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What on Earth Happened to the Girl Band?

I am 11 years old. I strut around the exotic and romantic streets of Essex coated in orange makeup and with no coat on. It is zero degrees. My nails are painted sick-UV green. Who can blame me? It’s the era of The Sugarbabes, Girls Aloud, and aggressive side fringes à la Cheryl Cole.

To my childhood friends and I, the girl band — the holy relic — constituted the spiritual hallmark of our awkward adolescent years. They were everywhere, at every party. They were begrudgingly turned up by my dad in every gossipy car journey. They were splayed in neon glory across our bedroom walls. Whilst shamelessly listening to The Saturdays in the library the other day, I wondered, where did these girl bands go? Who stepped into their shoes? Which women are the Spice Girls of today’s year six disco? It seems there isn’t an obvious answer.

Since the 90s, the girl band has made its presence known in the musical landscape. Bands like Hole, Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland and Bratmobile with their glorious ‘girl germs’ album characterised the RiotGrrrl movement that my older (and much cooler) cousins gushed so endlessly about. These bands paved the way for “girl sound” to hit the mainstream. Enter the Spice Girls. Sporty, Scary, Ginger, Baby, and Posh are to us now just about as recognisable as a bag of PG tips. The Saturdays, Sugarbabes, and Girls Aloud followed suit. But since the dawn of the 2010s, I can only really point to Little Mix to fill the girl band gap. Don’t get me wrong, I could yell the lyrics to Black Magic just as ferociously as the next person, but they haven’t quite stepped into the same spangly pink heels as their predecessors.

While globally, Korean girl band BLACKPINK seem to have come closest to cultivating such a cult following, it’s undeniable that we seem to be living in a girl band void. There is no longer a plethora of mainstream and exclusively girlish bands to dance to in your bedroom.

I think that the way in which we as consumers have stumbled into music has changed radically over the last decade. Social media obviously plays its usual manic role in this. A revolving door of gazillions of small bands pop up and die all the time on explore pages, threads, and (if they have daddy’s money) sponsored posts. But they are all scroll-past-able, or skip-able on Spotify. No longer do we, as consumers, have to sit through the length of a song that’s being spun on radio, or gaze through the length of a TV ad. We can quickly dismiss emerging music now in a way that was never possible before. It sends marketing music into disarray.

Smaller emerging girlbands now seem to fall flat as they are marketed as single 2D units. Compare this to the individual identity of each spice girl. We all knew which girl we were; we spent hours discussing it. I was always Baby, my best friend always Sporty, our English teacher always Posh. This isn’t something we can do so easily now. There seems to be a lack of relatability to the meticulously marketed girl bands of today. Part of the appeal of the 90s/noughties girl band was their grottiness. I’ll remind you here of the absolute anarchy seen in the famous ‘Girls Aloud go Ghost Hunting’ TV endeavour. These girls asked us to take pride in the utter lawless carnage that is being a girl. This sense of fun and play was felt so ardently in their marketing. I’m not sure what we’re being told, or indeed what we’re looking to be told by the girl bands of today.

If it is true that in music we can see our society reflected back at us, it is concerning that we are left without a big girl band at all. The return of “girlsound” is essential. Dig a girlband up on Spotify. The 11 year olds need it.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

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