She’s still got it…

I’ve been listening to a lot of DIVAS lately, I mean when don’t I? And I wanted to compile a list of Gems from some of my favourite GIRL SINGER’S later work… that strangely hasn’t been as HUGE A DEAL as it should’ve. You may know these songs, you may have never heard them before. I love them all. And I know that looking down this list you may think I’ve thrown around the term ‘Diva’ a bit loosely… in my eyes, any woman past a certain vintage who is still making music and releasing it on her own in this industry, deserves all the Diva credit she can get.

Tina Arena – ‘Overload’ from the 2015 album ‘Eleven’

She’s essentially music royalty here in Australia, having been inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame, with two greatest hits collections under her belt, after a career spanning (she even says so in the song) four decades. That’s as long as I’ve been alive.

I fell in love with Ms. Arena when I heard her 1994 version of the Maria McKee song ‘Show Me Heaven’, and when she took the boring Andrew Lloyd Webber song ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ from the 1997 musical of the same name, and made it a power-ballad worthy of a round of applause. Yes, the song ‘Chains’ had been a top ten hit in New Zealand – where I’m from – too, but that song just didn’t appeal as much to me as the stunning cover version of the ‘Days of Thunder’ film theme. She was apparently being groomed by Sony Music/Columbia Records to be ‘the next Celine Dion’, or at least the next ‘big diva’… but I guess having Celine AND Tina on your roster of artists, leaves room for only ONE supreme being, and so Tina’s trajectory was record-company-rethunk, and she became a legit French popstar, releasing French language albums from her newly adopted home, and seemingly eschewing the Diva life. Then she, well, returned to the Australian consciousness with the show that made her a child star, ‘Young Talent Time’ when a revival show happened, and decided to make a new album in 2012 ‘Reset’. I didn’t love it. She likes to co-write all of her songs, which is awesome obviously, but can lead to a lot of material making it onto her releases that I personally find frankly ‘soggy’. I mean, cut it… kill your darlings right? I’d rather a slick 10 track album of mostly-bangers than 14 mostly-fillers… But then, along came what I consider her finest album since 1994… ‘Eleven’

Conveniently the show ‘Stranger Things’ would come along pretty soon after, making ‘Eleven’ a viable girl’s name. So if I ever had a daughter, I could name her after TWO of my favourite things.

The first single of the album, ‘Overload’ is a total Tina banger, choc full of some revelatory lyrics, and a melody designed for maximum Arena-belt-heftiness. Every time I listen to it, I get a little emotional, I can’t lie.

It floors me that this song didn’t make much more of an international splash… actually even here it wasn’t anywhere near as huge as it should’ve been. People and the press kept on mentioning her AGE all the time – like, we know she’s been around since we were born! – and so she went into an ‘industry wide’ battle of words about the music industry writing off women after they turn 30, and the fact that once you’re in your 40’s radio basically thinks you’ve died. When this album was released she was 47 years old… and I reckon more relevant than she had been in decades.

Delta Goodrem – ‘Wings’ from the 2015 album ‘Wings of the Wild’

Okay, Delta is by no means considered solely by her age yet. Her music career is still pretty much fighting fit, thanks in part to her coaching stints on The Voice, and in part because she just keeps getting better at it.

Now I loved ‘Born To Try’ as much as any other twenty-something year old when it was released in 2003, the then 18 year old singer/songwriter simply WOWING everyone with that astonishing range of hers and the not-too-shabby writing. Also the fact that she wrote most of the other material on her debut album, made me adore her even more. At this stage in her career she had already been ‘working’ in the biz for years, her first five-song demo recording made when she was just 13, way back in 1997! From 1999-2001 she had an independent record deal, and made an album… which she has subsequently ensured will never see the light of day thanks to a court-order. I’m guessing it might’ve been a bit shit. Hey, we’ve all been there Delts.

