Sugababes at the O2 Arena
They’ve had even more line-up changes than Destiny’s Child but, for many, the initial incarnation of the Sugababes left the most lasting imprint. This is more than apparent as Mutya, Keisha and Siobhan play their biggest concert to date – fittingly in their hometown at the mammoth 02 Arena, which makes the occasion all the more momentous.
Genuine talent is hard to come by, but the chemistry certain groups share can never truly be planned or produced. While Heidi Range was a major part in most of the group’s later commercial successes, nothing comes close to the natural camaraderie or combination of vocals than the originals. The trio were only 16 years old (Mutya, 15) when their debut single Overload burst into the top ten in 2000. Its sophisticated sound signalled the arrival of something special; co-written by the girls and their producers, this strikingly mature, intelligent pop was a far cry from the bubblegum efforts of many of their peers. In fact, the band had mild echoes of All Saints, with their effortlessly cool demeanour and noticeable blend of harmonies, while claiming a feel all their own. It’s one of the reasons much of their material still sounds so fresh today.
A frustrating decade has passed since the trio’s brief stint under the guise of MKS. This shortlived moniker was a result of them not owning the rights to their own name – yes, that’s right – and the ladies fought for and have triumphantly reclaimed what is rightfully theirs. While critics applauded comeback single Flatline, it failed to jumpstart momentum and the much-anticipated album it promised sadly did not materialise. It would take the success of 2022’s The Lost Tapes (an record under the Sugababes name containing songs that were recorded during the MKS era) to cement their true return. An appearance at Glastonbury was exceedingly well-received, and a series of gigs throughout the country have also been met with a wave of nostalgia, but also appreciation for what can only be described as great pop music sung by expert singers who know their craft.
In terms of British girl groups, only The Spice Girls have had more number-one singles, so the evening is of course jam-packed with floor-fillers. All eras are catered for in this carefully considered set. Push the Button, which energises an already frenetic crowd, kicks things off. It’s a full house and the people are here for their girls. Following it are Hole in the Head and Red Dress, which frankly feels more like a Girls Aloud song (this more radio-friendly number somewhat foreshadowed the radical shift the group would see in their sound as their trajectory progressed). It nevertheless goes down well.
It is no exaggeration to say that Mutya is one of the UK’s best vocalists (can we have another album please?). Keisha’s voice has grown more powerful with age. Siobhan is in a dimension of her own and is effortlessly cool: tasked with singing the verses of others, she stamps her unique identity on each track. As a collective, the ladies sound simply immaculate, and it is a real privilege to hear them.
Ugly is reminiscent of TLC’s Unpretty (both tracks were produced by Dallas Austin) and is one of the most emotive songs of the evening. Flatline is next, and the criminally underrated single is executed exquisitely. We then go old-school with the melancholy yet infectiously catchy Run for Cover, then Today from The Lost Tapes lifts things further and showcases the girls’ harmonies once more. Shape – which has not been performed live since around 2007 – is a pleasing addition to the set. The Sting cover from the group’s second outing is broodingly moody but welcome.
One Touch – very rarely, if ever, performed – allows the fans to feel this is a one-off experience. Early noughties garage music whets our appetite before Flowers has the 20,000 capacity on their feet. Things slow to a mid-tempo with Too Lost in You; how the song didn’t hit the number one spot remains a mystery, but it delights. Beat Is Gone, again from The Lost Tapes, displays Siobhan’s stellar vocals alongside Keisha’s. The track has not been performed many times, but the audience all know it. Stronger empowers before Freak Like Me has everyone moving, a standout in an already crowd-pleasing set.
New single When the Rain Comes – which was only released on the day of the concert – is already sung back by spectators, after which we are then transported to 2002 with Round Round. About You Now ends proceedings, much to the dismay of the affectionate audience: the lyrics “Can we bring yesterday back around” carry more meaning here. This has been a well-warranted celebration of a revered back catalogue, while signifying Sugababes are on the cusp of another exciting chapter. These ladies acknowledge what their fans want and they more than deliver.
For further information and future events visit The Sugababes’s website here.
Hear the audio for new single When the Rain Comes here: