When the Sugababes debuted on the charts with single ‘Overload’ in 2000, the critics loved them. Formed whilst still in education, Keisha Buchanan, Mutya Buena and Siobhan Donaghy were applauded, not only for being capable writers and formidable singers, but also for not being the glamorous and overtly sexual beings that were girl band staples at that time. Arising from a tough London upbringing gave them a rough around the edges look, which translated well into their sound. Although Overload peaked in the top ten and appeared on many critics top ten list, the album that followed initially dented only the top thirty, despite reviews that predicted big things from the band. Interestingly, years after original release, after the group found mainstream success, the album would sell consistently well, eventually shifting over 200.000 copies, good enough for a Gold certification. Although the band carried on promotion for the album, releasing three more singles, none of which replicated the success of Overload, a trip to Japan for promotional purposes ended in disaster. Donaghy, blaming bullying on Buchanan’s part, left the band, leaving the remaining members mid-way through a promo tour, minus a member. The record label dropped the group. Nevertheless, Buena and Buchanun, best friends since school, sought a replacement and a new record deal.
Heidi Range was picked by the girls to replace Siobhan, and the three would immediately set about writing a new album to ship around various record labels. An original member of Atomic Kitten, Range was a strange girl to choose. Although she has a fantastic voice at her disposal, her vocals and appearance were much more fitting to a pop band than Mutya or Keisha. This formation of the group however, worked wonders, as the group were signed to Island Records, and were all set to release their second album in 2002, Angels with Dirty Faces. The lead single, Freak Like Me, which sampled an underground remix of Gary Numan’s Are Friends Electric was lauded by critics as one of the best pop songs ever recorded, and went straight to number one in the charts. The album followed suit, eventually being certified triple platinum, an unusual amount of success for a pop group, and something that had not been seen since the Spice Girls.
2003 follow up album Three did equally well, spawning a number one single, and selling over 800.000 copies in the UK alone. They were the biggest selling UK girl group. Despite their success, the band was plagued by rumours of bitchiness, rudeness and in fighting within the group. Whilst interviews and appearances showed the group harmonious and close enough, Range was the only one who ever looked happy to be in the spotlight. The sullen presence of Mutya and Keisha gave the impression that they were never happy to have Heidi there, them being best friends since school, Heidi being the third wheel. This contributed to the press labelling them ‘moody cows’’ and such. After the success of Three, the band went on a short break, during which Mutya became pregnant.
Late 2005 saw the release of Taller in More Ways, the bands fourth album. Lead single Push the Button was the bands biggest smash yet, and the album followed by debuting at number one, the band’s first number one album. A week after the video for second single Ugly premiered, Buena left the band, citing the bands busy schedule as the reason, due to her not wanting to travel the world with a young child in tow. Within two weeks, a new member was found, Amelle Berrabah. After re-releasing the album with Amelle’s vocals on songs that might become singles, the band was relaunced with Red Dress, which became a top five hit. The press reaction was unfavourable to say the least, but since the band showed no distain towards Buena, and the musical quality remained the same, no huge deal was made of the second line-up change. Their next release was a greatest hits compilation, and although Amelle featured on only four songs, she was displayed on the cover, which angered many fans and amused many critics. On reflection, this was probably the point the band went from being critical darlings to merely a marketable brand.
After a break, the bands fifth album Change was released in 2007. After a lead single that became one of the year’s best-selling singles, About You Now, the album went straight into number one. Although they outsold Girls Aloud that year, follow up singles peaked outside the top ten, and critical opinion was gradually sliding. Follow up album Catfights + Spotlights was a dark period for the band. Entering the charts at number eight and quickly sliding, the album was their lowest selling ever, selling even fewer copies than their debut. Another break followed for the band, in which they travelled to the states to work with new producers, ones that were famous for working with Rihanna, Lady GaGa and Jay Z. September 2009 saw their return with Get Sexy, a club banger which sampled Right Said Fred. Critics were relentless in criticising the sexualisation of the band, but the signs were looking good for the upcoming album when the single peaked at number two. Then, all hell broke loose. After Amelle was rumoured to have left the band, it was revealed in a statement by the band that it was actually Keisha who had gone, to be replaced by former Eurovision contestant Jade Ewen, a move that left no original members in the band. This was allegedly all due to further bullying on Keisha’s part, this time directed at Amelle, something that was ignored by the press in favour of jibes regarding the line-up.
Last Girl Standing
This would mark the end of the bands stance as the best British girl band in the critic’s eyes. Critics and journalists now referred to them as ‘’Sugababes’’, a sly dig at the fact they were essentially a tribute act. The resulting singles featuring Ewen gained the band top ten placing’s, yet the re-recorded album, Sweet 7, bombed, selling only 25.000 copies. To put things into perspective, Catfights, an album that was a well-known flop, outsold sweet 7 six to one. It appeared to everyone that the Sugababes were over.
The band were dropped by Island records, yet managed to sign a new three album deal with Sony, arguably a much better label, one that would ensure promotion and marketing was as effective as possible. Amidst recording their comeback song, ‘Freedom’, it was announced that former member Mutya Buena had successfully won limited rights to the group’s name. Whilst journalists were generally in agreement to this, it is important to note that, although Heidi Range was a replacement, her time in the band amounts to more than that of Mutya and Keisha. Technically the rights to the band should reside with the label who signs the group. After all, Mutya walked away willingly, meaning she should not have any claim to future incarnations of the band. To add insult to injury for the band, there have been rumours the three original Sugababes have been plotting to reform. It is easy to imagine the reformed act would receive much more support from the media then the current line-up. Whilst good luck should be wished to all members and ex members, arguably the only would that would lose in either scenario would be Heidi. She either sits and watches as her band, the one she has served well for ten years, falls victim to the tittle tattle of the media, or she sees the woman she replaced re-join the group she left willingly. It’s ironic that, although the pop world seems to want the original group back together, they did not support them when they were together. It seems that, even though the band is in its eleventh year and fourth line-up, they are still managing to get people talking.
Freedom is released September 25th