After rocketing to stardom via a stint on ‘Neighbours’ (because duh), and also because she was obviously INSANELY talented, she made some pretty average ‘nice’ albums and sold pretty ‘nicely’ and didn’t really change the landscape too much… and then she turned 30 and SHABAM! she made what I consider her best work yet. And yeah, she started her career in music almost 20 years earlier, so OF COURSE ‘Wings of the Wild’ was going to be good. If you haven’t had a listen to it, there’s some true excellence among the other poppy/generic-ish stuff, namely the song ‘Encore’ and this one which just rips through the piano keys…

Kylie Minogue – ‘Right Here, Right Now’ from the 2015 Giorgio Moroder album ‘Déjà Vu’

Of course Kylie is still doing mega-quite-well, having just headlined at Glastonbury and released her… um, 1000th greatest hits compilation… but this song is an example to me of radio just refusing to admit that at 47 years old (at the time of release) Kylie singing on 470 year old Giorgio Moroder’s album was as bloody excellent as it was. If Tina Arena had ‘words to say’ about the lack of industry support for her own amazing work in 2015, Kylie had just as much right to stand up and demand some respect too. I mean, she’s just ‘doing Kylie’ on this track, but gosh she does it well by now… I mean, ‘Kiss Me Once’ had been out for a while, with the song ‘Sexercise’ being a ‘bit embarrasSIAing’, the album ‘under-achieving, and radio pretending she was invisible… but if anything should’ve locomotion-ed Kylie back to the top, it should’ve been this excellent stonker.

Claire Richards – ‘Shame On You’ from the 2019 album ‘My Wildest Dreams’

This is Claire-from-steps debut solo offering, and she’s 41 years old. I mean cool, she’s been rather smashingly busy reuniting with her Step-tacular band mates for last year’s ‘Tears on the Dancefloor’ album and then another Steps Greatest Hits album and tour, but HOW have the POP MUSIC GODS not blessed us with a collection of honestly JUST HER VOICE SMASH HIT BANGERS?!?

I’m not saying that her band buddies were in any way less than superior to Claire-bear, I mean there was Faye Tozer (currently on the West End in ‘There’s Something About Jamie’ which I was lucky enough to get a box seat for just recently) who can SANG and look amazing with dreadlocks. There’s Lisa Scott-Lee who had braces for like, ever, then embarked on a solo career, releasing an album in 2007 that sounded like Dannii Minogue after a few too many colas… if you get me. Then there were those boys, those very necessary boys, who were obviously essential to the Steps fan-base for um… look at Lee’s abs! And Claire did ditch the stairs and do a solo-sort-of-duo thing with ‘H’ (real name Ian) for one quite disastrously bad album feat. embarrassing videos which no one should ever look at.

Let’s be honest. None of the others had quite the vocal chops our Claire had… but let’s also not forget that she had literally STARVED herself to be in the band. She was told in no uncertain terms to lose weight before the band cut their first single ‘5, 6, 7, 8’ (yes, that was a song title in the ’90’s) because who cares about talent right? So I get that she kinda hated the pop music machine for a while… and I also understand why the band didn’t necessarily love the fact that Claire was essentially the Deena Jones AND the Effie White of Steps. Also Ian was screwing Tim (the manager), so there were bound to be difficulties at some stage.

Anyway, fast-forward through a tell-all-documentary series that is definitely searchable on YouTube, and here we FINALLY have it in 2019, Claire Richards in all her pop-tasticular glory at last… and she looks BLOODY AMAZING by the way, and I love that we are the same age. Go Claire. Make us dance in our empty hotel room while we sink a sparkling rosé by all means!

Nadine Coyle – ‘Go To Work’ the 2017 single

Do you remember the TV show that changed the music industry landscape forever ‘Popstars’? The conceit of the show: find 5 ‘unknown’ girls… make new Spice Girls!

That phenomenon actually started life in 1999 on screens in New Zealand, and culminated with the creation of ‘International Supergroup’ TrueBliss. Okay, so International is pushing it… If you can find the original NZ Popstars series online, it’s only worth a watch to see how the ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 1’ of reality music shows actually looked when it was filmed quite literally in people’s living rooms, or at second-hand stores (to source the girl’s music-video wardrobes).

Of course the show idea worked, and television giants around the world snapped up the concept, creating bands like Australia’s ‘Bardot’, ‘Scandal-us’ and the UK’s ‘Hear-Say’, ‘Liberty X’… and the one actual Supergroup to rule them all, ‘Girls Aloud’.

