HOLLY STEVENSON talks to The Saturdays' Mollie King about the X Factor, song writing and the genius of Britney Spears.
During my pre-teen years, ‘girl band’ always meant ‘girl power’. The Spice Girls and TLC were always telling us wide-eyed, My Little Pony-wielding, light-up trainers-wearing girls to be strong, sassy and to buy their branded figurines. These groups were strictly for girls only: any boy found to have a secret crush on Baby, Ginger, Scary, Sporty or Posh was ridiculed in the playground. They were our dominion. They spoke to us. Girl-group The Saturdays hold no such ideology, and consequently everyone from Lily Allen to my 17 year old brother has been spotted bouncing around to Up and Just Can’t Get Enough.
I spoke to Mollie King (AKA ‘the blonde one’), one fifth of The Saturdays. The Saturdays have always been a band of the moment. They were formed in 2007, and their latest offering, Headlines, released on 16th August, is a mini-album of eight tracks designed to capture the sound of Summer 2010. ‘These songs are really current and so we thought we’d release them now,’ Mollie told me.
Behind the giggles and the cutesy slang (she calls her agent ‘silly’ when recalling how she was sent to the wrong audition), there is real steel and determination in Mollie’s answers. Gone are the days when girl band members lived together, braiding their hair and waiting for the powers that be to tell them what to sing. When asked about The Saturdays’ approach to the band, Mollie explained, ‘we do try and have fun with it; we’re serious in a way that it means everything to us and we work our butts off to make sure that it works, but we also have a laugh at ourselves.’
If that sounds a bit like an X Factor auditionee’s plea to the judges, you’ve guessed right: Mollie in her pre-Saturdays career auditioned twice for Simon Cowell’s endlessly-milked cash cow; once as a solo artist and once as a part of a girlband called Fallen Angelz. Both times, she didn’t get any further than the boot camp stage. However, she is still an advocate of the reality show format: ‘I think that X Factor culture is really good because bands who are trying to make it don’t really know how to go about doing it. X Factor is a really good way to get into the business, and it’s a great TV show as well. Simon Cowell is a genius.’
Ego, as performed by The Saturdays on Radio One’s Live Lounge
The Saturdays are part of a new generation of girl bands: a collective of hardened auditioners (two other members, Frankie and Rochelle, were in S Club Juniors), who haven’t been bought by the dream of ‘recording studios paved with gold’. Forget Pop Idol. Think Junior Apprentice. ‘I would like the band to be around for as long as it can, and to maybe crack a few more countries. We went over to Asia last year, which was incredible, and I’d like to go over to Europe and America as well,’ Mollie said confidently.
Yet, despite the kind of confidence that only comes with perfect hair and a pair of killer heels, there is none of the arrogance seen so often in other bands – no claiming to be the next Jesus here – instead, there is a rapacious and almost endearing desire to learn and emulate. The most successful enterprises come from taking cues from the competition; and this is exactly what The Saturdays have perfected.
I asked Mollie who inspires her. ‘I love Britney,’ she enthused, ‘she’s such a good overall performer as well as a singer. Everyone always talks about the fact that she mimes, but I don’t really care about that, as she puts on a great show.’ At the time, I resisted the desire to snort derisively, but when I returned to Mollie’s comment, I realised its pertinence. Whereas I thought of Britney as slightly annoying and ubiquitous, Mollie saw her as a model for global success.
When I asked her what kind of input The Saturdays had in their music, I nearly said ‘product’ instead, since their brand of pop seems so shiny and packaged. However, Mollie’s answer was full of possibility and wonder: ‘We get a lot of say in what we do. Everyone imagines there’s this big boss who tells us exactly what to do, but we have a lot of input, and I think that’s really cool and makes it a lot more exciting. We’ve also been writing, we haven’t written any of the new ones, but have lots of writing in progress, such as the B-sides and our next album. We do other things as well, we help with the album covers, we choose the songs, and we always have a big meeting to discuss how we’re going to do the videos.’
So why The Saturdays, when Clea, Liberty X, Hear’Say and countless others fell off the cliff and drowned in the sea of musical oblivion? ‘We weren’t put up on a platform like the X Factor singers were. We had to work really hard behind the scenes,’ explained Mollie. ‘We had time to make sure everything was right and plan the singles. I think with the X Factor, a lot of the time it’s quite a quick process and there isn’t that much time to plan the direction you want to go in.’
Reality shows like X Factor are still selling the beautifully packaged illusion that if you sing loud enough, wear some pretty dresses and have your own banner in the audience, Simon Cowell will wave his magic wand and you will instantly turn into a ballad-wailer of Mariah-like proportions.
Unfortunately, Simon Cowell is no fairy godmother. The Saturdays, however, know that there is no fairy dust involved, and this lack of delusion is the key to their success. They are unashamedly ambitious, unashamedly driven and most of all, unashamedly pop.