As one fifth of chart-mauling, award-winning, expectation-shattering girl band Girls Aloud, Nadine Coyle has already played her part in helping redefine pop.
Under the watchful eye of experimental pop alchemist Brian Higgins and his band of merry men and women, aka production outfit Xenomania, Girls Aloud racked up a an incredible twenty-one UK Top Ten singles, twenty of those consecutively, with each one more batshit crazy than the one before. If each member of the band – who sashayed their way through a ten-year, five album career having launched on a now-defunct TV talent show in 2002 – had a role, then Nadine’s was The Voice. Often demoing the songs with Brian ahead of the other girls during the band’s tenure (they split in 2013, but more on that later), it’s always been any discerning pop fan’s dream for the pair to collaborate again on Coyle’s solo material. After a false start with Coyle’s Xenomania-free 2010 solo debut, Insatiable, that dream is now a reality, with the ludicrously amazing new single Go To Work (her first release since signing with Virgin), a high-energy, deliciously vampy ode to making your man work for your affections. This isn’t Girls Aloud 2.0, or even Nadine Coyle 2.0, this, finally, is Nadine Coyle: The Solo Artist. As Nadine says: “We weren’t trying to make it sound like Girls Aloud, we weren’t trying to make it sound the opposite, it was just a blank canvas. It’s exciting.”
Having taken the pop world by storm, and with their latest album Out Of Control becoming their biggest-seller, Girls Aloud announced they were going on hiatus in 2009. The plan was to explore solo endeavours and then return with a new album a year later (they’d just signed a new three-album deal). Instead, the hiatus lasted longer than expected and Nadine released her solo album Insatiable in 2010. Having inked a publishing deal with EMI, the album was her chance to work with a myriad of different writers, moving her away from the pop factory of Xenomania. “I’d worked with Brian and I wanted to try these other people and just try new things,” she says now. The album featured collaborations with the likes of William Orbit, Guy Chamber and Julian Bunnetta, and while the music itself was sophisticated, high-end pop, the extra-curricular aspects of its release were a total nightmare.
Having signed an experimental deal with supermarket chain Tesco, rather than release it via a label, Nadine found herself in unchartered territory. “It was a really really really stressful time,” she says. “Stress levels through the roof. It seemed like a really good idea, but the infrastructure for that album was basically me. It was like ‘what do I do? Do I have to do all this by myself?’.” Things got so bad that at one point Coyle asked her best friend, and total music industry novice, to be her manager. With CDs only being stocked in certain Tesco stores – “It wasn’t available in my home town, for example. My parents were driving all over the place going ‘nope, not in this one’” – and with no presence on iTunes, the album was hampered from the start. In the end the experience almost put Nadine off being a pop star full stop. “I fought with that on and off for a while,” she says. “Sometimes I was like ‘this is it, I do not need to do all this to be a singer, I can just walk around and sing’. I didn’t need all the stress. I definitely needed to get back home and I didn’t do anything for a while.”
The stress-free life didn’t last long, however, with Nadine moving her family to live with her in LA and together buying and running a restaurant, Nadine’s Irish Mist. “The initial plan was to just chill in the sun and then we decided to buy a restaurant! It was not easy! It was great because we were all together because I left home when I was so young and I’m so obsessed with my family. But, yeah, it’s just really really hard. It has to be a passion.”
In 2012, however, she was back in her comfort zone, with Girls Aloud reunited as part of their ten-year anniversary. “I couldn’t wait,” she beams. “I was like ‘I can do this’. It felt comfortable.” Prior to the public announcement in November of that year, Brian Higgins had been making trips to LA to start recording songs that would help fulfil that new three-album deal they’d signed in 2009. “[Brian and I] were recording with the thought process that this was a long-term thing, or as long as people wanted us around,” she says. Unbeknownst to Nadine, that wasn’t how the rest of the band felt. On the last date of the hugely successfully Ten tour, and following the number 2 success of their barn-storming comeback single Something New, Nadine received a visit. “Just before the last show, before I got dressed, I was told that the girls wanted to break up the band. I was in the dressing room getting my make-up done and I was told by the management team.” Having always worked to a majority rule, there was nothing Nadine could do. Then came the next surprise; the band were to announce the split via a tweeted statement after the show was over. “So then I said, ‘I don’t want to be part of that’. Our manager read [the statement] out and I said ‘remove my name from that, I don’t believe in what that’s saying’. It got sent late at night too, and they’d done it before we’d even left the venue, before they’d even finished taking down the stage.”
Sarah aside, Nadine hasn’t heard from the rest of the girls since that final night of the tour in 2013, likening their relationship to that of co-workers who just had to get on with things. Not that she regrets the reunion, more that she wishes it had been billed as a proper farewell tour. What it did mean, however, was that she now had a clutch of Brian Higgins-produced bangers in her back pocket, but, once again, this being Nadine, things weren’t quite as straightforward as that. In fact, it wasn’t until 2015 that she and Brian reconnected. “I’d moved back to the UK and had a UK number, so no longer had the US one, and Brian had been trying to get in touch. Then one night I got into an Uber and there was a really good song on and I was like ‘God, I need to start making really good music. Who does really good music…Brian Higgins!’. So I text him and he was like ‘Nadine I’ve been trying to contact you!’. We met a few days later.”
Going into the sessions with a completely open mind, the pair slotted back into their respective comfort zones, Nadine belting out majestic pop songs while Brian and his coterie of production geeks weaved various lyrics and melodies together to make chart gold. Slowly they started building up a collection of songs, including the glistening, low-slung strut of You Got; a Call The Shots-esque semi-ballad called I Fall, and the ludicrous, brain-melting experimentation of songs like Girls On Fire and Fool For Love. “There are some bonkers ones on there,” she confirms. “Some of them are like assaults. It was all about finding what worked because my voice is on its own now, so there’s no mixing of vocals.” A couple of the songs from those aborted Girls Aloud sessions also survived, the thread running through them being Nadine’s powerhouse vocals. Then there’s Go To Work, a sleek, dance-lead future classic that sounds simultaneously retro and forward-thinking. “When you’re constantly writing you write a lot about relationships and so it was like ‘what else annoys you about being in relationships?’ and Sarah [Thompson, Xenomania songwriter] came up with this idea of writing about them being lazy and not getting up in the mornings. Then we started writing.”
As is the Xenomania way, Go To Work went through various permutations before pop alchemy was created. At one point, a couple of months after the song was recorded, Brian, unbeknownst to Nadine, played it in a meeting with the head of Virgin EMI, Ted Cockle. Refusing to initially tell him who was singing, Cockle was blown away, confirming details of a record deal right there and then. “I was jumping for joy when Brian called! I wanted to sign it right then. Even coming into the Universal building, who we’d done all the Girls Aloud stuff with, I want to cry a wee bit. Working with Brian again, all the things that have always been so good.” Fifteen years after her musical journey started, Nadine Coyle is back where she should be; creating gloriously off-centre, head-spinning pop songs to make people dance.