If the mood so takes you, it isn't hard to find things to taunt music impresario Simon Cowell about.
The WWF Superstars
The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
All of these acts had pop records released in their name, thanks to Cowell's bright idea of taking established media brands and importing them into the music world. They made him money and made him a valuable asset to the labels he worked for, but a quality musical CV they most certainly are not. Despite these apparently easy targets however, during his first rush of TV fame in the early 2000s if anyone wanted to poke fun or sneer at his credentials as a music mogul there was just one ready reference point that people would constantly return to.
Girl Thing. An attempt to create a brand new Spice Girls for the 21st century, featuring five ladies with distinct personalities, credentials as singers and dancers, and backed with a strong lineup of songs as penned by the leading pop songwriters of the day. Instead of being a marketing triumph they released just two singles and are recorded by history as a hugely expensive and rather embarrassing flop. If you wanted to bash Simon Cowell you simply threw Girl Thing back in his face and congratulated yourself on a job well done.
Truth be told though, Girl Thing actually made two of the best pop records of the decade. The five girls were all recruited through a series of auditions, the gimmick being that they were all drawn from different parts of the country from Bradford to Blackpool to London and with a token Dutch girl thrown in for good measure.
What is often conveniently forgotten is that their first single Last One Standing was a sizeable hit. Released at the end of June 2000 it flew into the Top 10 at Number 8 and despite a not uncommon for the time swift plunge down the chart shortly after it did enough to establish the girls as potential new stars - spending ten weeks in total on the Top 75. Listening to it again, the Spice Girls parallels are quite breathtakingly blatant, the song being a full-on balls-out half sung, half rapped performance that showcases each member of the group in turn and lays out their attitude and philosophy to life in uncompromising terms. Even the video makes a nod back to Wannabe with the five doing everything in their power to disrupt a wedding, from the ceremony through to the reception; trailing chaos in their wake as they announce to the world that they intend to be the last ones standing.
I remember being very excited the first time I heard it. Coming at the end of a golden age of pop music, this was a final hurrah for the lavishly produced teen-friendly four minute record, anchored around a chorus that shouted ENJOY THIS as loudly as it could. High art it wasn't, but it was unashamed enormous fun from first note to last. Really the only problem with the song was due to its derivative nature. The Spice Girls worked in 1996 because they were like nothing we had heard before. Girl Thing were trying to take things forward with a nod to the past but at the same time failed to innovate in a way that set them apart as superstars.
Still, a Top 10 single was enough to justify a second release and it was followed in mid-November with Girls On Top. The idea here was to take some classic disco and turn it into 20th-century pop, a concept which had it worked could have instantly created a whole new genre of music. This was Chic on steroids, the single centered around a Nile Rogers-esque bassline and guitars and chimes lifted straight out of I Want Your Love, although in tempo terms it was actually closer to Blondie's Rapture than anything else. I honestly thought it was better than their debut, a magnificently crafted pop record and one that was tailor-made for the imminent Christmas party season. Surely with the momentum they had it couldn't fail.
Sadly it was not to be, the single all but bombed at Number 25 and almost overnight the plug was pulled on the entire project. This may sound a little hasty but this of course was the era of instant gratification. The lifespan of hits was measured in days rather than weeks at times and for acts that required massive promotional efforts there was just no room for error. If the people who bought Last One Standing were not loyal enough to stick around for the follow-up, if the combined efforts of the label's mailing list databases had not prompted enough people to go out and sink their pocket money into the new single there was really little point in continuing. Girl Thing had missed the target by miles and to spend more on them would just be to throw good money after bad.
By this time they had an entire album in the can but in the wake of the flop of Girls On Top it was yanked from the release schedules and confined to history, sneaking out only in editions released in Australia and Japan. Hence Girl Thing's notoriety as an extremely expensive mistake and something of a black mark against all the people involved with the project - most especially of course Simon Cowell who not only managed the group but published the songs and released their records on the label he ran at the time. Just two years later Girls Aloud proved that the concept of a five-piece girl group with attitude wasn't dead and could indeed be resurrected for the 21st century. Girl Thing just seemed to come along that little bit too early.
Not that they didn't have at least a small and rather notable legacy. One of their number was a young stage school hopeful called Jodi Albert who went back to acting auditions and of course found her way onto the TV and into lads mags as a member of the Hollyoaks cast. To add to this, their never to be released third single was instead recycled and handed to a group who had been created in an entirely new manner and with enough publicity to ensure that when it was released in a brand new version it would become one of the fastest-selling debut singles to that moment.
You have to wonder, as they sang Pure And Simple for the first time, did anyone tell Hear'Say that they were salvaging material originally created for a group who maybe, just maybe, came along two years too soon.