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Girls Aloud: Death Of A Pop Band?
Matthew Horton , June 10th, 2009 08:16

They might not be sprouting the facial hair that's the usual sign of a pop group going down the lavvy but, asks Matthew Horton, is it all over for Girls Aloud?

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On May 3rd 2009, 'Untouchable' — the nineteenth single from chrome-limbed, TV-spawned pop goddesses Girls Aloud — peaked at No.11 on the UK Singles Chart. For more than six years, each of the peerless girl group's 18 single releases had pouted and preened effortlessly into the Top 10, whether they were magical ('Biology') or mundane ('I'll Stand By You'). Anything less was unthinkable.

So what's the fuss? It was the third single from a double platinum album, and these days only Rihanna, Ne-Yo, the hardest-nosed US r'n'b playas can flog a long-player until it bleeds its blandest dregs. Girls Aloud understand the mayfly affections of the pop fan, batting out an album every year or so, keeping sound and lippy fresh, rarely spreading themselves too thin. And yet — Sound Of The Underground's third single reached No.3, What Will The Neighbours Say?'s third made No.2, Chemistry's 'See The Day' topped off at nine in a fierce Christmas market. . . .

'Untouchable' is Out Of Control's epic, a nearly-seven-minute monster (admittedly curtailed for the attention-deficit radio edit). The single was released on the eve of a grand UK tour. It was premiered at the semi-finals of ITV's Dancing On Ice in front of slack-jawed millions. The girls descended from the rafters on wires, goddammit! It was supposed to be a hit. It wasn't. Call the cleaners — the party's over.

Before you start saying that chart stats aren't everything, let's look at the pedigree. Throughout hit parade history, the nation's favourite pop bands have found that first slip out of the Top 10 awfully hard to arrest. Only Brummie bloodymindedness has kept Duran Duran on the fringes of recognition since 'Skin Trade' posted a disastrous 22 in 1987, bringing a run of 10 Top Tenners to a resounding squelch. Unsettling Scots trillers Bay City Rollers also notched 10 in a row before 'It's A Game' waded to No.16, and they barely troubled the scorers again. As for Bros, within weeks of 'Madly In Love' sloping down the chart from its miserable No.14 summit in 1990, Mrs Goss forgot she'd ever even had twins.

So much for the numbers. The relative failure of 'Untouchable' coincides with other tell-tale factors: incessant, niggling split rumours; extra-curricular activities; Nicola Roberts becoming so translucent she might as well not be there. 

They've each got one manicured toe in the escape pod. Queen Of Our Hearts Cheryl Cole has feathered her nest now with moist-mascara'd turns on The X Factor, and Nadine Coyle has pinpointed exactly what the US needs: a range of Irish theme bars. Sarah Harding's flirting with solo mediocrity, Nicola's obviously disappearing and Kimberley Walsh — well, no one notices poor Kimberley anyway.

Again, it was ever thus with once-rock-solid pop monarchs, from The Beatles to, er, Boyzone, taking in Take That along the way. Someone always kicks against the walls of the prison. It's possibly not an immediate worry for Girls Aloud, but facial hair is normally the first clue: the advent of John Lennon's moustache marked the first rumblings of discontent with the Fab Four; Shane Lynch's excessive tonsorial furniture could never have rubbed along happily with clean-cut Ronan Keating and the lads; even Robbie Williams' experiments with the fizzog fungus mark a watershed for the 'That. Most people date the demise of Take That Mk I to Williams' gap-toothed gurnings over various Gallagher shoulders at Glastonbury in 1995, but the rot surely set in with his audacious sideburns in the 'Back For Good' video. These, allied with Howard Donald's beard and crusty locks, showed a previously scrubbed-up band cracking at the wispy seams.

On September 20th 1969, John Lennon told the rest of his band he was leaving — and he didn't even have a lucrative reality TV contract to fall back on. Not only that, but the shocking No.4 peak of 'Something'/''Come Together' was still weeks away. If there wasn't enough putty to hold The Beatles together, what hope for Girls Aloud? With a mammoth tour just wrapped up and their place in pop's firmament secure, this wouldn't be the worst time to call it quits.

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Andrew Richardson
Jun 11, 2009 8:56am

Firstly, Untouchable is their 21st single, not their 19th. They have a record breaking 20 Top 10 hits - more than any girl group ever in every worldwide chart. Only The Supremes can claim more and that's in the US Country Chart not the Billboard Hot 100.

It premiered on the aforementioned TV show well over a month before it's release and had no other promotion whatsoever and no gimic to sell it. Take That and Sugababes have both followed singles charting much lower than this with #1s so it clearly doesnt spark the end, especially when they've just completed their largest, sell-out arena tour to date.

Nicola is actually working on her line of Danity Doll cosmetics whilst Sarah is looking at acting roles at stars in 'Freefall' on the BBC in coming weeks just to correct a couple more errors. Nadine is working on solo material with EMI as well.

They have a support slot with the biggest band in the world (Coldplay) in September and have signed up for a few more albums when they return in 2010. It's not over yet and even if it was, their success is overwhelming and it's a pity it took so many people years to realise what countless fans did way back in 2002!

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Matthew Horton
Jun 11, 2009 10:40am

I honestly hope you're right, Andrew. Wouldn't have given them the time of day if I didn't love them so. Mind you - where are you digging up the extra hit? I discounted the Sugababes charity clash, sure, but I'm struggling with a 21st. Cheers.

