The Pop Grumble: Why ‘Flatline’ Flatlined

mutya keisha siobhan mks flatline

Teoh Lander-Boyce

Struggling to make it as a musician, Teoh turned to pop journalism to quench his thirst for music. Unfortunately it's reinforced his cynicism, inflated opinions and sense of entitlement. He's recorded at Abbey Road Studios and made heaps of angry YouTube videos. Beware: articles may contain attempts at wit. @mrtinoforever

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My not-so secret guilty pleasure has always been the Sugababes. In my teenage years, as I began listening to rock, emo and – eventually – electronic music, I denounced my pre-pubescent pop obsessions as a phase. I’d realised how ridiculous S Club 7 were, I’d forced myself to forget all the dance-moves to Steps songs and I’d leave the room if someone tried to start a conversation about the Spice Girls. (And as hard as it was, I didn’t even make a ‘stop right now, thank you very much’ joke, either!)

But if anyone dared claim Girls Aloud were better than the Sugababes, I’d roll off a long list of hits I knew were ten times better than anything those lacklustre manufactured wannabes had released. And in that moment of flippant fury, all illusions of me being a ‘Certified Music Snob™’ were lost.

There was something about them that I genuinely believed was real and raw; I liked that they were bolshie, strange looking – sometimes even creepy – yet with a polished, full and bold vocal ability that didn’t sound altered, fabricated or auto-tuned. I’d even say that was true of the second incarnation (the one with Heidi, but without Siobhan), and I bet many gays – the gays who claim their admiration of the Sugababes begun at ‘Overload’ – probably didn’t hear of them until ‘Freak Like Me’ .

It was inevitable, from the moment Keisha was kicked out of the band, that the three original members would reform, it was just a matter of when, and more importantly, what they would sound like and represent. Returning as MKS, it was no surprise the masses of support they recieved, no surprise that their vocals were stronger than ever, or that they were more akin to their ‘One Touch’ era. However, everyone was shocked (okay, maybe just me…) when they didn’t break the UK Top 40 with their comeback single.

So from one die-hard Origibabes fan to Vada, I present five possible reasons MKS’s ‘Flatline’ flatlined:

5. Band Name – For most Sugababes fans we know exactly who Mutya, Keisha and Siobhan are. Their names alone stand out, and when put together, we know exactly what it means. And it seems completely logical that they would abbreviate that to MKS. However, people don’t know who MKS are, and the amount of times I’ve had to explain that I’m not talking about some football club (yeah, right Teoh!) or some place in Milton Keynes is ridiculous.

But saying ‘Mutya Keisha Siobhan’ instead of ‘MKS’ is a bit of a mouthful, so why didn’t they pick something a bit catchier? “There was so much emphasis on the name and we sort of wanted it to be about us,” said Keisha in this DigitalSpy article, which is fair enough. She also claimed, “We could have had the name [the Sugababes] if we wanted to go get it,” but from Mutya’s 2010 legal attempt to claim ownership of the name, I’m not sure if that is true.

mutya keisha siobhan mks

4. Release Date – The first teaser of ‘Flatline’ came out on June 13th, the full track on July 4th, so why was it released for purchase over two months later on September 6th? Everyone with more than five gay friends had their Facebook feed set ablaze with hordes exclaiming, “wow their vocals are so amazing together,” and “I’m so happy they’re back together.”

The critics were praising them left, right and centre, popping up on all the best music blogs – Popjustice, The Guardian and MTV – for ‘exclusive’ interviews. I swear at one point I saw them on BBC London News!

One critic, from Sugascape,went as far to claim their harmonies rivalled Little Mix. So with all this buzz, why didn’t they release the track sooner? In a generation where people stop caring, pretty quickly, because something else pops up on their Twitter feed, they needed to capitalise on the publicity sooner rather than later.

3. Half-Arsed Music Video – I know they’re just starting out again and probably don’t have a massive budget, but whatever budget they did have they blew on getting pissed in LA. For most of the video all three of them look more bother about looking pretty than miming the words correctly, or putting effort into their apathetic hand gestures. Being ‘too cool to bother’ only worked for them when they were teenagers. Either dance, or don’t dance at all.

And what was with that strange Instagram filter on the whole video? We all know how to apply Sierra, Valencia, Walden, Nashville or Amaro to our pictures – to make our cheap pictures look classy – but it just made the video look cheaper than it probably was.

mutya keisha siobhan mks

2. No Drama – ‘When one Sugababe leaveith, drama ensue,’ or so the famous pop proverb says. Whether they liked it or not, the media latched on to any controversy they could, and to be fair, when all the original members of a band are slowly picked off one by one, there must have been drama.Yet in interviews, MKS attempt to distance themselves, so much so that Keisha has a new catchphrase: “I’m legally constrained.”

Interviews with The Guardian and Popjustice highlight their personalities, showing the girls as we remember them – fun, edgy and fearless – but they’re not throwing shade like they use to. Maybe that has come with becoming mothers, maturing and a sense of reconcile between the three of them, but there must be some hard feelings directed somewhere. Whether at Heidi, Amelle and Jade, their former record label or the state of the music industry, surely they have something big to say?

‘Legally constrained’ or not, their first single could’ve been called, “I Ain’t Your Babe No More,” and everyone would’ve known what was going down without them having to actually say it. Maybe RuPaul’s Drag Race Untucked has left me with a thirst for drama, so high, that I need to find it in every shadow of my life, or I despise the mechanics of the music industry, so much, I’m looking for the Sugababes to lead a musicians revolution? Either way, if they brought the fight, people would’ve bought into it simply because of who they are. Viva La Suga-lution!

mutya keisha siobhan mks

1. Flatline isn’t that good – It’s alright, but not a lead single, especially from a band that’s return has been so highly anticipated. A lot of people disagree with me, saying ‘well, at least it’s different’. But, is it really? Maybe for a girl band, but if it wasn’t for their lush soulful harmonies, I could easily mistake it for a forgettable Temper Trap album track.

For me, my ‘Hashtag OMFG’ moment was hearing ‘Lay Down In Swimming Pools,’ a Kendrick Lamar cover they did back in March and the first recorded evidence of their reunion. With the vocals we loved them for, an awareness of old-school R’n’B and a modern twist, it felt very 2013, whilst ‘Flatline’ feels 2006.

After finding out that ‘Flatline’ didn’t chart, Keisha said: “If we wanted to record an easy throw-away hit then we would have put something out back in 2010… We didn’t because we won’t compromise our music and we’re here for the long haul.” It’s hard to argue with that. And I’m pretty glad that’s their outlook. But it still upsets me that they didn’t hit the Top 10, even with my unfavourable opinion of ‘Flatline’.

But don’t mind me, I’m sure to change my tune. Once the album’s out I’ll be regretting the day I wrote this article. Yep, I’ll be up at ridiculous-O’clock trying to snatch tickets from the online sale, and I’ll be up the front of that MKS gig drunk-screaming the words. Lets just hope Mutya doesn’t kick me in the face for this.