade, braved the worst of the industry to somehow draw out its best. And in the end, create a body of work that contains magnitudes of the human condition, and a sparkling, living sense of everythingness.
On the strength of all of that, then, there really is no argument.
The Sugababes Discography Rate concludes tomorrow, on Thursday 11 May.
There’s a beautiful symmetry to this. Two songs that bookend the band’s most iconic lineup. That is so chronologically, “Freak Like Me” being its first track on record and “Ace Reject” almost its last. It is so genre-wise, both being arguably the two finest examples of R&B/Pop produced by the band, one approaching it from the R&B angle and the other the pop one. And it’s the most certainly the case in terms of musical ingenuity, both being masterclasses of invention that broke entirely new ground for the band. You could argue that both are mere production showcases, being vehicles for two of the or the two most vital British pop producers of the decade. But that undercuts the band’s effervescent contributions severely and unjustly. Both are entirely deserving winners that define the band’s worth and stand as pop music monuments.
And one will win.