Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Return of the Sugababes

First published in The Badger, May 2002

They’re Number 1. They’re so cool it hurts. And they’re chatting exclusively to badgermusic.

“We are SO not cool!” protests Keisha Buchanan. “Not at all!” Britain hadn’t spawned a decent girl band since the Spice heyday, until three schoolgirls sneaked into the charts in Summer 2000. And they were bloody cool. 18 months on, and they’re even cooler. “It’s not that we’re cool, as such,” Keisha says modestly. “I just think people perceived it wrong. I just think we’re a bit… street.” Street, cool, whatever. Sugababes – made up of Keisha, new member Heidi Range and seasoned pro Mutya Buena – are back. And having just scored their first UK Number One, they’re not going about it half-arsed.

In the earlier days, the then-underage girls were tied down by numerous work restrictions. Having completed their GCSE’s and passing the ripe old age of 16 means things are now going to be a lot more different. “It’s much more exciting, and we’re definitely a lot happier,” enthuses Keisha, whilst Mutya (whose sinister glare could freeze lava) and Heidi (in contrast, a chirpy Scouser) saunter about in the background. “We’re working really hard now, and it feels right. We did absolutely no promotion for Overload, just two performances for CD:UK and Top Of The Pops, whereas now we can do a lot more venues and stuff like that. Also, we have experience now. With the first album, we recorded it when we were 14, and I don’t think we realised how important it was to perfect it. So we’ve worked really, really hard on the new one.”

The flop of the last Sugababes single Soul Sound led to them parting company with London Records – do the girls feel smug now they’re excelling without them? “No, not at all.” says a diplomatic Keisha. “We’re grateful to them. They saw talent and they signed it, just like they did with All Saints. It’s just that they wanted to take things one way, and we wanted to take it another.”
Keisha gives us an insight into this new direction: “It’s really diverse. It’s just a lot more soulful. It’s a bit rock, a bit R&B, a little bit hip-hop, just trying different flavours. Mutya does a bit of rapping, I even do a bit of MC-ing! I’m not Alesha from Mis-Teeq though, I’m not gonna give up my day job!” Enter!

The Sugababes’ latest single Freak Like Me showcases the genius art of bootlegging (ie. squishing two tracks together to end up with what’s usually a belter of a record). The practice has become increasingly popular in recent times, and thanks to the ‘babes, now sits happily at the top of the charts. Surely this defeats the purpose though? Not according to Keisha: “I think it’s good for the underground to get up to the commercial side, you know? No-one wants to be underground for the rest of their lives.” But are the girls worried that it might become too commercial?
“Yes!” Keisha hollers, frighteningly quickly. “I personally am. There’s already a lot of bootlegs out there, but as long as they’re good, it’s cool.” So what’s the Sugababes definition of ‘good’? “You’ve got to keep it raw, which is what we’ve done with Freak Like Me,” explains Keisha. “There’s been so many different versions and mixes of it so we just kept going back to the original. Good music is good music, and if you keep it a good bootleg then you can’t go wrong from there.”

The split with London Records wasn’t the only adjustment for the band. Original member Siobhan Donaghy left Sugababes to pursue her interest in fashion photography, although the press tend to favour the idea she was brutally turfed out by Mutya and Keisha. “At the end of the day, people are gonna assume stuff. I mean, we’ve known each other since we were seven. Siobhan left because she wasn’t happy, and that was it. She was an original Sugababe, and we’d never kick her out.”

Fear of stepping too far into commercial territory may have been heightened last September when former Atomic Kitten singer Heidi joined the band as Siobhan’s replacement. “It’s cool though, that Heidi is seen as quite pop,” says Keisha. “Since she joined, we’ve had younger kids coming up to us and asking us for autographs, and that never happened before. Before, people thought we were a bit moody and scary!”
And are you? “No, not at all!” laughs Keisha. “Anyone who meets us knows that. We are the bubbliest people. We are mad!! It’s just that in the start, we didn’t do press, and if we did it would be for, like, the NME. And there were smiley photos! They just didn’t want to put those out! But we do have personalities and hopefully now people will start to see that. From now on, you’re going to start seeing the real Sugababes.”
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