Culture Editor Jeevan reviews the final show of the Sugababes’ UK tour.
It was an eclectic assortment of us filing into the O2 Academy on a Monday night. Lots of forty somethings were reliving their glory days, sporting semi glamorous attire scrambled together after a Monday slog in the office. But the Sugababes are a timeless phenomenon, and the number of young people in attendance was both heartening and unsurprising.
We were first treated to two support acts following on seamlessly from one another. Kara Marni is 22 and on TikTok. She releases EPs (not albums) and her London accent is generic, not specific. Her palette is impressive for a young and emerging artist – from good vibes garage to R&B to acoustic sad girl stuff – while the slitted orange trousers and rain jacket she wore for the performance exuded high fashion. Her life stories were hardly original (she has an ex she has blocked on all platforms, and has a best friend who does not take her advice), but that somehow made them more endearing. Even the downright cringeworthy pleas to the Scottish audience – “next time I’ll wear a kilt” “1, 2, 3 haggis” – were forgiven because of the all round good vibes. It was a bold move to ask us to shine our flashlights at 8.19pm, but we all (eventually) obeyed. Her stage presence will take her far.
Shosh, meanwhile, is a Kiss FM DJ invariably deployed to turn up the vibeometer a few more notches. Her set was so fast-paced that several additional drinks would have been acquired to appreciate it, but hearing TLC’s No Scrubs at 140 bpm was a particular highlight, and you would not know her relative inexperience as a producer by the intense and energetic transitions. As the Sugababes reunite and reflect on a bygone career, it’s generous for them to choose two supporting artists only at the start of theirs.
The call and response – “When I say suga, you say babes” – was not needed for very long as the original lineup of Mutya Buena, Siobhán Donaghy and Keisha Buchanan entered the stage extremely on time, with leather abound. We all gasped in almost unanimous disbelief as the group opened with Push The Button, a brave and genius move to induce our unhinged potential from the off. They followed up with two further pop sensations that Stock Aitken Waterman could only dream of producing – Red Dress and Hole In The Head – which took on a newfound brilliance played live.
The Sugababes adopted the tried and tested formula of a slightly slower middle section, allowing them to show off their ballads, chat to the audience and build some anticipation. To see all three of them hugging on stage after Stronger was just so sweet, and emotions were inevitably heightened with this being their last show on the UK tour. Siobhán Donaghy did not want to go “back to reality”, and Keisha Buchanan employed multiple euphemisms alluding to the legal battle the reunited group had undertaken to perform as the Sugababes; describing extensively how they came up with the name and what it means to them.
Overload, the song that kickstarted everything for them, began with the band members sitting on chairs (even more sedate than the simple, swaying side-to-side choreography of Push The Button and Red Dress). But this was a show of surprises, and the trio went on within the same number to demonstrate the dance moves still left in them. The crowd went especially nuts for Ugly: its lyrics – “Everybody talks badly about somebody and never realise how it affects somebody” – seem more relevant than ever, and are especially poignant in light of the bad blood between group members over the years.
Closing with a perfectly choreographed Round Round and Freak Like Me, the audience seemed almost exasperated and unable to respond as we began tentatively shouting “one more song”. The moment was an accumulation of awe from both the Sugababes and the audience: throughout the gig at least 10% of us were screaming at any one time, and there were times after each song where the band could do nothing but look at us, beaming. Foot stomping and young girls barging to the front row were present throughout, and when the Sugababes came back on stage to perform About You Now – with branded T-shirts to boot – we almost didn’t know what to do with ourselves.
As always with the O2, the acoustics were a disappointment. While songs like Too Lost in You sounded excellent, at times layers of synths morphed into one another: Freak Like Me was a mess, if anything. It was due to the Glasgow crowd, and the Sugababes being the Sugababes, that the sound did not take away from the performance. Indeed, as we stepped into the fresh Glasgow air, and then crammed onto the tiny island platform at Bridge Street station, it was clear that a lot of us – despite her presence on only a smattering of the songs when they were first released – were there for Siobhan Donaghy. The love was real, so much so that Heidi Range, her replacement, was called a **** at least once. Alcohol induced, I don’t doubt, but perhaps indicative of a feral and impassioned yearning for the early 2000s: thriving girl groups, and where pop culture drama was the news, not a distraction from the news. The gig encapsulated fandom in all its zealous and nonsensical glory, and too right: where would the Sugababes – or anyone performing at the O2 – be without it?