Andrew Eaton: The Prompt
Date: 16 March 2010
By Andrew Eaton
HOT pop topic of the week: are the Sugababes – whose new album is out tomorrow – really the Sugababes any more? One by one, over eight years, the girl group's original three members have all been replaced. So in what sense are they the same band?
Meanwhile, original member Mutya Buena is apparently making a legal bid to use the Sugababes name, which raises the possibility of two rival groups called Sugababes (just like Bucks Fizz). If that happened, which would be the "real" Sugababes?
In one sense, there's nothing new about any of this. Pop bands have been changing their line-ups for decades, sometimes finding a new lease of life (Genesis, Pink Floyd, the Human League), sometimes losing their raison d'être when a key member departs (does anyone really want to see The Jam without Paul Weller?).
What's interesting about the Sugababes, though, is that they fall between two pop camps. They were a "manufactured band" shaped by others who wrote and produced their songs for them. On the other hand, their appeal wasn't just down to these songs or the way they sang them; it was the fact that the band's three members looked, and acted, more like average teenagers than slickly rehearsed stage schoolers like, say, S Club 7. They were awkward, grumpy, and bickered – refreshingly real for a manufactured group. The current line-up, by comparison, seems like Sugababes lite; all the rough edges have been airbrushed away. And yet they are still called the Sugababes, and are still popular. For now.
For many people, this is a debate about the power of branding. I think it's more interesting than that. I think it's about the power of ideas. We now live in a culture where all rules governing authenticity, artistic ownership, even personal identity, seem open to question. An artwork by Andy Warhol or Jeff Koons can still be by those artists even if they had virtually no hand in its creation. A simple light switch can win the Turner Prize because of the meaning the artist invested in it. Elvis can continue to tour decades after his death, thanks to a combination of film footage and surviving members of his band. Blur's Damon Albarn can have huge success with Gorillaz, a band that doesn't really exist and whose younger fans don't know who he is.
All of these things can happen because a new idea caught people's imagination. Right now, the prospect of the original Sugababes reforming and challenging the legitimacy of the new Sugababes feels like a fresh, provocative idea. Go on Mutya, get the old gang back together.
• This article was first published in Scotland on Sunday, March 14, 2010