Wanted: Girl groups.
Must be cute, sweet and ready to hit the top of the pop charts.
That’s the current music industry mandate and the timing couldn’t be more right. There hasn’t been a sustained superstar female group since Destiny’s Child died 12 years ago.
Several strong candidates stand ready to fill their shoes. Their ascent has been noticed by industry insiders like Z-100 program director Sharon Dastur.
In July, the station held a promotional appearance at a mall in Paramus, N.J., for Fifth Harmony, a girl group that had never officially toured and had yet to release a single album. “When you plan these kinds of events, you can’t be sure who will show up,” Dastur says.
She found out fast. By showtime, 2,000 fans swarmed the place. “Some of them even lined up at 3 a.m. to make sure they got a good spot,” says Dastur. “You end up needing extra security.”
A similar thing happened three months earlier at a promo event Z-100 co-sponsored with iHeart Radio at their Manhattan studios for another new girl act, Little Mix. “We had a standing-room crowd of about 300 people inside, but the entire side street was packed with thousands of fans waiting to catch a glimpse,” Dastur says. “People were going crazy trying to get in.”
Pent-up demand may have a lot to do with it.
The last decade has seen the longest and deepest drought in girl-group pop in more than half a century.
That’s a remarkable absence given the fact that, ever since the Andrews Sisters in the ’30s, every decade has seen scores of tightly-scripted “girl” acts race to the top of the charts. Hitmakers range from the Chordettes, the McGuire Sisters and the Lennon Sisters in the ’50s, to the Ronettes, the Crystals and the Supremes in the ’60s, right up through TLC, En Vogue and the Spice Girls in the ’90s.
Yet, since Destiny’s hot streak ended in 2001, only one girl group has enjoyed multiplatinum success: the Pussycat Dolls. And their meow went mute back in 2006, after one brief year of success.
Fifth Harmony’s Ally Brooke Hernandez says it’s this very scenario that got the dials turning for pop czar Simon Cowell. He assembled the act’s five members from singers auditioning for Fox’s “The X Factor.” “Simon said there was a gap in the market,” Hernandez explains. “And he wanted us to fill it.”
The formula already worked stupendously well for One Direction, whom Cowell helped form on the British “X Factor” three years earlier. In 2011, Cowell helped girl group Little Mix, also formed for the British “X Factor.”
Competition-show-generated pop acts aren’t the only ones vying to resuscitate the girl-group genre. There’s also the Lylas, comprising all four sisters of pop sensation Bruno Mars. The quartet makes their debut Nov. 8 via their own reality series, debuting on We TV. To boot, there’s Girls’ Generation, the next great hope from the K-Pop world. Currently, they’re recording their English language debut for release next year.
Perhaps sensing a change in the scene, the girl group Danity Kane, who broke up four years ago, announced their reformation on MTV’s VMAs in August.
This Tuesday, Fifth Harmony releases its debut EP under the telling title “Better Together.” On Monday at 9 p.m., VH1 debuts a much-anticipated movie about the biggest American female bonding act of all time, TLC.
While it may seem shocking that it took so long for the industry to try to breathe new life into the girl-group brand, observers say several formidable factors smothered it. “Starting in 2006, the market was taken over by individual TV teen idols morphing into music stars,” says Jackie Fulton, editor of J-14 magazine, which covers the teen scene. “You had Miley from ‘Hannah Montana’ and Ashley Tisdale and Vanessa Hudgens of ‘High School Musical.’ They became the new stars.”
Spurred by their success, Disney and Nickelodeon next pushed actors-turned-singers like Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato and, most recently, Ariana Grande. During the same period, the top female teen idol turned out to be a solo star blessed with enough power to nearly eclipse all the others: Taylor Swift.
Ty Bentli, morning DJ of pop station 92.3 Now, sees another diva’s hand in the girl group swoon. “When Beyoncé left Destiny’s Child, she promoted the whole ‘Miss Independent’ idea,” he says. “It showed everyone, in a very powerful way, that you didn’t have to be part of a group. You could do it all on your own.”
