One of my favourite hobbies in the early years of 2000 was trolling the pages of Channel 4’s Planet Sound music page on Teletext. Every week I’d write in and upset people with my eloquent displays of bitchy brilliance. Oh yes, I enjoyed it. My favourite technique was to write really long letters praising Girls Aloud in the knowledge it would upset the Pete Doherty fans. Girls Aloud, I’d say, are The Beatles of British girl groups. There was only one problem with my grandiose statement: most of the regulars were fans of Girls Aloud. Or, at the very most, didn’t mind them.
There was, at one point, a barrier between pop music and indie/alternative rock. Poptimism and Rockism existed against each other, but somehow, very slowly it all started to change. Annie was quite rightly being praised by Pitchfork. Robyn proved a pop artist could succeed on her own terms despite a past as a manufactured pop product. The original Sugababes had released a critically adored debut. But Girls Aloud? They weren’t just manufactured, they were manufactured on live television in front of studio audiences. But that’s what made them so remarkable. The British public, me and you and others just like us, put Girls Aloud together. Cheryl, Nicola, Nadine, Kim, and Sarah. I voted for them. I’ve always believed a record company could never create Girls Aloud. They would put together a group like The Saturdays instead. Girls Aloud belonged to everyone and that’s why I loved them so much. That and the small fact Betty Boo and The Beatmasters worked on their debut album before Xenomania became the sixth member of the group.
At some point – and I can’t specifically pin-point it – Girls Aloud became the pop groups of choice for alternative artists. Klaxons loved them. Patrick Wolf praised them. Arctic Monkeys covered them. The Streets admitted he listened to them. Somehow, against the odds, Girls Aloud became…dare I even say it…cool. Julie Burchill even wrote about them, praising their uniquely weird sound. Pantyliner punk, she said. I agreed.
Girls Aloud’s third album Chemistry arrived in 2005 when I was planning my harassment of Planet Sound’s letter pages. It was heralded by a new single called Biology. Now…how do I explain a song like Biology? Structurally, it sounds like three songs smashed together. Radiohead might do something as avant, but this was Xenomania, brimming with confidence and in the mood to experiment. Either that or they just didn’t give a shit because radio wasn’t playing them. Whatever the reason, it was Biology as the lead single, the most unlikely hit single ever. Yet it reached the Top Ten. That, more than anything, was the greatest strength of Girls Aloud: they could sneak the weirdest pop songs into the charts, Trojan Horse style. Songs like Sexy! No No No (which sounds like something Alec Empire might unleash on DHR) and Something Kinda Ooooh were implausible hits. This was the price to pay for all the cover songs Girls Aloud put out: the safe and reliable hits (See The Day/Jump/I Think We’re Alone Now) helped usher the quirkier songs into the charts.
I’ve always said the first eight minutes of Chemistry sounded like an emergency broadcast from the future. Intro > Models > Biology remain pop in excelsis. The magnificence of these eight minutes remain undimmed by the years. Chemistry is still my favourite Girls Aloud record. Yes, it has the okay cover song (See The Day) and the ballad (Whole Lotta History) but it also has Swinging London Town, Long Hot Summer (much better than I remembered), Wild Horses, Racy Lacey, and It’s Magic. The cover photograph of the album is crap, let’s be honest. It doesn’t even hint at the brilliance on offer. A loss to the world, I thought.
The following album, Tangled Up, came after Girls Aloud scored a career changing hit in Something Kinda Ooooh. It was a far more assured sequel, though it lags in the second half. Chemistry edges it out simply for those first eight minutes, though there are some days when I prefer Tangled Up to Chemistry. These albums wage a violent battle for my affections with Chemistry usually winning.
My reign of terror came to an end on Planet Sound’s letter pages when the service ended in 2009. No more Rebecca Nahid. Farewell Peter Pinsent. Ta ta John Earls. The past always seems different in hindsight, a film you watch with all the bad bits cut out. The good bits stay strong even in their absence. Now That’s What I Call Nostalgia! Yahoo! CD:UK. Teletext. Ceefax. Top of the Pops. Clor. Mylo. And, yes, Girls Aloud. Gone yet glorious.