Why do we keep overlooking All Saints, the greatest girl group of the ’90s?
If there is anything that unites us as a people, it’s that we all remember the opening monologue to All Saints’ single, “Never Ever,” arguably one of the greatest songs ever written.
And yet here we are, pretending the UK four piece (consisting of Melanie Blatt, Shaznay Lewis, and Nicole and Natalie Appleton) wasn’t one of the most important girl groups of the 1990s. But this week, they drop Red Flag, making their second comeback following their highly-publicized 2001 breakup, a 2006 record, and a serious step back from the spotlight.
“Space is so important,” Blatt recently told Glamour. “I think we definitely wouldn’t be in the place we are now, which is like the best place that we have ever been in, without having it. You know you don’t miss something or appreciate it until it’s gone and I think by having that time apart, it definitely made us realize.”
But it also made us realize especially since we’re all so high on nineties-era nostalgia. I mean, hi: we talk about the Spice Girls, we shrug and “C’est La Vie” over B*Witched, and we know that 702 will forever be entwined with “Where My Girls At?” But All Saints brought us even more.
Where the Spice Girls sang “2 Become 1” All Saints covered “Lady Marmalade.” B*Witched may have jumped around in matching denim jackets in a bright field, but All Saints donned alt-sanctioned combat boots and Calvin Klein sweatshirts. And while 702 posed the quintessential question when inquiring about one’s friends, All Saints delivered the ultimate Twitter bio via “I Know Where It’s At.” (Which I would also like carved onto my tombstone.)
Plus, All Saints offered a realness seldom seen in any pop acts, let alone ones thriving in the pre-Internet late nineties. “Twentyfourseven” is a jam full-on about how a dude better deliver the goods (if you know what I’m saying — wink) if he expects to stick around, while “I Know Where It’s At” is a brazen anthem of self-empowerment, and “Bootie Call” introduced the phrase to us before we learned it on our own. Plus, All Saints merged the worlds of pop and R&B while aesthetically representing counter-culture in neutrals and oversized pieces that rejected Posh’s Little Gucci Dress™. Unlike the Spice Girls, All Saints seemed only interested in being four-grown ass women. Which, in all fairness is why we gravitated more towards the Fab Five before recognizing their power.
But that means All Saints should’ve been a group we grew into. After singing the majestic title track for “The Beach” (the only Leonardo DiCaprio movie I haven’t seen — #disgrace), we should’ve begun re-examining their albums and singles, combing through the tracks we were finally becoming old enough to understand and obsessive over — especially since their records epitomize the good wine effect: they’ve just gotten better. Listening back, they still sound clean, interesting, and relevant. Plus, their harmonies are a gift to our ears, hearts, and minds.
And this is why I welcome their comeback and encourage us to get our shit together and recognize. Not just what they’ve done, but the fact that All Saints are all of us: after breaking up over a jacket at a photoshoot 15 years back (which is exactly why I would break up with anybody), they’ve proved their humanness by since talking about what went down, how they’ve changed, and what the All Saints bubble was like before and after the Internet began peering in and recording accordingly. (Lest we forget Blatt’s 2008 announcement that they were never, ever getting back together.)
But we crave that type of drama and authenticity from all our pop stars, which makes any/all band disputes on that scale arguably terrific. It takes guts to get angry, to reunite, to vow never to try that again, and then to make a professional go of it a few years later. (Unlike some beloved pop groups, whose Poshest member refuses to commit to a reunion tour, thanks.)
Plus, they’re the reason some of us got layers in 1997, thinking we’d look exactly as chic as they did while wearing our Adidas pants and bucket hats. And a band can influence you to cutting your hair so dramatically in an era devoid of straighteners, then I don’t want to know what power is.