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Black Sky Thinking

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?

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.