10 girl groups who changed the world
When a group of women with voices come together, there is no stopping them. At least that’s what pop history has taught us. It all started in the ’60s when girl groups began to take over the charts. Women’s lib was on the rise and girl groups were challenging the perception of female singers as instruments for an industry that consisted of mostly male composers and producers. The girl group phenom also gave female figures in music a strength-in-numbers type of mentality. These teams of musical mavens also made people rethink their fashion choices and often gave listeners a reason to reconsider their ideas about love, society and equality. Many women in these quintets, trios, sextets and quartets were among the first artists to test out and usher in looks and trends that hadn’t been seen before. To celebrate the epic impact that girl groups have made on society, here are some of the most stylish envelope-pushing pop teams in history.
Original Lineup: Diana Ross, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson
Genre: Motown, pop with a hint of R&B.
Biggest hits: “Baby Love”, “Stop! In the Name of Love”, “Where Did Our Love Go?”, “You Can’t Hurry Love” and many others. According to Billboard, they are the most successful girl group in history.
Stylish Impact: With their bouffant hair-dos, ballgown-heavy wardrobes and matching makeup, Ross, Wilson and Ballard went on to become the top shelf template for girl groups everywhere, redefining Black glamour in a bejeweled, bedazzled and couture-esque way throughout the 60s and 70s (Ross eventually went solo and slayed it). Glamour-savvy stars such as RuPaul (who says he owes his career to the Supremes) and Beyoncé (who studied the trio’s 60s performances in her teens) are among the countless singers that acknowledge the Supremes as the first African American women to experiment with—and expose—international fashion houses in the way they did.
Chicest video: A stunning rendition of “Reflections” at the Hollywood Palace in 1967.
Original lineup: Veronica Bennett (Ronnie Spector), Estelle Bennett, Nedra Talley
Genre: Pop, wall of sound.
Biggest Hits: “Be My Baby”, “Baby I Love You”
Stylish Impact: While The Ronettes were not the chart juggernauts that the Supremes were, they managed to put together a stage look that was the antithesis of their Motown rivals. Ronnie Spector and co. piled their hair up high in bomb-like beehives, wore leather jackets and turned up and out in short mini skirts while everyone else was busy looking elegant and proper. Spector was also the first to apply winged eyeliner looks that Amy Winehouse borrowed greatly from (Ronnie was one of Amy’s favourite singers). They loved showing leg and sang about bad boys in a time when looking for good, wholesome husbands was par for the course.
Chicest video: A 1965 spot on Revolver TV, where the trio slays the men on the streets of Manhattan for a PSA.
Lineup: Kathy, Debbie, Joni, and Kim Sledge
Genre: Disco, dance.
Biggest Hits: “We Are Family”, “He’s The Greatest Dancer”
Stylish Impact: “Halston, Gucci, Fiorrucci!” — this is just one of the many fashion-obsessed lyrics plucked out of the chicest jam (“He’s The Greatest Dancer”) from the Sledge sisterhood. The sibling quintet not only sang about the designer-and-disco driven high stylin’ life of the 70s, they lived it. They wore Pucci prints, bell bottoms and DVF wraps on stage and off-duty, sporting their swanky attire during many visits to legendary clubs such as Studio 54. Their costumes were copied so quickly that lead singer, Kathy Sledge, said they’d often see audiences wearing replicas of their outfits in the crowd before the end of their tour cycle.
Chicest video: An appearance in 1979 on an obscure TV show called Rbb.
Original Lineup: Patti Labelle, Nona Hendryx, Sarah Dash
Genre: A mix of funk, rock, disco, new wave and soul.
Biggest Hits: “Lady Marmalade”, “What Can I Do For You?”
Stylish Impact: Perfecting the Gaga look before Gaga was even born, Labelle fused futuristic, tech-heavy Paco Raban-ish looks with aesthetics coming from death metal, funk, punk and Off- Broadway’s experimental theatre stages. Singing about oppression, sexism and sexuality in the 70s, the trio’s body of work sounded like a funky protest choir. The group’s lyrics are so fierce and politically on the job that Labelle’s discs such as Pressure Cookin’ make Beyoncé’s Lemonade sound like a Selena Gomez album. To date, Labelle, Hendryx and Dash are the riskiest, most progressive girl group to hit the Billboard charts in music history. Their OTT closets—which went on to influence Kiss, Janelle Monae and Lady Gaga—reflect their ferocity.
Chicest video: A live rendition of “Lady Marmalade” on a German TV show called ZDF Disco.
Original Lineup: Siobhan Fahey, Sara Dallin, Keren Woodward
Genre: Pop, new wave.
Biggest Hits: “Venus”, “I Heart A Rumor”, “Cruel Summer”
Stylish Impact: This British trio was all about ’80s English street style, grabbing their outfits from vintage markets and labels which were the Vetements and VFiles pieces of their time (especially Boy London). Big cinched belts, hair bows, pedal pushers, slogan tees, hoop earrings and peroxide-streaked ‘dos became the perfect accessories to help them sling ear-worm-y choruses such as the marathon hit “Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”
Chicest video: Check out the moves/clothes in the strobe light moments in “Venus”.
