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How Sugababes remain a testament to eternal friendship

20 September 2023, 13:19

Sugababes' "One Night Only" show was a celebration of individual growth and a potent, life affirming validation of mutual love, writes Mitch Stevens.

There’s nothing like a big night out with the people you grew up with; it’s a scientific fact.

I have proof of this myself: recently, my oldest friend in the world got married to his teenage sweetheart - a person who over the years, has become one of my dearest friends too. The event was filled with incredible people who, over the years, I have naturally fallen in and out of regular contact with, but have nevertheless been there for some of the most formative moments of my life. It felt like one of the most natural, beautiful moments of my own existence and one that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

For Sugababes – now two years into their return in their original, most feted incarnation of Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan and Siobhan Donaghy – their biggest headline show ever at London’s O2 Arena must have felt similar. Sharing one of London’s most hallowed stages with bandmates that have formed the gravitational pull of their own creative orbit since the age of eleven through highly publicised trials and tribulations would have proven to be nothing short of an emotional apex for a group who are considered to be one of the UK’s all time best, despite only having one album and one EP to their name with their current line up. The most beautiful thing is, for the roughly 19,000 filling up tonight’s venue, it would have felt the same. For a certain subset of fans, Sugababes have existed in some guise or another for the majority of their own lives; growing up, falling away from each other, and eventually returning, in real time – acting as a monument to the enduring power of friendship and collaboration, while providing a seminal soundtrack for all of life’s ups and downs throughout.

Giugliotto 230915 Sugababes O2 Arena 22 42 2503

With six number one singles, two number one albums and 18 tracks that have reached the UK top 10, Sugababes are one of the UK’s most successful pop entities, and although only one of those top tens has come from the band’s original line up, tonight acts as a celebration of the trio’s continuing legacy, with hits from various personnel setups performed better than they ever have been. "Push The Button", "Red Dress" and "Hole In The Head" open the show with renewed joy; bringing an energy to the table that hasn’t existed without original member Siobhan Donaghy, who finds her own singular perspective on tracks that may not have been recorded with her, but feel completely natural within this current line up. The band make various allusions to their own career highs and lows, sharing jokes and tender moments between performances of old friends not only reminiscing on good times in the past, but sharing excitement for the future. The trio are determined to make the evening special, not only for themselves, but for each person who has spent their own money to celebrate this moment with them - drawing for live rarities such as "Run For Cover" and "Shape Of My Heart’. They also devote a section to One Touch – for my money, the greatest album to have ever come from the UK – backed by rehearsal videos from their early teens, mimicking the visuals’ own dance moves on stage, which in turn acts as an allusion to the shared unity between their early years and where they are now; a successful, experienced trio of dear friends.

That’s not to say that the evening is filled with nostalgia however; tracks like the Dev Hynes-produced ‘Flatline’, that was released originally in 2013 before forming the lead single on last year’s The Lost Tapes EP gets one of the most rapturous responses of the night, while brand new single ‘When The Rain Comes’ is platformed by a troupe of dancers and an opportunity to further showcase the group’s still astounding vocal range. Their chemistry onstage is still palpable too; not just in their movement or the way that they lovingly talk between songs, but in their second nature for harmonies - not one note sounds out of place when the trio are locked in together - each member knows their own place within the vocal tapestries they weave, ebbing and flowing freely and adding new facets to songs that have grown a huge level of familiarity for those within the arena.


The joy of the ubiquity of Sugababes’ output is that each member of the audience has formed their own relationship with the tracks showcased tonight. Friends in the audience embrace, while some cry, but every single person dances. That feels like a wider allegory for this show, with each song feeling like an old friend that comes with its own experience completely unique to the person hearing it. By the time "Round Round" and "About You Now" close out the performance, it feels like the audience have been through the full spectrum of human emotion both separately and together under one roof, celebrating one of the finest and despite their success, most underrated groups to come from our shores. At one point during the show, a videotape plays of one of the band’s earliest interviews - finding them confidently taking questions about their formation and hopes for the future. What’s most heartwarming about tonight’s show is that Sugababes have exceeded those expectations, while consciously or not, setting a whole new echelon of them for the future.

Girls Aloud and the Spice Girls may have hit loftier heights when it came to chart success, but Sugababes will always be the group to have soundtracked a generation’s hopes, heartbreaks and so much more, and with both that audience and the band now fully grown into that experience, the future of the UK’s most exciting girl group feels like a truly special thing to look forward to.

The O2 show was far from a simple victory lap, or a nostalgia trip - it was a celebration of individual growth and the power of enduring friendship, one of the most potent, life affirming emotions that myself or any of the 19,000 people within the O2 that night could encounter.

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