Cover of Spice by the Spice Girls

The Renaissance of the Girl Group

All the women who independent, throw your hands up at me!

After some years of being dormant, the girl group is back. And they seem to be looking to the women who came before them for inspiration.

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The latest group making waves within the music industry has been the British girl band FLO, a trio of London women whose music covers a range of genres, including pop and R&B. The members clearly recognize their predecessors, as their music has a late nineties / early noughties feel to it. I could’ve sworn “Cardboard Box” had a sample from an old school bop. But after doing some digging, it just turns out that Jorja Doughlas, Stella Quaresma, and Renée Downer managed to capture that sound perfectly, All while making it their own.

FLO, who recently won the 2023 BRITs Rising Star Award, released their latest single last week (March 23). However, “Fly Girl” does have a sample. The song features rap royalty Missy Elliott and samples her top 10 single “Work It,” and it’s doing pretty well. I bet we’ll hear it on the radio a lot in the coming months.

A history of girl groups

There have been all-female groups since the beginning of time. But what we recognize as the “girl group” came about around 100 years ago, in the 1920s and ’30s, with Three X Sisters and The Boswell Sisters. Then in 1962, The Shirelles became the first all-black girl group to have a number one with “Solider Boy.” These women led the way for groups like The Ronnettes and The Supremes (which featured a young Diana Ross) later on in the ’60s and ’70s.

In the ’80s, there was a bit of a lull in terms of girl groups hitting the top of the charts. But there was the emergence of The Pointer Sisters and Bananarama. The ’90s is when girl groups boomed. It was a turning point for this kind of group. The Spice Girls were some of the most prominent figures in the rollout of the 90s feminist movement, which we still see the effects of today. When you ask someone who was in touch with ’90s pop culture what the group stood for, you’ll most likely get the answer “girl power.” They championed friendship and female strength through their music and performances. They’re also record-breakers and one of the bestselling girl bands ever.

In the ’90s, there were also quite a few R&B groups, like Destiny’s Child and TLC, who sang and rapped about not wanting an aspirational, rich man with songs like “No Scrubs” and “Bills Bills Bills.” (And yes, that, too, is a form of empowerment. Argue with the wall.)

The fall and reemergence of the girl group

Girl groups’ popularity continued into the 2000s with the likes of the U.K. bands Girls Aloud and Sugababes, as well as U.S. chart toppers The Pussycat Dolls. But girl power in its original form didn’t last as long as some thought it would have. Girl groups seemed to die down in the mid-2010s, after Camila Cabello left Fifth Harmony and following Little Mix’s historical X Factor U.K. win and chart reign.

FLO isn’t the only one bringing back the girl group. K-Pop girl groups have really taken off in the Western mainstream. Groups like BLACKPINK and Twice have gathered huge followings and are charting high in many countries—like the U.S. and U.K.

I think the idea that girl groups started to disappear into the abyss with solo female acts taking a hold of the radio airways is actually quite sad. As much as seeing a woman succeed on her own is a win, seeing women do it together is also something to be cherished. Not to mention how amazing a lot of their harmonies are.

Unfortunately, though, I don’t believe that this idea would stop the media from pitting women against each other. Whether you go at it alone or with your pals, there is always going to be scrutiny of some sort. “She’s a bitch, look what she said about/did to her bandmate,” etc. The worst boybands get is probably fans writing fanfiction about two of its members going at it like jackrabbits. True, some have been accused of some form of violence (Zayn Malik, Ortise Williams, Nick Carter). But has it really affected their reputations? I’m not wholly convinced.

After making history at the BRIT Awards in 2021 by being the first all-female band to win Best Group, Little Mix took the opportunity to speak about sexism in the music industry in their speech. Reading their pre-prepared speech, member Leigh-Anne Pinnock said, “It’s not easy being a female in the U.K. pop industry. We’ve seen their white, male dominance misogyny, sexism, and lack of diversity. We’re proud of how we’ve stuck together, stood our ground, and surrounded ourselves of strong women and are now using our voices more than ever.”

Jade Thirwall continued by saying, “The fact a girl band has never won this award really does speak volumes. So this award isn’t just for us, it’s for the Spice Girls, Sugababes, All Saints, Girls Aloud—all of the incredible female bands. This one’s for you.”

Sexism isn’t the only issue, though. Racism is a problem for women of colour in girl bands, too. Leign-Anne has discussed the issue in her documentary Odd One Out. The Spice Girls’ Mel B, who is biracial, has also talked about it. Recalling one incident before shooting the video to their debut single “Wannabe,” Mel B was asked to straighten her hair and refused. “My hair was my identity, and yes, it was different to all the other girls,’ but that was what the Spice Girls were about—celebrating our differences,” she recalled.

Should we still be using “girl group,” anyway?

There have also been questions as to whether or not the terms “girl group” and “girl band” are sexist, and I definitely think that there is a discussion to be had on the matter. I personally think that if those conversations happen, my generation, and those after, will drop the term and just use the word “band.” If we need to be specific, “all-female” band. Though the word female has its own problems, so who knows?

In my opinion, “boyband” is redundant—and not just because they’ve gone dormant. After One Direction’s hiatus in 2015, there hasn’t been another big boyband. This could most likely be contributed to the feminist movement since Me Too, when certain lyrics wouldn’t fly anymore. And really, that Harry Styles pretty-boy look isn’t what the girlies want anymore. They want what the Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child offered them, and what groups like FLO have arrived to once again deliver: empowerment, the strength of female friendship, and, for a lack of a better phrase, the ability to be a badass bitch.

(featured image: Virgin Records)

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Image of Brooke Pollock
Brooke Pollock
Brooke Pollock is a UK-based entertainment journalist who talks incessantly about her thoughts on pop culture. She can often be found with her headphones on listening to an array of music, scrolling through social media, at the cinema with a large popcorn, or laying in bed as she binges the latest TV releases. She has almost a year of experience and her core beat is digital culture.