Oh wee Nadine! She had actually first graced the TV screen when she cheated her way through an audition for the 2001 Irish version of Popstars, telling everyone she was 18 years old, when in fact she was just a wee cherub of 16. She even won a place in the Irish iconic pop-gasm that was the show’s creation, ‘Six’ (because there would be not five, but six band members!!!) but had to concede her place to some other person who no one really remembers. See, should’ve stuck with five.

Then along came her second shot just a year and a bit later, when she auditioned for the actual British Popstars, and made it into the band with the four other girls who were, um, allowed.

After more actual success than their precursors (those Spice Ladies), actual critical acclaim, a very awesome cover version of The Pointer Sisters’ ‘Jump’, and a bazillion awards, the Girls Aloud phenomenon ended in 2009, and our wee Irish lass Nadine built HER OWN RECORD COMPANY and made a pretty excellent debut album called ‘Insatiable’ (a favourite word of mine, and a quite brilliant first solo single from our glamorous cheater!) For some reason though, I do not even understand it, she released the album only through… get this… the supermarket. So you pop down to Tesco’s for some bananas and Nadine Coyle? Anyway, find the album and listen/watch the title track. It should’ve been bigger, but hey… bananas.

Yep, I know that she’s only a sprightly 34 years old right now, but she’s been plugging away in the public eye since she was 16, so I reckon she should be much more of an actual THING than the industry has… um… aloud her to be. To prove it, here’s a fantastic recent single that should’ve fired up so many more women about their ‘good for nothing’ partners a couple of years ago! FYI: who doesn’t love an independently made music video by a record company exec who happens to be singing the track and looking like THAT?!

Cheryl Cole – ‘Let You’ the single from the 2019 as yet unreleased album

Another ‘Girls Aloud’/’Popstars’ alum, Cheryl (a name which really doesn’t bring out the best in the Aussie/kiwi accent) is by far and away the most successful British Reality Music Show star in the world. An American comparison would undoubtedly be Kelly Clarkson (the original American Idol), and an Aussie one would be… um…?

After the band’s demise, Cheryl embarked on a solo career with the guidance of ‘Black Eyed Peas’ Will-I-Am, the idea being that she would step into Fergie’s departing American shoes, as well as maintain a solo career back on the Isle. I’m guessing that Will-I-Am was simply defeated by Cheryl’s quite stunning beauty into believing that she had some vocal chops that simply don’t exist. “Pretty girl sing, sound noiiiiice.”

All jokes aside, the stunning-ness that is Cheryl, made her debut with the (can I swear) excellent single ‘Fight For This Love’, which still holds up remarkably well today, from her debut album 3 Words. To then follow it with the brilliantly syncopated title track (watch the ‘3 Words’ video because just do it) and a follow up album that wasn’t really as bad as some critics make out, meant that Cheryl was officially a busy beaver. Not one of the Spicey’s have ever produced two consecutive albums of any such quality, all the while looking like a super-model, sounding like a scouser (listen to her speaking voice!)

A few more albums and ‘career-reboots’ later, she’s now officially dead according to the radio playlist, as she’s 35 years old… and yet here she is, alive and banging out this ‘Ms. Nasty’ killer track in 2019. Yep, she’s obviously had some lip-fillers (I mean, c’mon who hasn’t Jack Vidgened these days) but damn girl, you still got game!!! – if that’s how you say it?

Toni Braxton – ‘Long As I Live’ from the 2018 album ‘Sex & Cigarettes’

To America we go, and I’m just going to say it, if you haven’t heard of or watched the TV series ‘Braxton Family Values’, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?! But seriously, do yourself a favour and start back at series 1. The Braxton family is comprised of Daddy Braxton, Mommy Evelyn, and their offspring Toni, Traci, Trina, Towanda, Tamar and, um, Michael. It’s like the African-American Kardashian’s (K.K.K.s) but with actual talent. See, the sisters had been groomed by Mommy (Dearest) to take over the world as an all-singing-gospel-family-superband, think: ‘The Osmonds’ or ‘The Partridge Family’ or ‘The Jacksons’ but without the abuse. What ended up happening however, is that after their ‘audition’ for the brand new L.A. Reid and Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds record label ‘La Face Records’, only the eldest daughter Toni was offered a contract.

