The Story of Pop: 2002 (Chapter 33)

The Story of Pop: 2002. The weekly series on this here corner of the web that revisits some of the biggest sounds and toppermost turns of the UK charts as they sounded two whole decades ago. This week: a second chart topper on the trot for one of the 21st Century’s biggest girl groups…

  • Artist: Sugababes
  • Song: Round Round
  • Released: 12/08/2002
  • Writers / Producers: Brian Higgins / Miranda Cooper / Lisa Cowling / Tim Powell / Niara Scarlett / Nick Coler / Keisha Buchanan / Mutya Buena / Heidi Range / Florian Pflueger / Felix Stecher / Robin Hofmann / Rino Spadavecchia / Xenomania
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #1
  • Weeks on Chart: 14

The rejuvenation of Sugababes‘ career with their chart topping bootleg sourced rework of “Freak Like Me” back in April had been one of the year’s more captivating success stories in pop music. Now, as Keisha Buchanan, Mutya Buena and newest member Heidi Range geared up to release their second album – titled Angels With Dirty Faces – all were waiting to see if the single that followed would be a lightning bolt that struck twice.

Even before they had signed to their new deal with Island Records, they had already begun writing, demoing and recording songs for the album with a variety of producers. And it was their work with one team in particular that would not only prove to be fruitful for their career, but whose productions would come to define the sound of British pop music in the 00s.

Born in Whitehaven in Cumbria in 1966, Brian Higgins had grown up heavily influenced by electronic music, and after moving down south to West Sussex in the 1980s, was in a series of different bands, before he went onto be a session keyboardist at Motiv8, a hi-NRG influenced dance production team, headed by Steve Rodway.

They had incredible success in the 90s with their own releases such as “Rockin’ For Myself”, as well as remixing singles for Pulp, Saint Etienne and Spice Girls, and producing Gina G’s chart topping and Grammy Award winning “Ooh Aah … Just A Little Bit”, that had been the UK’s entry at the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest.

It’s Gina G that’s the link here, as one of her backing dancers at Eurovision was a well spoken blonde lady from London, by the name of Miranda Cooper, the daughter of a former director of royal jewellers Aspreys. Fast forward a few years to 1999, and Brian was fresh from writing and producing both Dannii Minogue’s biggest hit to that point (“All I Wanna Do”, #4 in August 1997) and Cher’s million selling number one smash “Believe“.

Miranda meanwhile, had gained the performing bug after she was signed up as part of a duo called T-Shirt, who released an execrable cover of Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing” (it was pulled from UK release when the original was reissued after its use in The Full Monty, but did find success in Australia, of all places). Referred to Brian by Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley, Miranda then started writing with Brian and a few other people – Tim Powell and Matt Gray – and thus Xenomania was born.

Situated out of the same sleepy vicarage in the quiet market town of Westerham in Kent where Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland had lived, Xenomania were a production team with their eye on pushing the boundaries and bringing something different to British pop. Alas their moment wasn’t to arrive instantly.

Signed to – coincidentally – London Records, under the alias Moonbaby, Miranda attempted to launch the quirky, fusion pop sound of Xenomania to the world as a solo artist in August 2000. Alas stubborn resistance from the wider media and industry at the time (Radio 1 refused to playlist the single on account of seeing a picture of Miranda bathing in a champagne glass, saying “That dolly bird’s not written this”) meant the only single from the project, “Here We Go” was cancelled, and the London Records deal was axed (although, major spoiler alert, it would eventually find a home on the second album of the act that we discuss at the very end of this series).

Cut to a year later, and Sugababes were in the exact same position that Xenomania were; labelless, but brimming with ideas and with a pressing need to turn things around. Together, they wrote and recorded a number of tracks, one of which, “Round Round” was to eventually become the album’s second single. The chorus had been sketched down by Miranda some two years previously, but only when sung over a backing track that sampled an obscure tango number (“Tangoforte” by Dublex Inc, the credit of which is thus responsible for the writing and production list above being as long as it was), with each of the girls writing and contributing their own verse, did they find what they thought was a hit.

A fizzing yet sassy concoction, it was cool and assured as the chorus set it’s stall out as an indicator of Sugababes not being the average girl group for that time: “Round round, baby, round round / Spinnin’ out on me / I don’t need no man / Get my kicks for free”. Fresh off the back of the widespread critical and commercial success of “Freak Like Me”, only one outcome was inevitable.

Confidently seeing off a busy new release schedule, “Round Round” gave the girls their second consecutive number one single of 2002, shooting straight in at the top twenty years ago this week. It also helped the Angels With Dirty Faces album to get off to a great start, entering and peaking at #2 in the album chart upon its release a couple of weeks later.

Further singles from the album, including the still stunning “Stronger”, released as a double-A-side with the album’s title track (#7 in November) and a rewritten cover of Sting’s “Shape Of My Heart” (#11 in March 2003) would eventually see to it being certified triple platinum, as well as winning them a BRIT Award for Best Dance Act in 2003 and becoming the first girl group to play the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival.

More success was to come over the years that followed of course, and the original lineup of Keisha, Mutya and Siobhan Donaghy will, having just wowed audiences at Glastonbury and Mighty Hoopla this summer, head back out on the road this autumn for a 20th anniversary tour since the release of their debut album One Touch.

To this week though, and we toast to “Round Round”. With two consecutive chart toppers to their name, Sugababes were establishing themselves as the girl group to be reckoned with in the 21st century, with Xenomania providing both the perfect sound for the girls and the perfect introduction to the boundary breaking soundscapes they would continue to bringing to the top 10. And with hits like these, who could deny either of them?

Don’t forget to follow our brand new playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 2002. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments, Tweet us or message us on Instagram, using the hashtag #StoryofPop2002.

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