Girl bands are a pop music mainstay. They’re like the bedrock of pop music. There has been at least one modern girl band (or “girl group”, to get all puritan about it), in a powerful position in pop music since the 1960s and unlike their male equivalents, who are only cyclically successful, the pop landscape is able to sustain numerous girl bands pretty much consistently.
Here’s a handy cheat sheet to the various major label girl bands making ripples and waves in the western pop pond in 2014.
MEMBERS: Normani, Lauren, Ally, Camilla, Dinah
NATIONALITY: All American girls.
ORIGINS: Formed on The X Factor USA after all five members auditioned individually, and went by the name LYLAS (which stands for Love You Like A Sister) and 1432 (which apparently means “I love you too”) before settling on the slightly less cruddy Fifth Harmony, chosen in a fan vote. They were mentored by Simon Cowell and finished in third place.
STYLE: Inconsistant. They’ve run the gamut of prom dresses and over-sized hairbows, the unimaginative and the conservative, before settling on their current “full grown” R&B image that you can see above. The girls range in age from 17-21, but their fanbase are much younger which makes it difficult to know where to shoot in terms of “age appropriate” fashion. Certainly their new look has been polarising among girls in their early teens who are going to find it hard to convince their parents that this is how all their friends are dressing!
SOUND: Also inconsistent. They seemed to be gunning to occupy space on Radio Disney with their abysmally saccharine sleepover anthem ‘Me & My Girls‘ and the Selena Gomez (& The Scene) reject debut single ‘Miss Movin On‘. New single ‘Bo$$‘ however has a much more urban influence, aiming for an ‘Independent Women’ style impact on this generation. With their debut album slated for October, it seems this R&B sound is the one they’re sticking with.
LIVE: They have completed various mall tours plus a run as Demi Lovato’s opening act and are now on the road with Austin Mahone and The Vamps. Of course they’ve proved their worth, through weeks of X Factor performances and it seems churlish not to mention they really can sing.
DESCENDANTS OF: In their previous incarnation, they were basically the US answer to The Saturdays. Now they seem to be shooting more for somewhere between En Vogue and Danity Kane.
RIPPLE OR WAVE?: So far their singles have peaked at #76 and #43, so on first glance, ripple, but anything could happen.
MEMBERS: Simone, Emmalyn, Paula, Natasha, Lauren
NATIONALITY: Emmalyn is Canadian, Lauren is British and the other girls are American.
ORIGINS: A product of Robin Antin’s genius, G.R.L. began life as the replacement Pussycat Dolls, following The Great PCD Mutiny 2011. They went through various line up changes before they became the five piece they are now. Lauren was previously a member of the Paradiso Girls, and featured on LMFAO’s hit single ‘Party Rock Anthem‘. Simone made it to the finals of The X Factor USA, mentored by Simon, but failed to progress further than the first week of live shows.
STYLE: The Skippers to Pussycat Dolls’ Barbies, unthreatening soprano vocals, no sultry tones or excessive runs. Their stage wear is barely there but not sexualised, lots of bold prints and tassels and other things Boys Don’t Like Girls To Wear – think Forever 21 crop tops and torn Topshop denim as opposed to the sheer mesh and leather of their predecessors. They’re a talented group but are being positioned as carefully unthreatening – neon pastels and girly gang playground poses to deflect from the fact that they can sing circles around the competition and kick their legs over their heads, because that’s not very relatable.
SOUND: Explicitly EDM, based on their Pitbull feature ‘Wild Wild Love‘ and current single ‘Ugly Heart‘, which has a country twang to it.
LIVE: They have made the rounds of various festivals and radio roadshows, plus a strong TV promo game. Choreography guaranteed.
DESCENDANTS OF: Pussycat Dolls, obviously, in Atomic Kitten’s wardrobe.
RIPPLE OR WAVE?: Wave, in my personal opinion. It will be interesting to see what the album sounds like, but as a pop prospect they’re the strongest group currently active.
MEMBERS: Leigh-Anne, Jade, Jesy, Perrie
ORIGINS: Another X Factor formed girl group, this time on The X Factor UK. Mentored by Tulisa, they were originally named Rhythmix and changed to Little Mix to avoid clashing with a charity. They were the first group to win the competition in X Factor history and hit Christmas #1 immediately after the show with their cover of ‘Cannonball‘ by Damien Rice.
STYLE: 90s girl group reworked for 2014. High waisted baggy jeans, plaid prints, and exposed midriffs. For the most part they’re pretty cohesive, though they did experiment with forcing strong individual identities towards the beginning of their career, ie. Jade’s bowties and Perrie’s earth child schtick.
SOUND: Pop, with an “on trend” slant to it. Debut single ‘Wings‘ sounded like something from the Hairspray soundtrack, but follow up single ‘DNA‘ was basically a recreation of Katy Perry’s ‘E.T.‘ Now on their second album, lead single ‘Move‘ marked a new sound (think the Destiny Fulfilled album dressed up in TLC clothing) and they’ve now fallen into the vaguely inspiring, girl power anthem trend every single female artist is peddling at the moment, but doing it the most effectively, I think. ‘Salute‘ is a solid attempt at an anthem.
