AFTER a history of infighting and a revolving lineup the original Sugababes are set for one of pop’s biggest – and least expected – comebacks.
Record labels are in a bidding war to snap them up after a phenomenal year that saw them shut down the Avalon field at Glastonbury as fans surged to watch them.
Having won back the rights to their name and ditched the execs they claim ordered the singers to “fight each other”, they are now doing it on their own terms.
Mutya Buena, now 37, Keisha Buchanan, 38, and Siobhan Donaghy, 38, first formed in 1998 but each left and were replaced, one by one, until a completely different trio made up the band.
Siobhan was first to leave in 2001, claiming she was bullied, while Mutya left citing personal reasons in 2005, before Keisha said she had been forced out in 2009.
Despite the odds, last year the girls came back with a bang, touring the country and causing chaos at Glastonbury.
This Christmas, they surprised fans by releasing their previously unreleased album, The Lost Tapes, eight years after recording it, with it rocketing to number two on the iTunes chart.
And they caused a frenzy when they announced they will be playing a show at London’s O2 Arena in September 2023.
Rather than being pop’s most volatile divas, it seems they were merely puppets, seen as interchangeable by music execs.
Speaking in 2013, Keisha revealed how their management would stir up animosity between them.
She said: “They’d whisper to one of us: ‘You should go solo’. And to another of us: ‘So-and-so doesn’t like you.’”
And in an interview last year, Keisha claimed producers would encourage them to “fight each other”.
She said: “There was one time when me and Mutya, we had this argument in Fulham, in a rehearsal studio . . . and these two producers pushed us into a room together.”
“They told us to fight each other. They pushed me and Mutya into a room together and — don’t say the names — said, right, you fight each other right now. And we wouldn’t, we refused. I will never forget just standing there in tears.”
Mutya backed up her claims, saying: “I think they actually enjoyed letting us think that one of us was better than the other. People knew what to say to each one of us in private to keep it going.”
Keisha added: “I think they clocked on to the fact that it all added to the mystery, the interest in the group, so it just carried on.”
Among the hits which drew crowds away from pop megastar Billie Eilish, who was performing at Glastonbury at the same time, was Sugababe’s debut single Overload. The track, released in 2000, was a top ten hit, received rave reviews from critics and a Brit award nomination.
Back then, the self-proclaimed “moody cows” were in stark contrast to the pop factory of shiny and smiling acts, such as S Club 7 and Steps.
In a 2013 interview, Keisha said: “Everything was so bright and fun and then we come along . . .”
Another thing that set the north London teenagers aside was that they wrote most of the songs on their debut album, One Touch.
Yet the album failed to live up to the record company’s expectations and the band was dropped in 2001.
That year, a 17-year-old Siobhan left and her sudden departure sent the rumour mill into overdrive, particularly when she gave a magazine interview claiming that Keisha was a “bully” and “made my life a living hell”.
Siobhan later admitted she left over her own mental health battle and was diagnosed with clinical depression.
She has since said: “This is now taken seriously. It wouldn’t have been an option back then to say that and I’m just so happy that mental health is so widely discussed now.”
Both Keisha and Mutya denied there was bullying involved, with Mutya saying in 2005: “People want to believe the myth of the Sugababes — that we’re breaking up, that we’re bullying each other — so I guess they’d be disappointed if they knew the truth.”
Siobhan was replaced by Heidi Range and, after signing with Island Records, the band scored their first number one single with Freak Like Me in 2002.
They followed it up with another No1 single Round Round and their second album Angels With Dirty Faces, which peaked at No2.
Their third album, Three, in 2003 earned a Brit Award nomination for Best Album and they continued to churn out hit after hit.
When Mutya quit at the height of their success, later revealing she was suffering from postnatal depression after giving birth to her daughter Thalia, now 17, she was replaced by Amelle Berrabah.
Feisty and outspoken, it seems efforts were made to thwart Mutya’s solo career. Speaking in August this year, she claimed she was told she “wasn’t allowed” to be near the other girls after leaving the band.
And she added: “I couldn’t perform anywhere the Sugababes were. It was very unfair. I lost out on a lot of work.”
When Keisha, the last remaining original member, left in 2009 reports emerged saying that Amelle quit the group after a fall out with Keisha, and when Heidi threatened to walk as well, Keisha was sacked instead.
She said in 2021: “I don’t know if people know this but I didn’t actually leave but I was replaced while still being in the band.”
The Eurovision Song Contest star Jade Ewen took her spot.
Two days after meeting her new bandmates, Jade was filming a video with them for single About A Girl. But it wasn’t a happy camp.
Heidi confessed: “It was a difficult situation . . . The last time I saw Keisha was terrible. We didn’t speak. I’ve sent her a message but she’s not talking to me.
"She doesn’t want to know. It’s been years together with the band and it’s really hard. Really hard. Everyone’s nicknamed me Tiny Tears because I’m constantly bursting into tears.”
Meanwhile, Jade struggled to win the hearts of fans. She revealed in 2010: “The loyal fans weren’t so willing to embrace me.
“People shouted abuse at me in the street. I remember thinking, ‘Maybe I’ve made a mistake’.”
And The Sugababes’ well-oiled machine ground to a halt when, two years later, the band went on a hiatus as the remaining members pursued solo careers.
Mutya, Keisha and Siobhan have revealed it was their fans who convinced them to reunite, which they did in 2012, calling themselves Mutya Keisha Siobhan (MKS for short).
Despite being the original members of the band, they were blocked from using the Sugababes name due to trademark issues.
Siobhan said: “We only did the one album together and we knew it had great potential and this was about making sure we worked with great producers to reach that potential.”
Keisha added: “We went into the studio and we felt like the magic, I guess, was still there.”
They signed with Polydor Records, which resulted in one single Flatline, released in 2013 to critical acclaim but the record deal turned south.
And in June this year, they claimed they were “sabotaged” by music industry figures who didn’t want them to succeed after reforming.
Their album was leaked before it was officially released. Siobhan, who has a four-year-old son Ford with husband Chris McCoy, said: “Some people would say it was sabotage.”
Keisha added: “We had to go against people obstructing us. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t fair. But we carried on.
“We stuck together, we pushed through and we just thought, ‘We created the name ourselves and it’s part of us’.
“So we went with the name MKS because of the obstruction.
“It was unfair because when that happens and you don’t get to explain it to the masses, it falls back on us and then the people who obstruct, they run off into the sunset.”
While the band was back together, they were determined to reclaim their brand and in 2019, they secured the legal rights to the group name again after a long-fought legal battle.
They faced another setback when they were forced to scrap their plans for a 20th anniversary reunion due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
Now, with the bidding war over their reunion, it’s clear this time the Sugababes will be marching to their own beat.
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