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Girls Aloud review: The last great manufactured pop band make a triumphant return that is tinged with sadness

Girls Aloud was last – and best – of a particular breed of pop group from early naughties

Girls Aloud

3Arena, Dublin

In plenty of ways, Girls Aloud was the last – and best – of a particular breed of pop group. Formed in the manufacturing plant that was the precursor to The X Factor, Popstars: The Rivals, their debut single, Sound of the Underground, remains a classic. This was the era of Xenomania, the production team that birthed Cher’s Believe, Sugababes Round Round. Girls Aloud’s tunes have lasted.

Their albums also didn’t ebb as they developed. Tracks from their last studio album, 2008′s Out of Control, bookend tonight’s performance. Tragically, one key element is missing. Sarah Harding died of breast cancer aged 39 in 2021. On the day they released a new 38-minute megamix of their tracks, Cheryl, Nadine Coyle, Nicola Roberts, and Kimberley Walsh, begin the first of their 30-date reunion tour, The Girls Aloud Show, to honour Harding, in Dublin.

The greatness of their music had and still retains, credibility. Their hits are undeniable, often frenetically insistent in tempo. At the 3Arena, they come thick and fast; Love Machine, once covered by Arctic Monkeys, arrives early. Sound of the Underground references its iconic microphone choreography. Biology plays with a slightly anticipation-dampening rather than raising intro. But who cares, when you’ve also got Something Kinda Oooh, Call the Shots, No Good Advice, The Show, and The Promise in your arsenal? Literally, nobody in this cavernous room in the docklands.

But this isn’t solely a hands in the air prosecco-necking night on the tiles. The opener, Untouchable, addresses the loss of Harding head on, with visuals of her forming a backdrop to the four women, sombre, on elevated platforms, white tulle billowing.


Yes, there’s nostalgia and fun, but this is also clearly an act of remembrance. Sombre too, is the stage, a traditional pop show glossy black walkway. The remainder of the staging is made up of two large screens as backdrop, dissected by a minimalist lighting rig, and two smaller screens either side. Perhaps the sparseness is a reticence towards extravaganza. But there’s also a touch of Vegas throughout, and an enjoyable and decidedly old school prominent focus on the groups’ voices, always to the fore, and they nail pretty much everything.

As thousands of screaming fans are transported back to a time when phenomena such as WAGs, It-bags, and celebrity mags held cultural currency, there is now a maturity and unironic purity to their outing. “Being here tonight, it’s actually hard to believe,” Cheryl says.

As the show continues, the production and the performances grow in confidence. Their cover of The Pretenders I’ll Stand By You, again tinged with sadness with Harding present in visuals, is a fitting tribute to the song and their friend.

This tour could have been framed as a nostalgia-fest, a chance to revisit some of the best pop hits of the early 21st century, or an all-out dance party. It’s all of those things, but also a touching tribute to their bandmate. Ultimately, the decision to lean into commemoration over commodification demonstrates an unexpected authenticity.

Una Mullally

Una Mullally

Una Mullally, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly opinion column