Girls Aloud live in London
- By Pam McIntyre -
- Mar 05, 2013
"IF YOU ARE GOING TO GIRLS ALOUD TONIGHT... " tweets CherylsArmy21 on the morning of their second sell-out night at London's O2 Arena, "OMG YOU ARE IN FOR A TREAT!!! IT WILL BE THE BEST NIGHT OF YOUR LIFE!!!" Even the more impartial commentators have been effusive in their praise for the Ten Tour, if with a little more restraint. Celebrating a decade of unwavering success for the band who slayed One True Voice in Popstars: The Rivals when Harry Styles was eight years old, the show has garnered four-star reviews in broadsheet press, and alongside the typical screaming adolescents is a more sophisticated audience whose appreciation is proudly post-ironic. Even the most discerning of music aficionados will concede that Girls Aloud have truly made some bangers.
It's with their first such banger that the band enter the arena tonight: the delirious twang of ‘Sound of the Underground’ reverberates to their descent upon a suspended platform of their name in lights – a physical realisation of that clichéd dream that doubtless led the five girls from disparate corners of the kingdom to those fateful auditions in the first place. Who’d have thought that a girlband, whose manufacture was so shameless that it played out on primetime Saturday night TV, could release anything but synthetic cheese-dripped dross? But, subverting accepted notions of manufactured pop, for Girls Aloud it was about the quality of their music as a unit, rather than any bombast built around contrived personalities. Outside the band the girls have ploughed their own extra-curricular furrows, and it’s their differing fortunes in doing so which leads them to this ostensible farewell.
It's Cheryl who has had the most astonishing journey: from tracksuited troublemaker arrested for a racist assault to the nation's official sweetheart and almost back again; her relationship troubles have sold newspapers and her solo output has shifted the most units. Nadine’s own album barely bothered the charts, despite having always taken the share of the band's lead vocals; predictably, hers are the strongest tonight. Cheryl asserts herself by making it known that she doesn't have to make such an effort; all bouffant hair and eyeliner, she hollers her lines boisterously in ‘No Good Advice’, and almost every ‘HELLO LONDON!’ is hers. Nicola Roberts meanwhile, at first overlooked by virtue of the crime of her hair colour, has come full circle: the commercial performance of her solo album ‘Cinderella’s Eyes’ didn’t match its critical acclaim, but she scored priceless cool points in the process. It’s therefore to be expected that the disproportionate ratio of solo success to the girls' actual talent may be grating.
But it’s purely the music which provides the meat on the too-bony body of Girls Aloud tonight; the videogame visuals, backing dancers and costume changes are mere accoutrements. The stage becomes a catwalk for ‘The Show’, as the girls emerge strapped to elaborate auxiliary feather constructions and preen and parade like fierce peacocks; its message about waiting for the right guy is delivered with a sardonic assertiveness that calls bullshit on the Spice Girls’ submissive brand of girl power. The daft exuberance of ‘Love Machine’ and the witty invention of ‘Biology’ add to the fun before another break sees the mood shift down, darker.
Transported on their eponymous platform to the arena’s central stage the girls unleash the pulsating ‘Sexy! No No No’, toweringly epic ‘Untouchable’ and ‘Call The Shots’ - dubbed by Popjustice's Peter Robinson, quite without hyperbole, the best British pop single of the 21st century. This act represents their pinnacle, and in an evening of engineered emotion, is the most moving: the girls stand facing each other in a circle, and sing about how far they’ve come together, how far they could fall. They leave the stage in a desperate dash to the changing rooms, and their shadows can just be spotted scurrying through a tunnel before popping up again in Sixties monochrome, intensity giving way to the joyous abandon of ‘Something Kinda Ooh’ and a giddy karaoke cover of ‘Call Me Maybe’.
Perhaps the only gripe of the evening is the new material, which disturbs the momentum if anything. Unashamedly in thrall to modern pop’s electronic diktat, two of three new songs tonight, ‘On the Metro’ and ‘Something New’, have been pressed through an “EDM” filter, zipping along a Calvin Harris conveyor belt before tumbling into a box marked for rejection by Rihanna – but given a sufficient lick of Girls Aloud to make them quite good. ‘Something New’ is simultaneously a bittersweet swan song and a high-NRG parting shot to 1D dominators, the boys in the ascendant. Although moving on, Girls Aloud are still determined to both have their cake and shove it in your face.
Cheryl, who has been noted to have cried real tears – real tears, guys – on this tour, thanks the crowd for an emotional evening as they return for the encore in floor length shimmering sequins. Wistful home videos provide a backdrop to the solemnity of ‘I’ll Stand By You’: the girls grin down in the dizzy thrill of their early years, unfrazzled by tabloid intrusion and the kind of friendship factionalism that is hinted at here by Cheryl and Kimberley's clasped hands. The night is rounded off with the dazzle and glamour of ‘The Promise’, and feathers are fired from cannons in a riot of red and white.
And so it ends, but the songs will remain: perfectly formed but piercingly honest pop songs reflecting on the strength in being together, but alone stripped of meaning; about being untouchable only in dreams that glitter until the lights go down. Their lyrics, although factory-formulated and force fed, take on an undeniable poignancy in the harsh light that rises on the empty stage: how exposed these girls are outside the Aloud armour, how vulnerable beneath the veneer of attitude, how lonely. It's this feeling which crystallises, in cold relief, that silhouette of Sarah Harding tottering towards another costume change, and another, until the last.
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