Unless you have been living under a rock, you will probably be aware that the original Sugababes line-up, Mutya, Keisha and Siobhan, are due to be releasing new music this year. Regardless of whether they want to or not, they are unable to use the name of the band they founded (unless for stationery purposes), and thus are using the moniker MKS. March saw the release of a buzz-track, lapped up by discerning music blogs and Radio 1, among others. We still await the release of a proper single, and presumably an album will follow.
Meanwhile, the band somehow still known as Sugababes, Heidi, Amelle, and Jade, are in a state of limbo worse than Girls Aloud circa 2009 – 2012. Their last scheduled single release, August 2011’s Freedom, was cancelled due to lack of interest. No-one can really remember how the song goes, and since then they have been doing very little, other than turning up in bizzare Spice Girl replacement rumours (Heidi), demeaning themselves on crappy ITV shows (Jade), and getting into Twitter wars with the equally desperate Rita Ora (also Jade).
It seems relatively certain that the Sugababes (4.0) are finished, whilst MKS are able to cast themselves as both the actual and moral victors in this battle, denied the right to the name of the band they started when they were 12, and having their legacy tarnished. But isn’t this a loss to pop music? Don’t we, as poplovers, deserve more?
The last three singles actually properly released by the Sugababes were Get Sexy, About A Girl and Wear My Kiss. We equally admire and abhor the Sugababes for releasing these singles. First we will explain why we abhor this single run. At one point the Sugababes were producing a very definite brand of pop music. Classics such as Push The Button, Round Round, Freak Like Me and Stronger were effortlessly cool, distinctly ‘Sugababe’, and unlike any other pop music around at the time or since. The magic slowly started to seep away, with the Comic Relief collaboration with Girls Aloud being a particularly low point in both band’s discography. Just as all seemed lost, About You Now was not only a bonafide smash hit, but a bonafide Sugababes classic too. All seemed to be back on track. A murky Catfights and Spotlights campaign later, the highlight of which was the Boots syndication deal, and after announcing an A & R deal with Roc Nation, the girls went decidedly ‘American’ with their sound, much in the same way The Saturdays are currently transitioning their sound. Get Sexy, About A Girl, and Wear My Kiss, are prime examples of American “dance pop”. They are generic, (About A Girl using the hottest pop producer of 2009, RedOne, famed for ‘Just Dance’ and ‘On The Floor’) uninspiring, artistically unoriginal, and about as ‘anti-Sugababe’ as it is possible to imagine. But they are also actually the best single run the Sugababes have had since 2002’s Freak Like Me/Round Round/Stronger. (We never liked Red Dress very much, otherwise we would accept Push The Button / Ugly /Red Dress as a good single run.) Wear My Kiss in particular is a song which we think could happily chart in 2013. It still sounds fresh to our ears, and reached #7 in the UK charts, a lot higher than Girls Aloud’s last single release.
So why have we reached a point where the Sugababes are not releasing new music? Working with the right producers, considerable results could still be achieved. The problem completely stems from brand mismanagement. The popular line of argument, particularly among MKS fans, is that putting Jade in has ruined the Sugababes. The band should have called it a day when last original member Keisha left. This line of argument often concludes that the chart-buying public don’t want the Sugababes any more. They point at the non-release of Freedom as evidence of this. There are many problems with this argument. Firstly, in 95% of the public’s eyes, Heidi is an original Sugababe. Until MKS reared their heads, many had simply forgotten that Siobhan had ever been in the band. And it’s easy to see why, with 5 UK number 1s, and an additional 11 UK top 10s achieved since Siobhan left the band. Secondly, the public sent Wear My Kiss, the last single actually released by the band, to the UK top 10. Amongst fans of Girls Aloud, it has been propositioned that a large reason for those girls calling time was because of the lukewarm reception to their last single, ‘Beautiful Cos You Love Me‘, and lacklustre tour and album sales. Yes, it would be delusional to think that Freedom wasn’t meant to serve as a hit single. But labels get it wrong sometimes. The problem lies with the song, not the girls. It’s a bad song with little discernible melody. Let’s not pretend that these kind of disasters never happen in the popworld. The Saturdays’ second album flopped so badly that the label had to rush release an EP, delete said album from digital stores, and rent in Flo Rida, to save the girls’ careers. Stooshe have delayed their album release multiple times, citing having the wrong material on the album.
No. The way we see it, the Sugababes have two main problems.
1. Sugababes 4.0 shouldn’t be called the Sugababes.
This is a point we agree with MKS fans on, but our reasoning is probably different. The Sugababes are not (or should not) be releasing the same type of music that the Sugababes were once famed for, and thus the Sugababes brand was built upon. This isn’t about damaging a legacy so much as common sense. An awful lot changes in 13 years, and the management shouldn’t be afraid to recognise that. By releasing anything else as ‘Sugababes’, they are essentially trying to pass off mutton as lamb. Presumably the reason the management have kept the name is because it’s a valuable asset, particularly in European markets where the last charting single would have been ‘About You Now.’ However the asset is being devalued both by MKS’s upcoming release and the inactivity of “The Sugababes”. Yes, letting go of the name would be in many ways wiping the slate clean. The girls would have to work hard to promote new material and grab the media’s attention; additionally they would have to curb how many “Sugababes” songs they sing at appearances, certainly any pre-3.0 ones. But this is what is needed to reignite the public’s interest in the band.
2. Jade Ewan? You chose the wrong girl…
The Sugababes, and their success, always relied on the mix of the vocals and in particular the way the girls’ voices contrasted from and complimented one another. Mutya is, of herself, distinctively Sugababe – much, much more so than Heidi, Keisha or Siobhan ever have been – and yet Amelle proved herself a more than capable replacement, the reason being because her voice sat nicely alongside Heidi’s and Keisha’s on record. Whilst Jade Ewan is a stunningly talented vocalist, she is the Nadine Coyle of the group. But a group like Sugababes has relied on there being equality between the members; there never was a Nadine Coyle in the Sugababes. Boot out Jade (the public won’t mind this if it comes along with dropping the Sugababes name) and find someone who actually fits the group. Of course, Keisha leaving the band all happened so quickly that the label and management were in a rush to find any old replacement. This time, they should take their time and find someone who can sing with, rather than on top of, Heidi and Amelle.
So really, we suppose we have come full circle. We would quite like a three-piece girl band with Heidi, Amelle and somebody else to still be in existence Everyone would know that they were the Sugababes, but they wouldn’t call themselves that. Musically, their output would fall somewhere between ‘Wear My Kiss’, ‘What About Us’ (The Saturdays) and ‘Shine Ya Light‘ (Rita Ora). They (and MKS) would share the same management and record label, and would benefit from an epic chart battle by both releasing huge comeback singles on the same day. This is our ultimate Sugababes dream, but we know it will never happen. Pop, you are a cruel mistress.