A while ago, I hastily-penned a short article expressing my disdain for the whole Sugababes v.27 thing. Just a few months later, in their eternal bid to prove that anything the Brits can do the Yanks can do better, the Pussycat Dolls are making the Sugababes incident seem like an event of ‘kid pushes over other kid’s sandcastle’ magnitude.
It currently looks as if Nicole Scherzinger is the last Doll standing – a mean feat considering she wasn’t even a Doll in the first place (she was added to give ‘vocal strength’ when the burlesque troupe became a band). Given that Scherzinger apparently manages to sing both lead and backing vocals on When I Grow Up (meaning should the post of PCD magician become vacant, Scherzinger is a dead cert), any other members are clearly dispensable and amidst tales of dressing rooms, drug tests, regulated screen-time in videos, non-sharing of vocals, broken ribs and even homelessness, Kimberly Wyatt, Jessica Sutta and Ashley Roberts have all confirmed their departures. The exit of Melody Thornton, the only other member even allowed within breathing space of a microphone and who had an outburst live on stage about not being ‘featured’ (a reference to the band’s new name of “Pussycat Dolls feat. Nicole Scherzinger” on their last singles), surely cannot be far off.
The fact that you’re probably scratching your heads trying to place these names – that’s if you’re even bothering attempting to place them at all (and no, none of them are the one who looked like a he-she – that was Carmit Bachar and she left 2 years ago) – illustrates the problem. These other members were little more than glorified back-up dancers for Scherzinger and in fact, salaried employees of the record company. This means they picked up pay cheques for a set amount just like you, me or any other average Joe flipping burgers at the local Machouse.
This already promoted the idea that members were interchangeable – in any corporation, no-one is irreplaceable – and this has led to a somewhat blasé attitude amongst some commentators regarding PCD’s (as we know them) demise. But this isn’t a corporation, it’s a pop band. You put these girls on every single record sleeve, you have an official website where each has a member profile, you send them out touring and you do this over the course of five whole years – of course, their job status is a little different to your average Joe flipping burgers and should be treated as such. It’s a little sad if we just shrug our shoulders and continue to lap up whatever material Scherzinger and her chorus line put out next.
The notion of modern pop fandom means having some connection with the individuals in the group, for better or for worse. Yes, yes, it should all be about the music blah blah blah but where would the fun be in that? People inevitably develop favourite members, bustling fansites and forums emerge and Thornton, Wyatt and Roberts have approximately 90,000 followers on Twitter between them; to the hardcore fans, the staple of pop groups who rely on such fans to religiously buy singles even when they’re at the tricky dodgy ballad stage, these women are not just interchangeable faces – whatever Robin Antin, the brains (and the botox) behind brand PCD, may believe.
Compare and contrast the videos for the lead single and last singles from the Doll Domination album campaign. By the end, the other members are lucky to get 20 seconds screen-time between them and aren’t even bothering to lip-sync to backing vocals. It shows disrespect to the fans, disrespect to real bands whose performances aren’t a total charade and disrespect to the girls themselves.
Line-up changes, bust-ups and messy splits are practically written into girl groups’ DNA and I daresay that if the Pussycat Dolls, in whatever Nicole-centric incarnation (lest we forget she had a prolonged crack at solo stardom and comprehensively flopped), continue to release highly-commercial material of a similar calibre to their work in the past, they will continue to sell decently. To lose one band member is bad luck, to lose two is carelessness… to lose four in one fell swoop hints at deeper problems. I hope the press give them a hard time because they genuinely deserve it. Come back Sugababes v.48, all is forgiven.