Another hurdle for groups: they have to deal with egos, says Tiara Hernandez of the Lylas. “It’s really difficult to get along with all these people for that long, because you’re not only working with them, you’re living with them.”
According to LaLa Brooks, lead singer of one the world’s first girl groups, the Crystals, the individual members “can’t bicker. You have to figure out who’s going to be the front singer and who’s the best looking and not be jealous of that,” she says. “Each girl has to have confidence in herself and accept her shortcomings.”
On the other hand, groups of girl singers have distinct advantages in the market over solo stars. “A group like the Spice Girls has five different characters to interest you,” says Billboard’s chart manager Keith Caulfield. “A solo singer has to be Sporty and Posh and Scary all in one girl.”
At the same time, a group has to somehow reconcile two opposing factors. Each member needs to arise as an individual character, while also melding into a single, cohesive unit. “For teen girls, friendship is such an important part of their lives,” explains J-14’s Fulton. “There’s a sisterhood that goes on between girls. These groups need to reflect that.”
Fulton says the girls also “need to be relatable.”
For that reason, they can’t be too sexy. Fifth Harmony’s Camila Cabello feels that’s why the Pussycat Dolls couldn’t last. “Not every girl has that image,” she says. “Little girls need to see what’s attainable.”
Her group has the wholesomeness factor down. “We’re just quirky little teenagers,” Cabello says.
Even so, they face a steep climb. While Fifth Harmony’s debut single, “Miss Movin’ On,” became the first single by an “X Factor” act to chart on Billboard’s Top 100 list, it did so just barely, inching no higher than No. 76. Little Mix’s debut album, “DNA,” may have opened at No. 4 on the Billboard Top 200 CD list, but it’s only sold 111,000 copies so far, according to Nielsen/SoundScan.
Still, experts have faith in the new girl group breed. Fulton says they’ve been hugely popular with J-14 readers, and points to Fifth Harmony’s strong showing on social media. Each member has between 350,000 and 650,000 Twitter followers, while the group as a whole can claim 874,000. More, they’ll be performing along with Little Mix on Demi Lovato’s much-anticipated arena tour early next year.
That show could make for a real faceoff between the solo singers, whose days may be waning, and the new girl groups. Fifth Harmony’s Hernandez doesn’t see it that way. “Demi wanted all of us on the tour to create a whole girl-power thing,” she says. “This isn’t about competition. Right now, it feels like there will be plenty of room for all of us.”
GIRL GROUPS BY DECADE
– The ’30s and ’40s: the Andrews Sisters, Boswell Sisters, Hamilton Sisters.
– The ’50s: the Chordettes, the Fontane Sisters, the McGuire Sisters, the Lennon Sisters, the Chantels, the Bonnie Sisters.
– The ’60s: the Shirelles, the Crystals, the Blossoms, the Ronettes, the Dixie Cups, the Supremes, the Marvelettes, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, the Chiffons, Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles.
– The ’70s: Honey Cone, the Three Degrees, the Emotions, Sister Sledge, Silver Convention.
– The ’80s: Bananarama, the Bangles, the Go-Gos, the Mary Jane Girls, the Pointer Sisters, Wilson Phillips.
– The ’90s: En Vogue, Salt-N-Pepa, Exposé, TLC, SWV, Xscape, Spice Girls, Destiny’s Child.
– 2000s: Pussycat Dolls, Danity Kane.
– 2010s: Fifth Harmony, Little Mix, the Lylas, Girls’ Generation.
BEST-SELLING GIRL GROUPS OF THE SOUNDSCAN ERA — WORLDWIDE
1) Spice Girls
2) Destiny’s Child
5) ASB48 (Japan)
6) Speed (Japan)
7) The Supremes
8) En Vogue
9) Morning Musume (Japan)
BEST-SELLING GIRL-GROUP ALBUMS IN THE U.S.
1) “Crazy Sexy Cool,” TLC, 11.2 million.
2) “The Writing’s On the Wall,” Destiny’s Child, 8.4 mil.
3) “Spice,” Spice Girls, 7.4 mil.
4) “FanMail,” TLC, 4.7 mil.
5) “Very Necessary,” Salt-N-Pepa, 4.4 mil.