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Jun 11, 2009 1:39pm

In reply to Matthew Horton:

I'm not sure why you insist on eschewing the duet with Sugababes... by that logic any duet ever recorded wouldn't count towards any artist's chart history, and high-charting collaborations between Mariah and Whitney, George and Elton, Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse would have to be discounted also...

However, whether you choose to count it or not, you're still missing a hit. GA have released 21 singles to date. 20 were Top Ten:

"Sound of the Underground"
"No Good Advice"
"Life Got Cold"
"The Show"
"Love Machine"
"I'll Stand by You"
"Wake Me Up"
"Long Hot Summer"
"See the Day"
"Whole Lotta History"
"Something Kinda Ooooh"
"I Think We're Alone Now"
"Walk This Way" (with Sugababes)
"Sexy! No No No..."
"Call the Shots"
"Can't Speak French"
"The Promise"
"The Loving Kind"

The liklihood of continued success should not be questioned simply because one song narrowly missed out on a place in the Top Ten. As Andrew Richardson has already stated, there was a lack of promotion between the Dancing on Ice appearance and the physical release. It was an ambitious move to release anything around the time of the tour, because clearly the onus is on producing and rehearsing a huge arena spectacular, and not doing the usual TV spots to pimp out the single.

The hiatus is the end of a chapter, and it will doubtless engender hundreds of articles like this one. However, I suspect that the release of the next studio album in Autumn 2010 will have any doubters eating their words...

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Matthew Horton
Jun 11, 2009 3:11pm

You're absolutely right, I think I missed 'The Loving Kind' in my tally - no idea why. Possibly to do with it poking its head into the Top 40 before re-entering on full release.
Anyway, OK, one slight slip in chart position might not confirm The End but it's a jump-off point for debate, right?

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Luke Turner
Jun 11, 2009 10:49pm

I think Girls Aloud are perhaps the only truly incredible singles-based pop band Britain has produced in years, but will the public really stick around beyond the current pause to see what's up? I'm not sure. Surely the fact that Cole went from "racist toilet attendent-beater, footballer's wife beard" to dewy-eyed pop Mother Theresa of the nation is an indicator of how fickle the pop market is? For when you've got someone like La Roux coming through, who has done an album that's consistent in a way Girls Aloud could never manage, will anyone care in 2010?

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Jay Shore
Jun 14, 2009 2:03pm

As an avid fan of Girls Aloud and the music charts, here are my views.

The comparison between 'Untouchable' to previous 'third singles' I found to be a little weak.

'Life Got Cold' - this was the first release after debut album Sound Of The Underground came out; said album had only sold around 100,000 copies when Life Got Cold charted at #3.

'Love Machine' - I assume you're counting Love Machine as the third release from What Will The Neighbours Say?; this album had not yet been released when Love Machine reached #2.

'See The Day' - this single came out just a fortnight after the release of the Chemistry album.

With these three releases, in 2003, 2004 and 2005 respectively, the charts were 100% physical CD based (for the exception of 2005 when download sales were included). Single sales were at their lowest over these years, and it was generally a less competitive time for popular acts.

Over the last two years the charts have become much more competitive, with over 99% of the sales being made up of downloads and overall sales sharply increasing. This is the chart climate Untouchable falls in.

'Untouchable' - this was the second single released after the Out Of Control album hit stores. This album had sold over 700,000 copies by the time Untouchable was released. Considering this, plus hardly any promotion for this single, I was personally quite surprised that Girls Aloud managed to chart as high as #11! Indeed, Untouchable has already outsold a few of Girls Aloud's previous singles, so it's not all bad. A shame that the Top 10 run was broken indeed, but I don't feel this spells the end!

With Girls Aloud having just experienced one of the biggest highs of their career (with the double Platinum album and sell-out arena tour), I don't think 'Untouchable' charting at #11 is suggestive that the end is nigh.

As a side note, other major pop acts have dipped out on Top 10 recently: The Pussycat Dolls - I Hate This Part, #12. Take That - Up All Night, #14. McFly - Do Ya, #18. Boyzone - Better, #22. Sugababes - No Can Do, #23.

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Marcello Carlin
Jun 16, 2009 11:40am

There's a tendency for chart statistics to conceal deeper truths.

Regardless of chart positions and sales Girls Aloud were driven into a creative cul de sac two years ago by their writers and producers. Everything that Xenomania did with GA up to and including the Chemistry album was brilliant, punchy, inventive, insolent and dynamic. Since then they seem to have got lazy, or worse, fallen into the old trap of "they were great until they thought they were great."

The tunes, production and, worst of all, Miranda Cooper's Scrabble lyrics on their last two albums have been dire, cliched and frequently senseless - "Here I am, walking Primrose" might be about Sarah Harding's dog but (a) so what and (b) so tedious have GA become that it's not worth knowing in the first place. Structurally their songs are now a mess, lashing out like a decapitated octopus in desperate need of a compass. I wonder how well Out Of Control would have done without the X Factor factor. But their only hope now is getting rid of Higgins and his tired hands and finding new and better inspiration.

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David Harrison
Aug 20, 2009 6:08pm

What is the collective noun for a gang of birds in latex ?

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