Great popular music should smell like amyl nitrate. Once you’ve figured that out, it’s easy to know who your heroes and heroines are. Kylie, with her fizzy, dizzy eggflip-in-a-highball-glass odes to desire and twirliness. Madonna, making sex go pop. Lady Gaga, making pop go sex. The music should make your heart beat faster. You should feel your veins opening, the blood thickening, everything thumping from your ears to your hips to your ankles and back to your hips again. It doesn’t matter whether or not you have a penis - proper pop will give you an erection.
This is why everyone who likes joy, dancing and fun should have a massive boner for Girls Aloud. Forget the fights, footballers and court cases. The boozing, the benders, the houses in LA, the tits smooshed together for lads’ mag shoots like clearance bin Christmas puddings, the make up ranges (although Dainty Doll’s Saucy Sailor is actually AWESOME). Let’s remember that Girls Aloud, as a single force, is greater than the sum of all its parts. If Xenomania is He-Man, Girls Aloud is The Power of Grayskull.
It’s (just) over ten years since “Sound Of The Underground” was Christmas no 1. And it still sounds BONKERS. It’s composed of colliding minor riffs, mysterious synthy samples and jailbait lyrics - imagine Hopper was working as a court artist and had been called in to document the legal fall out after a MySpace party (remember, it’s 2002). All that is happening in 3 minutes and 41 seconds, and it’s their first song. The follow up album, What Will The Neighbours Say, is almost flawless - give or take the odd shonky moment it’s a non stop High NRG ear bursting barn stormer. And this is in spite of the inclusion of a song called “Deadlines and Diets”.
Girls Aloud came of age during an odd style period - they were born on the cusp of WAG, just before we stopped going out in home made club wear and pouring glitter on to our centre partings, but just after Victoria Beckham decreed that everyone must look like they were using high grade pleather frocks to shoplift melons from Waitrose. Cheryl famously claimed that their first manager Louis Walsh “took the cheques”, leaving them to manage PAs, pick their tunes and dress themselves - which is no mean feat when everyone around you is doing denim on denim and fishtail skirts with trainers. The GA of today might look polished and professional, but when they were at their peak was when their homemade aesthetic was at its strongest. It’s heartening to see Nicola Roberts plot a route away from the fake tan and satin platforms. If you Google image search the band, you can see her fashion personality evolve, one “edgy” sweatshirt at a time.
Unlike other seminal, millennial girl bands, GA never asked to be considered feminist icons , although I think there’s a compelling case to be made for them. At times, they have fucked up spectacularly, but girls are always being brought to other girls as examples of how they should be. Like Kate Middleton, the beautiful, beautifully spoken wife of our future King, who is the most imitated, least outspoken woman in the public eye. Or Kristen Stewart, who was thrust at us to be gawped at before she was out of her teens and then forced to apologise for kissing someone at 22. I fear that something has been reversed for women, culturally. Girls Aloud were the last girls who were loud. They shouted as hard as they sparkled, they took up space and they made messes and mistakes. Collectively, they sustained a pace of 96 bmp and maintained a pop legacy to be proud of.