With new stylists, new band and a new choreographer, the Sugababes are full of energy. Andy Welsh met the trio as they prepare to take the US by storm
What a difference a couple of years make. Well, at least in the life of a girl band, anyway. Two years ago, Sugababes were busy settling in new member Amelle Berrabah and promoting their latest album Change.
“We both had advice for her back then, and Heidi was great because she knew what it was like to join the band, but also how I felt having someone new come in,” offers Keisha, the only member of the original trio left in today's line-up. “We told Amelle some things about the business, but really, until it happens to you it's hard to explain.”
The last comment draws a fierce, knowing laugh from Amelle, who, since joining Sugababes, has been a regular fixture of the tabloids, whether it be for her love of a good night out or incidents related to her rocky relationship with ex-boyfriend Freddie Fuller.
“I definitely jumped into that side of things with both feet,” says Amelle, smiling.
Fast forward to today, and there's no air of ‘new girl' around her at all — and neither should there be, the Aldershot-native has been in the band almost four years now.
As we chat, she's sitting pretty in the middle of the other two girls Heidi and Keisha on their hotel room's gigantic sofa, chipping in with answers about Sugababes' new sound, decked out with a stylish crop and designer clothes.
They've all got plenty to say about their latest batch of music, including current single Get Sexy which is expected to hit the top of the charts this Sunday.
For their past six albums (Sweet 7 is due in November) the Sugababes, whatever the line-up, have co-written their songs.
This time around, however, they changed things up and decided to let the songwriters come to them.
“Even though we weren't writing, we ended up being so hands on,” explains Keisha. “There's always been a pressure in the past to come up with songs from scratch in the studio, so it's been great, not having any ego about it, just letting new people come in and put their ideas to us.
“Sometimes we'd hear 10 new songs in a day. We just had to pick the right ones, so that definitely still leaves something on our shoulders — you can choose the wrong songs, believe me.”
The change in the way they work is down to a number of things. Signing to an American label for the first time, and one as glamorous as Roc Nation, has allowed the girls to attract some of the biggest and best songwriters from across the pond.
Sweet 7 will boast songs from producers RedOne, who recorded most of Lady GaGa's album and various songs with Rihanna, Stargate, the unit who provided Beyonce with recent hits — not to mention S Club 7's S Club Party — and Ryan Tedder, frontman of OneRepublic and co-writer of Leona's Bleeding Love.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the disappointing performance of their last album Catfights And Spotlights meant something had to change if Sugababes were going to continue as Britain's biggest selling girl band.
Ask Heidi, Amelle and Keisha about the album now, and they'll tell you how proud they are of it, but from their initial reaction, it's easy to tell how hurt they were by the album's critical mauling and poor reception from fans.
“The last album was great, and it was a Top 10 album with the single going to No 2,” begins Keisha, professionally, if not convincingly.
“But, when you don't get the No 1 you're used to, you see people turn slightly and write you off. It was great to start work again andhave these people in America tell us we're still good, and that we should be concerned more with longevity and staying in the business than having a hit.
“You can get complacent,” she says. “It's great we're singers, and writers, but you can't stay in a box and do one thing.
“We got new stylists, auditioned a new band, got a new choreographer (Beyonce's), who has changed the way we dance and move.”
“Once we started hearing the new tracks we started getting our confidence back,” continues Heidi.
“You have to take criticism on board, especially constructive criticism. The band's been going for 12 years, and there are going to be ups and downs. We're just proud we've been relevant for that long. We are especially proud of this new album, and we've got a new energy.”
And they're right too. New single Get Sexy is unlike any Sugababes single — much more influenced by American RnB than past work. They also look better than ever in their video and are clearly ready to take on the very best the US has to offer. There's also a Right Said Fred sample. What more could you want in a pop single?
“That started off as a joke,” says Amelle, laughing, leaving Queen Sugababe Keisha to pick up.
“The song was done, the chorus was in there — the old chorus — and the producers, The Smeezingtons, are real jokers basically. The ‘Hey Sexy' bit in the song was a bit of a joke too, but sounded good so we kept it.
“The next thing, one of them was singing ‘I'm too sexy for the club', making lyrics up and messing around, but it sounded good, so the next thing we were asking for permission to use it. It was pure accident.”
Get Sexy is the group’s 25th single in the UK, something of a milestone for any band, let alone one that has been through as much as this trio.
The Sugababes new single Get Sexy is out now