Saturday, 19 September 2009

Catfights and spotlights

Since the dawn of time mankind has been troubled by certain unanswerable questions - why does toast always fall butter-side down, if a tree falls in the forest when no-one's around does it make a sound, and does Boris Johnson own a mirror?

But the one true mystery which continues to elude our smartest thinkers, is why do women hate each other so much? The internet is littered with psychology articles attempting to deduce why sisters are happier doing it for themselves, rather than with each other. But although many of them propose a number of hypotheses, none of them have come close to solving this age-old conundrum. Perhaps what's needed is a case study that can be observed closely, and I can't think of a better bunch of lab-rats than the Sugababes.

When they launched onto the music scene in 2000, they were a breath of fresh air to an increasingly stale pop music industry and an antidote to the manufactured girl bands that were clogging the charts like hair in a drain. The Spice Girls and B*Witched were thankfully on their way out, whilst the recently formed Atomic Kitten were providing the soundtrack to a million Lambrini-fuelled hen nights with their disco trash.

In contrast, the Sugagbabes were gritty, urban and unusual - having formed the band themselves at the precocious age of 13. When their debut album One Touch was released in November of 2000, the music critics were delighted to have finally discovered a girl band that it was OK to like. Fusing R&B and soul, the album produced several singles and won rave reviews, but didn't sell particularly well, partly because it had a cover so ugly that it looked as though it had simply been left to steep in a pot of tea, rather than art directed.

But the music industry is a business, and critical acclaim only gets you so far. So no-one was too surprised when the girls were dropped by London Records. To make matters worse, they not only had to find a new record label, they also needed to find a new 'babe, following the sudden departure of Siobhán Donaghy during a Japanese promotional tour. It soon emerged that Donaghy was suffering from clinical depression as a result of bullying and in-fighting within the group.

Still, the girls soldiered on, signed to Island records and returned with a new album, a new sound, and a pretty new member - one-time Atomic Kitten Heidi Range. Showing considerable bravery and determination, Range stepped into the vipers' nest and made the role her own, although the rumours of bullying continued. This was, in part, because unlike their more glamorous, eager-to-please counterparts, the Sugababes maintained a tougher, less-approachable persona. In fact, with her pierced lip, tattoos and drawn-on eyebrows, founding member Mutya Buena looked as though she'd be more at home spitting at pensioners in a bus-stop than hanging out at the Brits Awards.

By the time album four came around, it was Buena's time to leave the band citing 'personal reasons'. Given that most people, perhaps unfairly, thought that Buena was the ringleader (since she seemed to be staging a smiling boycott for political reasons) it was assumed that the girls had put their reputation for in-fighting behind them.

However, album six's title 'Catfights and Spotlights' suggested that maybe that wasn't the case. New member Amelle Berrabah may have taken to the singing and sultry poses with aplomb, but the group continued to be dogged by stories of internal friction. These rumours came to a head last week when concerns were raised that Berrabah had been kidnapped, following a fight with founding member Keisha Buchanan. After the least exhaustive police investigation of all time, it turned out that Amelle was simply hiding out at home, but it was clear that there were major problems in the group.

Today it was reported that, once again, the Sugababes are looking for a new recruit, further sealing their reputation for going through more members than Paris Hilton on a long weekend. But before the ink had even dried on the press reports, it emerged that the latest Sugababe had already been signed.

Jade Ewen, the UK's toothy representative in this year's Eurovision, is all set to stick her head in the lion's mouth and join the group, despite the fact that her big follow-up single to her turgid Euroballad is due to be released on Monday. Jade's people hastily issued a statement to say that "Due to unforeseen circumstances beyond our control, we regret to inform you that Jade Ewen will be taking time off from all promotional activity for the foreseeable future."

What this means for the girls' new album (due in the next couple of months) remains to be seen. But it's clear that as long as there are Sugababes, there'll be eyes to scratch out and backs to knife. It just goes to show, you can choose your friends but you can't choose your bandmates.

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