Original Lineup: Belinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin, Margot Olavarria and Elissa Bello.
Genre: Punk, rock, pop.
Biggest Hits: “We Got The Beat”, “Our Lips Are Sealed”
Stylish Impact: Known as the world’s most successful female band, the Go-Go’s were more than just a girl group. In the 1980s, the foursome wrote their own songs, played their own instruments and insisted on styling themselves in so many menswear and punk inspired looks that they were often attacked with homophobic slurs on stage. Doing up the DIY look before it was common, Carlisle and her team were mistaken for men, prostitutes or drag queens in parts of southern USA. In their boxy suits, oversized t-shirts and suspenders, they persevered and went so anti-trend with their approach (Belinda Carlisle once used coloured garbage bags and safety pins to style herself) that they became unlikely fashion plates.
Chicest Video: Totally voluminous and maxxed out in “Vacation”.
Lineup: Terry Ellis, Dawn Robinson, Cindy Herron, and Maxine Jones
Genre: R&B, soul, Nu Jill swing.
Biggest Hits: “Hold On,” “Never Gonna Get It”, “Whatta Man” (with Salt-N-Pepa).
Stylish Impact: As the first girl group to use a fashion runway in their Mark Romanek-directed video to “Free Your Mind,” the quintet’s second album, Funky Divas, had them embrace the lux side of 90s fashion in a Supremes-like manner. The difference was, they started singing about demanding R-E-S-P-E-C-T in PVC leather, knee-high boots, silk pashminas, church hats and sweetheart dresses that gave a hat tip to the heydays of Gaultier and the heyday of Harlem. It was their choir-like vocal arrangements and extreme fashion sense that gave this foursome a stylish upper hand in the era of grunge.
Chicest video: Watch them slay the runway away in “Free Your Mind”!
Original Lineup: Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez, Tionne “Tboz” Watkins, Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas
Biggest Hits: “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”, “What About Your Friends”, “Baby-Baby-Baby” “Creep”, “No Scrubs”, “Waterfalls”
Genre: R&B, Hip Hop, pop.
Stylish Impact.: Unlike En Vogue and The Supremes, TLC’s workwear was firmly informed by the male and female rappers they hung out with. Their songs called out slut shamers, loser boyfriends, body fascists well before it became crazy-sexy-cool to do so. To match their strong POV, they wore oversized sports jerseys, baseball caps and heavy jewelry during their debut disc but later segued into slinky, Indochinese/New Age looks that showed off their beautiful bods.
Chicest Video: Moving from streetwear to loungewear in “Creep”. Turn. It. Out. Tboz.
Famous lineup: Beyoncé Knowles, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams
Genre: R&B, pop.
Biggest Hits: “Bills, Bills, Bills”, “Say My Name”, “Independent Women Part I”, “Bootylicious”.
Stylish Impact.: Aside from fronting a line from a quasi celebrity (Mama Knowles’ House of Dereon) during red carpet events and videos (don’t get me started on those creamsicle-coloured “Bootylicious” fringe pieces!), Queen B pre-Jay-Z and Dreamgirls, was a totally different artist. The trio’s style changed as much as their lineup (which ended with three women singing but started with five). They courageously blurred the brink of good and bad taste, going from Dashikis to Tankinis, African-inspired prints to camouflage swimwear. No matter what concoction they wore, DC spouted and sported a new message for young girls that was unapologetic, pro-Woman and sassier than so many of the forgotten girl groups of the 90s and 2000s. For those who prefer B’s music post-DC ways should know that she was running the show back then as well and many of the lyrics she penned for the trio became the foundation of her “Formation”.
Chicest video:I don’t think you can handle this.
Original Lineup: Melanie Brown (“Scary Spice”), Melanie Chisholm (“Sporty Spice”), Emma Bunton (“Baby Spice”), Geri Halliwell (“Ginger Spice”), and Victoria Beckham (“Posh Spice”).
Biggest Hits: “Wannabe”, “Say You’ll Be There”, “2 Become 1”, “Spice Up Your Life”
Stylish Impact: Four cartoon-ish archetypes took a hold of the 90s pop scene in a way that has yet to be duplicated and they came in the form of 5 highly savory (and sometimes highly unsavory) flavours. Beckham alone requires another post for her bodycon fashion contributions but lest we forget Sporty (an early incarnation of athleisure) and Baby (remember the baby T explosion she created?), Ginger (who mixed costume and evening wear) and Scary (bringing back Neneh Cherry’s urbanite/animal print regalia). Despite the hardcore commerciality of the foursome, this group did hella good in some respect. They preached girl power during a terribly conservative political climate in the late 90s and early 2000s and translated an equal-pay/equal-play message to countless young people who were yet to be exposed to feminism. For that, they will always “Viva Forever”.
Chicest video: The single that solidified their animé appearance…