A Fan Letter to Nicola Roberts
Dear Nicola Roberts,
I’m not going to pretend that I loved you from the beginning. When you first appeared on Popstars: The Rivals, with your choice clothing and hair ablaze, I didn’t really care for you. I was more hooked on Kimberley Walsh who, like me, was from West Yorkshire and spoke with rounded vowels.
To teen me, Girls Aloud were a revelation. They were a girl group who smirked, argued and kicked their way to the top of the charts leaving a glittering trail of pop wonder in their wake. I half remember your songwriter Miranda Cooper saying in an interview that she would write for Girls Aloud by listening to the five of you talk then would reprocess it through loops, drum beats and hooks, turning it into pop music by girls for girls. I loved that, that something as big and loud as a pop song could be created from small experiences of five women.
On the surface your life could have looked like a teen fiction fantasy, finding fame on a reality TV show and rocketing to the top of the charts with some of the best pop songs ever produced. But in early days of Girls Aloud, you looked so sad in the weekly paparazzi photos which appeared in Heat. I think I would have been too. While the other four experimented with glossy fringes, questionable highlights and too much bronzer, you were called a rude ginger bitch by Matt from Busted.
This was actually a really tough period for me because I was completely infatuated with Matt from Busted when this happened (I didn’t like Charlie and I think history has proven me right in my choice of popcrush) and it posed something of a moral dilemma which I never really resolved.
But, Nicola, when you went on stage wearing a skirt emblazoned with that insult, I gave a piece of my heart to you forever. I wanted to throw back mean things boys had said to me in such a sassy, brilliant way and not care if they liked me or not.
I see the prologue to your first and only album Cinderella’s Eyes written through Girls Aloud’s late imperial phase (as a self styled pop historian, I would characterise that as ‘Call The Shots’ through to ‘Untouchable’). Stripped clean of fake tan, I watched you make your fame fit you by cutting your hair and sitting on the front row at House of Holland runway shows. Your future pop style was honed on the superlative Girls Aloud B side ‘Memory of You’ and in the delicate opening of ‘Untouchable’.
In Cinderella’s Eyes you wrote a sonic novel of a girl reborn, telling your story as you felt it and writing your own imperfect ending. It’s made even better because you chose to work with Diplo and Metronomy who moved you away from the glittering twilight of Girls Aloud and created a bratty and colourful soundscape for your lyrics. The surrounding visuals for the album are so well realised, it’s a dilapidated fairytale landscape contrasted with technicolour fashion and your pre Raphaelite hair.
Every track on Cinderella’s Eyes is wonderful. I love the stomping confidence of ‘Beat of my Drum’, the late night romance of ‘Yo Yo’, the pleading whine of ‘Porcelain Heart’ and the angular, everyday simplicity of ‘I’. I listened to Cinderella’s Eyes on loop for four hours when I moved to London for the first time for an dispiriting internship and I don’t think anything encapsulates Cinderella Eye’s endeavour than the lyrics from the eponymous track:
No more pretending/ there’s happy endings / You gotta make one, make one.
When Girls Aloud reformed, I was so pleased that you joined Xenomania in writing ‘Something New’ and worked with a new set of producers to create the sleek electro track ‘On The Metro’. And, I still think that should have been released as a single, rather than the saccharine ‘Beautiful ‘Cause You Love Me’. Now when you write for Little Mix or Cheryl Cole, I love hearing your fingerprints and lyrical flicks on their work. I like watching you document your pretty life on Instagram knowing that you’re constantly finding inspiration in music, art and fashion. I can’t wait to see what else you create from all this to make former and current teenage girls feel invincible.
Someone once described your singing style as Kate Bush on a hen night. Whoever came up with it probably didn’t think I would still quote it at house parties as a political statement when I bellow for someone to put on ‘Lucky Day’. That’s probably your lasting legacy, me at age 27, still dancing to your music not giving a shit if nobody loves you as much as I do.
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