Thursday 1 March 2012, 12:36
I have never, and will never, be in a girl group. I don't have the voice, the moves, and certainly not the prerequisite looks. But most of all, because... I'm a boy. Well, more of a bloke, actually.
This fact is somewhat prohibitive when pursuing the actual-girl group dream. But I hoped it might bring an air of objectivity when examining what it's really like to live that dream for BBC TWO's I'm in a Girl Group!
Since the girl group gold rush of the 1950s, three or more girls in matching gowns, with synchronised dance moves and harmonised voices, has been one of pop's sure-fire recipes for success. But along with the stardust and glamour of the fairy-tale life in a girl group comes a whole lot of DRAMA.
In the show, I was keen to explore the personal relationships beneath the polished outward appearance of the groups and have to admit to having been just a tad cynical about how "real" those relationships are, especially in a manufactured pop group.
So we tracked down a sparkling selection of girl group legends from six decades of pop to ask them first-hand what it's really like. These included a Supreme, a Ronette, a Crystal, two Nolans, some Sledge Sisters, three Bangles, a Bananarama, a Spice Girl, an All Saint, two Girls Aloud, a couple of Saturdays, two Pussycat Dolls, and an Atomic Kitten for good measure.
In the re-telling of their stories - some a rags to riches struggle, others an overnight talent show success - there was plenty of heartache, stress and sadness. In fact, hearing of the reality of broken friendships was genuinely moving. For example, Bananarama's Siobhan Fahey's account of her split from the girls who'd become her best friends:
"You go from being best friends to really irritating each other and then not wanting to be around each other and blaming each other for everything... I felt really unhappy, lonely, lost and friendless"
And if the fragile mix of personalities within the band isn't enough of a worry, the outside influence of men or The Man, if you will, looms large in the everyday challenges facing a girl group. From controlling managers and producers...
"He's talented, but he's, he's crazy as a bed bug, you know" (Ronette, Nedra Ross on Phil Spector)
...to the leery gaze of photographers and TV producers (terrible people they are!), it's a constant battle for the girls to be taken seriously as artists and performers. And that's really what the attraction has always been about for all these years... it's the songs and how they're sung that makes these groups great.
Unlike boy bands, girl groups can't rely on the fluttering hearts of the pop-buying public to be a success; it's the same young girls who scream and swoon at the heart-throb boy bands who also buy the most girl-pop records. So the songs have to be of the highest quality.
The Ronettes' Be My Baby is without doubt a contender for the finest pop song of all time, The Spice Girls' Wannabe the most empowering message a whole generation of young British women ever heard, and my own favourite, Cruel Summer by Bananarama, well, that's just a perfect slice of hazy, crazy, youthful yearning for lost love... aaahh... what the girl group does best!
It's not often you see a popular music documentary where the people on screen are almost entirely women, in fact it's practically unheard of (blink and you'll miss the two men who appear in this), so it was a refreshing change for me to interview these feisty and fun-loving women of all ages and I can honestly say there wasn't a diva-like demand from any of them. In fact Kerry Katona even bought our crew a drink... with her own money!
So there are plenty of highs and some painful lows, but the one thing everyone we spoke to agreed on, was that nothing in their lives - the fame, the fortune, even the unlimited shoe budget - can compare to that first moment they stood on stage and thought: "This is it, I've made it - I'm a Star!"
The girl group has the power to make dreams come true. That's a pretty special thing.
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