LIVE: Twelve weeks of The X Factor UK, obviously, during which their greatest performance (one that, for me, they’ve never topped) was their cover of ‘Don’t Let Go (Love)‘ by En Vogue. That key change! They then took on the X Factor tour, headlined their own theatre tour in 2013 before graduating to arenas this summer. Stateside they opened for Demi Lovato’s Neon Lights tour at the beginning of the year. Great vocals but an incredibly young crowd – majority primary school age children with their parents.
DESCENDANTS OF: If All Saints and Girls Aloud had babies together…
RIPPLE OR WAVE?: Wave, massive wave – at least here in the UK, and to some extent, Australia. The US is a different story depending on the PR spin you put on it. Their albums have charted top 10 but dropped out pretty quickly and they’ve just cancelled their headline tour there, ostensibly because they need to work on their third album but more probably because tickets were not selling. That said, they are definitely the most successful girl group currently active.
MEMBERS: Asami, Jess, Amira, Shereen
NATIONALITY: British, though Asami was born in Japan.
ORIGINS: Manufactured the old fashioned way through casting calls and auditions, they were launched without the tedious wait period of building an online fanbase and putting out buzz singles and acoustic covers. They were bunged out on schools tour and releasing their debut single ‘Trouble‘ 3 or 4 months later.
STYLE: Ratchet. But in a good way. Bit punky, bit ghetto-fabulous, bit River Island basic. Hair game also strong – two fabulous semi-fros, which may not seem important in the grand scheme of things, but to someone who has the same natural hair texture it’s inspiring to see young girls rocking it, rather than going sleek like their peers.
SOUND: Icona Pop squared. Big, attitudey dance pop songs which are shouted more than they are sung. Their best track is easily ‘Braveheart‘, followed by the Shampoo-esque playground chanting of ‘Trouble’. They should steer well clear of trying to rap, but they’ve carved out a good niche of making dance songs that don’t sound like they’re sung by a girl band.
LIVE: The aforementioned schools tour, all the radio roadshows (they’re basically sponsored by Bauer) and a couple of dates on the Jessie J tour. Their biggest gig however was performing at the Victoria Secret catwalk show alongside Taylor Swift (and if you’re saying “da fuck?” believe me I’m wondering how they got that gig too) They’re not a particularly thrilling live act, truth be told, but they have done a couple of quite good covers.
DESCENDANTS OF: Icona Pop, Sugababes, All Saints and Stooshe all in their DNA.
RIPPLE OR WAVE?: Ripple. Or minor splash. ‘Braveheart’ was a definite hit, but their other singles have underperformed and their album made no real impact. Not a fantastic look for a pop act, but they may find their feet on album 2.
MEMBERS: Una, Vanessa, Rochelle, Frankie, Mollie
NATIONALITY: British and Irish
ORIGINS: Another girl band that were created away from the reality TV cameras, former S Club Juniors Rochelle and Frankie were joined by Irish singer/songwriter Una, Sylvia Young graduate Vanessa and Britney Spears enthusiast Mollie and made their debut as support act on Girls Aloud’s Tangled Up Tour. Since then they’ve navigated the pop mainstream for 8 inconsistent years.
STYLE: High street glam – no stage heels for these girls. The Saturdays have always been dressier than the average girl band, from day one, though never high end or designer. They’re basically like Liverpool WAGs with microphones.
SOUND: Pop in its purest form. Though they have veered more towards dance in recent years, like with the Xenomania produced ‘All Fired Up‘ and current single ‘What Are You Waiting For‘, their best singles – ‘Up‘, ‘Higher‘ and ‘Disco Love‘ – are pop songs in the most traditional sense.
LIVE: The Saturdays have been headlining their own shows for years, selling out theatres to begin with and ambitiously taking on an arena tour in 2011. They are, it has to be said, an abysmal live act. On the off chance you actually get all five members on stage, you have to accept that the vocals might be dodgy, Una might miss her cue, and only Frankie has any rhythm. Lots of armography and hands-on-hips in place of choreography. They do serve an excellent harmony though.
DESCENDANTS OF: They’re basically a poor man’s Girls Aloud. Like, a really, really poor man.
RIPPLE OR WAVE?: Both, depending on which way you look at it. As celebrities, The Saturdays really have things nailed – they have endorsements coming out of their ears, famous husbands, and regular appearances on the pages of Mail Online. As artists, it’s hard to measure their success. After 7 years they finally got their much longed for #1 single, but their latest release peaked at #38 and the 2-4-1 offers have begun on tickets for their Greatest Hits Tour. The problem with The Saturdays is that they have no desire to better themselves as a band, so they’ve always coasted this wave of mediocrity that sometimes hits the mark but, more often than not, does not. Still, they’ve survived for almost a decade so some credit is due to them. Probably more wave than ripple.