Girls Aloud is among my favorite girl groups of all time.
But don’t take my present word for it: just ask my 24-year-old self, who ventured abroad to London for the first time just to see their triumphant Ten Tour.
“My obsession with the group started around 2005 or so, when I was prowling one of the now defunct Britney forums and came across a thread celebrating the video for ‘The Show’ and touting them as the new Spice Girls. At first, I was unimpressed. ‘No one beats Spice,’ I thought to myself. But then I kept on watching.
I quickly fell in love with what’s become the signature Aloud sound, carefully constructed by their longtime collaborators, Xenomania: The endlessly catchy hooks, mile-a-minute rhythms, the cheeky, nonsensical references to bad behavio(u)r, disco dancing, deadlines, diets and hanging ’round the kitchen in one’s underwear…the group isn’t just one of the primary catalysts that forever sparked my love for British pop music, but the major reason for some of my best friendships with my similarly Brit pop-minded friends in America–including several people who journeyed overseas with me. Basically, if you know what Tangled Up is, you can sit with us.”
That love affair never changed, even if Life Got Cold (REFERENCE) many years ago when the girl group slipped away in the form of a TwitLonger. (Too soon, still.)
Life’s also changed significantly, as has each member’s individual circumstances. And right now, our beloved Sarah Harding is going through an extraordinarily difficult battle.
At what should have been a joyous time for the group spent plotting a 20th anniversary reunion in 2022, instead, Sarah is fighting breast cancer, which has since spread to other parts of her body. And according to her newly released memoir, Hear Me Out, she’s been dealt an incredibly bleak prognosis.
“In December my doctor told me that the upcoming Christmas would probably be my last,” she wrote, adding that she’s “trying to live and enjoy every second of my life, however long it might be…I’m at a stage now where I don’t know how many months I have left. Who knows, maybe I’ll surprise everyone, but that’s how I’m looking at things.”
There’s no other way to put it: it’s devastating.
But Sarah is still Sarah after all, and she remains a feisty fighter as ever – with a dark sense of humor, no less – at peace with whatever comes next.
“I keep thinking about funerals at the moment,” she writes.
“It might sound morbid, but it’s hard not to at this stage — cemeteries, plots, burials, what kind of send-off I’d like and how it would all go. I’ve also thought about an epitaph for my grave. I’m thinking ‘FFS’ might be a good one. It’s probably been my most used phrase throughout this, with one crappy event following another. ‘For fuck’s sake!’”
Despite quite a few years spent apart, the members of the Almighty Aloud have all united to rally around Sarah on social media and promote her memoir alongside the fans, cheering her on and sending her love as her book, and the accompanying Girls Aloud song, “Hear Me Out,” surged to the top of the charts.
Following the song’s vault to No. 1 on the UK iTunes Chart, Xenomania collaborator Brian Higgins also provided some sweet, evocative insight into Sarah co-writing the 2004 What Will the Neighbours Say? song, an aspect that often gets overlooked in pop, especially when it comes to girl group contributions to the songwriting process.
“The songwriting talent of @SarahNHarding is being recognised, it is lovely to see ‘Hear Me Out’ by @GirlsAloudMedia sat at no.1 on iTunes. This was Sarah’s co-write on the 2nd album What Will The Neighbours Say. This is how it happened…they all came down to Kent on a really hot mid-summer day in 2004, to each write a song for the album. It was a classic English summers day, hot, the colour green and the colour blue everywhere with a warm light breeze. We took the whole day very seriously, we wanted each song to bring the very best out of each girl’s writing talents. The band knew before they arrived that this was very much their day, so, on arrival, The Old Vicarage was filled with this added layer of fantastic, excited energy. It was a great day to be at Xenomania – everybody wanted them to smash it! Lots of adrenaline and buzz to do great things and see what each girl had,” he wrote.
“One by one, Miranda [Cooper] and I sat with the band as they came in to write their song against music they had chosen earlier- all the xeno team had prepared their musical ideas that they each thought would capture one or some of the girls’ attention. Gladly, each girl heard something they were confident in and felt was close to their own musical hearts. The lyric and top line writing took place in the yellow room at our first studio in Westerham. The sun was pouring into the room and it was about 4.30pm, so the light felt perfect. It was also hot in the room, but not oppressive – just right. Sarah was definitely very nervous and hyped before we started, big bolts of adrenaline rushing through her. The music started and BANG! The chorus roared out of her virtually finished! Miranda and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows, mouths falling open. WOW! I was not expecting that. In the one time she had heard the musical backing track when picking music earlier, she had been able to write the whole of the chorus. It’s pretty amazing when things like that happen – when the first idea smashes it. And what a vocal performance!! It’s emotional, it’s earnest and it’s raw, but, the vocal melody is also skilled, intelligent and finds true and real emotions in the chords that the music offers. This is art – true, complete expression. This is why we do it – we pursue that moment, we pursue those feelings. To boot, it also has the feel of classic 80’s/90’s euro which makes it even more amazing! As a song, ‘Hear Me Out’ completely warrants its place on the album. It was talked about as a 4th single and just lost out to the pile driver that is ‘Wake Me Up’. Sarah chose that moment to write the song of her life – a song that is completely true to who she is.”
As it turns out, “Hear Me Out” isn’t the only musical moment from Sarah that’s getting attention.
“Hi everyone – hope you are all keeping well. It’s been so lovely to hear that you guys have been enjoying Hear Me Out, both the book and the song! I can’t believe you nutters got the song not only into the charts, but to NUMBER ONE! I love you all so much, you are the best people in the world,” Sarah wrote on her Instagram on Thursday (March 25).
“So, while I was searching through my laptop for old photos to include in the book I actually came across a song I’d recorded about ten years ago. I’ve always really loved it, and it made me feel a bit sad that no one ever got to hear it. I mentioned this to my team and they said we could release it, and I thought ‘why the hell not?’ It’s called ‘Wear It Like A Crown’ and it’s out on iTunes and streaming… FROM TODAY. I’ve literally no idea how this all works anymore, but on the off chance it generates any profit, I’ll give it all to the Christie NHS Foundation @christiecharity where I’m receiving my treatment. If you’ve read my book you’ll know just how amazing the Doctors, Nurses and all the staff at The Christie are. They are actual angels.”
And all at once, we’ve got new (old) Harding on our hands.
Produced by Robert Habolin (Girls’ Generation, Zara Larsson), and co-penned by Gavin Jones and the talented Swedish singer-songwriter and Pure Shores member Marlene (!), the early ’10s kiss-off contains all the energy and attitude that one would expect to hear from Harding, as she casts out a creep and makes the best of a bitter ending, reigning supreme on the throne with a crown made out of misfortune.
“I’ll turn your lies to gold and shining diamonds / And wear it like a crown,” she declares.
And even if this was originally intended to be a break-up banger, the overall message of this “Crown” – of perseverance in the face of fuckery, and making the most of a bad situation – meets the moment rather appropriately.
This moment, of course, is about much more than just the song.
I want to send Sarah all my love, and my heartfelt appreciation for contributing to something that profoundly changed my life and informed so much of my career, my friendships and my passion for music. We are all with you and support you, and I hope you are seeing and feeling that every day. I’m sending you all the strength, positivity, love and peace in the world.