Whatever the endgame in the footballer and the WAG's turbulent relationship turns out to be, one thing is certain: the long-term winner will not be the one wearing studs and a scowl.
As copies of the charmless Ashley Cole's self-justificatory autobiography languish unbought in the 99p bins, his wife Cheryl knows that with every chart stat that surpasses those of Bananarama, Spice Girls, Sugababes and the Supremes (in Britain at least), a place among the immortals comes closer to the grasp of Girls Aloud's kitty-claws.
Immortality in pop is a deliciously counterintuitive thing. Look back through the archives, and it's evident that the music derided and dismissed as disposable at the time is the stuff that endures to be loved by generations unborn, whereas the self-conscious attempts to create a lasting edifice are the records that wind up in history's dustbin.
Suspended on wires 30ft high, their witchy wings wafting in the breeze like the cast of The Craft, Girls Aloud win another little victory. The Tangled Up tour is just another staging post in Girls Aloud's metaphorical march on Moscow. The difference is that while an army marches on its stomach, Girls Aloud must forgo nutrition in order to stay doll-like: can those macrobiotic breakfasts, lettuce-on-Ryvita lunches, coffees without the milk, without the sugar, without the coffee, and lonely hours of yoga really be worth it? (It's notable that Kimberley Walsh's thighs are approximately double the circumference of the other four's, and she is hardly on the fat side of average.)
Not that mass appeal is any proof of quality, as a little vignette before showtime amply demonstrates. In the row of seats in front of me, someone spots the desperately unfunny, limp-wristed television personality Alan Carr. Within seconds, the toothy talent vacuum is mobbed so severely that security has to step in and whisk him away to a corporate box. But try to think back, discerning and easily flattered reader, to the chart pop you angrily scorned in your youth, and admit it: the schoolgirls – and the homosexuals – were right.
Girls Aloud – or, as Nadine Coyle endearingly pronounces it, Gorls Alyde – are the only positive thing ever to arise from those wretched Butlins-style televised talent shows. (Please, give Leona Lewis a sugar lump and send her back to the stable.) Their live show is as well-drilled a pop concert as you'll get from anyone, state of the art without shifting the paradigm, punctuated by retina-burning pyros, and periodic costume changes, mostly variations on a burlesque corset-and-stockings theme, plus gold tinsel flapper dresses and dayglo unitards. Part of the fun is bitching and picking them apart. What on earth has lad-mag fave Sarah Harding done to her hair? Won't someone tell Cheryl that neon pink and bright orange don't go? And Nadine really doesn't suit blond.
The member who used to be the butt of everyone's jokes (including, to my shame, mine) is now the coolest. Nicola Roberts, poster girl for The Catherine Tate Show's redhead refuge Russet Lodge, has embraced her colouring. In the TV series The Passions of Girls Aloud, the band's Junior Lenska came across so sweetly when launching her make-up range Dainty Doll that she managed to make it seem like a humanitarian aid project rather than a canny business interest with a never-diminishing niche market. (The world will never run out of gingers or, let's face it, Goths. And I ought to know.)
The slow sections sag, but the singles ("Something Kinda Oooh", "Love Machine", "Biology") are irresistible, and the carefully chosen album tracks ("Black Jacks" and "Fling") are storming. The most pointless moment is a cover of "With Every Heartbeat", in which the Nordic cool of the original is obliterated in a five-way orgy of melismatic yowling. Horrid and, given the fact that it used up precious time which might have been filled with the unplayed "No Good Advice" or "The Show", almost criminal.
It isn't as if Girls Aloud don't do cool. "Can't Speak French", their breezy lite-jazz charmer of a single, shows that, and "Call the Shots", their sublime piece of Europop in the same vein (and very nearly the same league) as Kylie's "Can't Get You Out Of My Head", gives me shivers. It's one of those rare occasions when the reviewer loses himself in the rapture of the moment: I am here, now, seeing Girls Aloud sing a truly classic pop single. And it will still be loved when the new Coldplay album has turned to dust.
It's time for a changing of the guard, and this is as good a place as any. The chosen location for Radio 1's inclusive, all-encompassing Big Weekender this year is Maidstone, the exact microcosmic point where Kent's garden-of-England prettiness meets faceless London overspill. The opening act on the In New Bands We Trust stage are the band of the moment, and the air crackles the way it crackles when you're in the presence of someone whose time is now.
The Ting Tings, for it is they, are the Mancunian duo made up of one refugee from a failed girl group, and another from a failed indie band. It's rare that pop gives anyone a second chance, but Katie White and Jules De Martino are grabbing theirs. If things had panned out differently, White might have tasted Girls Aloud-style success first time around, but the closest her group TKO got was bottom of an Atomic Kitten support bill. The Ting Tings, however, are – according to the midweek figures – on course to knock bingo-winged headline act Madonna off the top of the charts as you read this paper.
And rightly so. "That's Not My Name" is the climax of a set which is constructed from drumbeats that sound like mass handclaps, rudimentary guitars pedal-triggered samples and, when Katie White feels like it, a giant majorette's drum and a battered cowbell. It's the sort of song that ought to be accompanied by cheerleader pom-poms, its simple mistaken-identity lyric masking a subtle puncturing of male chauvinism: "Are you calling me 'darling'?" White inquires with exquisite disbelief. "Are you calling me 'bird'?" Oh, Ting Tings, you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind.Reuse content