British boy bands are on the rise, with groups like One Direction and The Wanted making a monster impact on the US charts, but what about the ladies? Just as our neighbors across the pond have produced an inordinate share of the best boy band pop of the last few decades, so have they contributed some absolutely showstopping girl groups, from the iconically well-known (Spice Girls) to the relatively obscure — on these shores, at least (Atomic Kitten, anyone?).
With Brits carving out a bigger space than ever in the US charts, we’re taking a look back at the finest girl groups that the UK has had to offer from the last 25 years, and the hits that make them still compulsively listenable.
11. Mis-Teeq: An urban girl group whose smartly produced R&B made them a chart sensation in the UK, Mis-Teeq had a minor US hit in 2004 with “Scandalous” (featured, memorably, in the critically reviled box office bomb Catwoman) before their label went bankrupt. But with seven consecutive Top 10 hits in the their home country and production from Stargate — who went on to create Rihanna‘s signature sound with songs like “What’s My Name?” — Mis-Teeq’s garage-inflected chart pop is remembered fondly.
10. B*Witched: Best remembered in the US as a bubblegum pop novelty act for their 1998 hit “C’est La Vie,” the Irish (not British, but they were a hit there!) girl group B*Witched only released two albums, which spawned four consecutive UK #1 singles. But, the members enjoyed unexpected career longevity in a handful of other ways: singer Edele Lynch wrote songs for Girls Aloud and Sugababes, and later re-teamed up with her sister Keavy to create the dance duo Barbarellas, who released an album in 2011.
9. Atomic Kitten: With a string of UK #1 hits, teen pop trio Atomic Kitten’s US impact was minimal. But when they were good, they were really good. Formed around the millennium in the midst of the post-Spice Girls girl group renaissance, Atomic Kitten went through a handful of line-up changes. However, their output remained consistent: their cover of Blondie‘s “The Tide Is High” went to #1 (and just missed the Top 40 in the US), as did the skittering mid-tempo single “Whole Again,” which is one of the sweetest, loveliest pop offerings from the early ’00s.
8. Eternal: The girl group who were largely considered the UK’s answer to the US R&B phenomena En Vogue and TLC, Eternal‘s four studio albums earned them a string of radio smashes in their native UK, as well as the US Top 20 hit “Stay” back in 1993. Their smooth, sultry stylings made such an impression that Monica — then one of the hottest stars in the States — covered their single “Angel Of Mine” for her album The Boy Is Mine.
7. The Saturdays: Upon their debut in 2008, The Saturdays were initially perceived as an off-brand iteration of the UK’s reigning queens Girls Aloud, since — like Aloud — The Saturdays were a five-piece girl group who sang chic, club-ready dance-pop. But over the last half-decade, they’ve carved out a real niche as the originators of consistently high-quality radio pop that wasn’t quite as cluttered as Girl Aloud’s overstuffed style. Occasionally — like with their debut single “If This Is Love” — they’re even brilliant. A US launch reportedly in the works, meaning The Saturdays may be the newest girl group to storm American shores.
6. All Saints: The hipper, sulkier counterpart to the Spice Girls’ hyperactive euphoria, All Saints had a big late-’90s hit in the US with “Never Ever.” Alas, they were relegated to stateside one-hit-wonder status after their successive UK smashes failed to perform, even as their music got better and better. That said, the quartet’s 2006 LP Studio 1 is one of the sharpest, grimiest pop records of the last decade, and that spoken-word intro to “Never Ever” — which went to #1 in the UK and earned them a Brit Award — remains one of the best moments of ’90s girl group mania.
5. Bananarama: The girl group that dominated the ’80s and early ’90s with their ebullient dance-pop, Bananarama paved the way for acts like the Spice Girls to take the reins years later. Their songs like the much-covered global hit “Venus,” the iconic “Cruel Summer” and the US Top 10 hit “I Heard a Rumour” made them a household name. And although they’ve undergone line-up changes (and have since gone from trio to duo), they’re still on their grind: their 2009 album Viva was a mix of covers and original material, turning out the dance single “Love Comes,” and Bananarama just wrapped their first US tour in decades.
3 – 4. Sugababes/Mutya Keisha Siobhan: Originally created in 1998 as the brainchild of three teenage girls — Siobhan Donaghy, Mutya Buena and Keisha Buchanan — the Sugababes made an instant splash with their innovative hit “Overload.” Over the following decade, they went through so many Destiny’s Child-esque line-up changes that by 2010, the group no longer featured any of its original members (each having been replaced, over time, by Heidi Range, Amelle Berrabah and Jade Ewen, respectively). Sugababes were at their best in their second iteration (after Donaghy left and was replaced by Range), but the original girls have reunited under the name Mutya Keisha Siobhan (with tracks courtesy of Emeli Sande, no less). Both groups — the original ‘babes and their 2.0 version — deserve a space on this list for their sleek R&B-pop and effortlessly cool attitude.
Sugababes 1.0/Mutya Keisha Siobhan:
2. Girls Aloud: Founded on the inauspiciously titled Pop Stars: The Rivals TV show back in 2002, Girls Aloud became the most cutting-edge girl group in British history as a result of their risk-taking, inventiveness and close collaboration with the critically acclaimed production troupe Xenomania. (They’re also the Most Successful Reality TV Group in history, according to the Guinness World Records.) The quintet reunited this year for an upcoming greatest hits collection (the lead single from that compilation, “Something New,” dropped this week). The Cheryl Cole-featuring band’s impact can be heard in the current dance sound that dominates the charts on both sides of the pond, which Girls Aloud were doing even when R&B dominated the airwaves. Their sweet, retro single “The Promise” topped the UK chart and earned them their first Brit Award in 2009 for Best British Single. While they’ve never cracked the US, Girls Aloud also never bothered trying. Why would they? They’re a quintessentially British treasure.
1. Spice Girls: The Spice Girls are the best-selling girl group of all time, and the most successful British band since The Beatles — and their music remains some of the most searingly brilliant pop ever created. Like, ever. The global smash “Wannabe” remains their best-known hit (it did, after all, go to #1 in 30 countries), though it’s the group’s legacy that lives on, both via the Girl Power movement that’s cemented in the cultural consciousness, and the fact that they ushered in the teen-pop tsunami that dominated the late ’90s and early millennium. Spice Girls’ most memorable smashes like “Say You’ll Be There,” “2 Become 1″ and “Spice Up Your Life” are the stuff of pop legend. In the space of only three albums, they managed to inarguably redefine what pop meant to the world.