When the Sugababes shed Keisha a few weeks ago, I was a bit worried for the catty one. Not cos she can’t look after herself, and not because she’ll be poor. But rather because the old idea that you have a successful career in a boy / girl / pop band and then have a successful solo career seems to have been proven to be pretty ropey. It struck me that Keisha, sticking with some form of the Sugababes as Mutya went all out for her solo career seemed to be pretty clever. Because what makes a solo career work is very different to the group dynamic. Good luck Keisha, but look closely at the parable of Rachel Stevens first.
Rachel was the pretty one from S Club 7. Well, according to the lads mags anyway, who had anointed her as such, and being the lad mags favourite she also became the favourite for a solo career. Bear in mind that this happened a few years ago when it looked like Girls Aloud were going to split up, Sarah Harding was the one tipped to have the solo career, again because she charted higher in the FHM Top 100. But of course Girls Aloud were clever and stayed together because they learned the lesson of Rachel Stevens.
The lesson of Rachel Stevens is simple. It doesn’t really matter how good your pop singles are, how many column inches you get and how high you are in the FHM wank charts. A solo artist hasn’t got a band persona to hide behind, and in Rachel’s case that meant that to maintain A-list, or even S-list, status she had to do the work of seven people. Sweet Dreams My LA EX, and in particular Some Girls she did everything right. A fgood, and cool producer in Richard X. A solidly nagging pop hook (wanna wanna, other other) and even a stab of making the song sound a bit like the Tardis. A schaffel beat, spot on in 2004 made the whole thing feel that the detached singing style of Stevens was done on purpose. But look at the video below and you see the problem. What about this song has Rachel’s personality in it. The hordes of women coming out of the sewers overwhelm her. The song was co-opted by Sport Relief, for no obvious reason, but that becomes bigger than anything Rachel can stamp on it. The most telling point is that through most of the video Rachel is dancing, with six other backing dancers. You can take the girl out of the 7, but she will still grasp for it.
Basically Some Girls is a terrific record. But nearly everything that makes it terrific is nothing to do with Rachel herself. And as soon as that became clear, the media got bored with her goody goody, ex-S-club ways. Whilst she recorded a few more OK singles, the media started sniffing around girls who could talk and have personalities. Seven does not become one easily. And that is the lesson of Rachel Stevens.
Actually there are two lessons of Rachel Stevens. The other one is that whatever you do, don’t call your first album “Funky Dory”.