Are the Sugababes getting too sweet?

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They may not be well-known in the

States, but British girl group the Sugababes have been one of

my favorite musical acts for about seven years now. Indeed, they’re

a big hit in the U.K. generally, having notched up six No. 1 singles as

well as a Brit award (our equivalent of the Grammys). This despite persistent

rumors of infighting, and multiple lineup changes that perhaps make

them the U.K. equivalent of Destiny’s Child.

They burst on the scene in their

first incarnation in 2000:

Baby-faced Keisha Buchanan

(left) and feisty Mutya Buena (right) were already friends

from school, while the enigmatic-looking redhead Siobhan Donaghy

(center) was added by Buena’s manager. Their first big hit single,

when they were still in their mid-teens, was “Overload.” It made

use of the girls’ sweet, throaty, pop-soul harmonies (reminiscent

of the group En Vogue) and their barbed-wire attitude, as well as

their multiracial look (Buchanan’s background is Jamaican; Buena’s

is Filipina, Irish, Spanish and Chinese; and Donaghy’s is Irish):







While their first album, One Touch,

was a minor hit, it wasn’t enough to stop them being dropped from

their record label. Meanwhile, Donaghy had walked out of the band, reportedly

because she felt that Keisha was bullying her. A new girl, blonde Liverpudlian

Heidi Range
, was brought in to take her place:

This led to my favorite lineup of

the band, as well as my favorite of their albums, Angels With Dirty

Faces
. It also led to a new level of success for them, as their

first single “Freak Like Me” — with a video showing Buena and

Buchanan “initiating” Range into the band — went to No. 1:





The album Three followed,

with several hits. That didn’t stop continued rumors of i-fighting,

though, as well as criticism in the tabloids over the girls’ normal,

healthy figures, which led to one article dubbing them the Sugalumps.

The girls hit back with the single “Ugly” on their next album,

Taller in More Ways
(although sadly it wasn’t one of their best

songs, being too much like a rip-off of Christina Aguilera’s

“Beautiful”).

The girls were also growing up —

which meant an increased level of sexualization and sexual objectification

in their videos, which unfortunately most female artists still seem

to take as a matter of course. Though I still loved the ‘babes, I

couldn’t help sometimes wishing that they’d go for a few more clothes

and a bit less makeup.

To me, though, they still had a rough-around-the-edges

feel and an independent attitude that set them apart from the more obviously

manufactured girl groups — without even mentioning their excellent,

individual music. That all seemed to be at risk when Buena, the mouthiest

of the band, announced she was leaving (she has since launched a solo

career).

Perhaps used to replacing band members

at this point, the ‘babes rallied quickly, appointing Amelle Berrabah

as Mutya’s replacement. The takeover was so smooth that their new

song, “Red Dress,” which had been recorded with Mutya’s vocals

for the original album Taller in More Ways, was re-recorded with

Amelle’s for the single release, and Amelle featured in the video:





Since then they have launched a greatest

hits album, as well as a new album, Change, from which their first

single, “About You Now,” went to No. 1 in the U.K. But I have

to say something is missing for me. While I didn’t necessarily think

of Buena as my favorite band member while she was there, there was something

about her looks — piercings, tattoos, ever-changing hairstyles and questionable

outfits — as well as her tough outspoknenness in interviews, that seemed

to encapsulate the spirit of the band. With her gone, they just seem

a bit … well … bland. And their new singles haven’t done much to

reassure me.

With Buena gone, will the Sugababes

turn into just another glossy, vacant girl group, posing sexily in videos

to a background of disposable pop? I hope not … but I’m worried.

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