Taking her sisters along for the ride literally behind her (as her back-up singers), Toni debuted in 1993 with an R&B/Soft-pop CLASSIC album simply called ‘Toni Braxton’. Here she was World, her hair cut short, wrapped up in a leather jacket and ripped jeans, and singing in her deep chocolatey voice about heart break… what’s not to love. And love her I did. In fact, I will go as far to say that I had a sneaky girl-crush on Ms. Braxton when I used some prize money I had won from school to buy that cassette.

If we thought that she had peaked with her debut, the World was SHOOK when her sophomore effort ‘Secrets’ dropped in 1996, smashing onto every single radio in the world with ‘Un-Break My Heart’, a song that was originally pitched to Céline Dion. Ms. Dion actually swapped songs with Toni, who had been pitched to record ‘Because You Loved Me’ a boring song for the up-coming Michelle Pfeiffer movie ‘Up Close and Personal’. I say good swap there Toni. Dodged a yawn bullet. Anyway, hearts were un-broken everywhere, Toni went on tour, bought herself some nice things like Gucci flatware, with the money she had supposedly earned, and wondered why her bank balance wasn’t seeming to grow exponentially. As you might already know, she had signed what amounted to a ‘slavery contract’ with La Face, resulting in bankruptcy for her, and an eventual court case and payout in the millions of dollars for La Face. Never again would she sign a bad Artist’s deal… but she would go bankrupt again. Oops. Blame it on her health (she has the auto-immune illness Lupus), and the fact that dealing with record companies is fraught. Rather than postpone her third album ‘The Heat’ so that Toni could focus on having her first baby, La Face pushed the album to it’s slated release date, leaving Toni with no choice but to cancel most of its promotional tour.

She’s a true American superstar though, with a CV that includes two Disney Broadway stints, playing Belle in ‘Beauty & The Beast’, the title role in Disney’s ‘Aida’, and appearing as ‘guest star’ in the show ‘After Midnight’ replacing Idol winner alum Fantasia Barrino. She’s done the Casino residency thing down the road from Céline… she’s ACTED in big-budget movies and made-for-tv weepies, she’s produced ‘Braxton Family Values’ since it’s debut in 2011 (transforming the careers of her sisters, especially Tamar ‘get your life’, ‘dot com’), written her memoirs (which were turned into a ‘mostly watchable’ TV movie), and um… retired from music in 2013!?!

I have to admit, when I heard that she had said to Wendy Williams that her ‘heart wasn’t in it anymore’ I was broken to my CORE. Apparently so was the one and only PRINCE (RIP – Rest In Purple), who called her to see if there was anything he could do.

Of course she bounced back from the ‘retiring’ B.S. and made a stunning 2015 Grammy Winning album about straight people stuff with Babyface, following that with the news that another solo record was in the works… oh how we waited! Lo and behold, out came ‘Sex & Cigarettes’ in 2018, with this soft-core yet sexy heart-break BOUNCE of a lead single. By the way, she is 50 (I’m going to swear) years old IN THIS VIDEO. I defy you age, I defy you!

Jennifer Lopez – ‘First Love’ from the 2014 album ‘AKA’

J.Lo is of course a GODDESS and doing quite fine please and thank you. I’ve seriously just added this video to showcase her tremendous 45 – FORTY FIVE – year old beautaaay (at the time of the album’s release), and also the exquisite GOD-NESS of David Gandy (the ONLY male supermodel who matters anymore… he also has a range of undies. You can get INTO his undies people!) This song is also a creation of Max Martin (think Swedish super pop producer of Britney Spears etc fame) that thumps along just sexily enough to allow us to imagine being IN THE SAME ROOM as these two ridiculously attractive people, and feel like we may have SOME swagger… but not really. I mean, both of them… on a BED really. I have to go roll a tire in the desert and talk in whispers!!!

Nicole Scherzinger – ‘Run’ from the 2014 album ‘Big Fat Lie’

I don’t care what they may say, Nicole should be SUCH A HUGE DEAL right now.

Popstars, the TV show didn’t just unearth talent in Europe and Australasia, oh no! TrueBliss may have been iconic (pushing it…), but they had nothing on America’s very first popstars, the girl band ‘Eden’s Crush’.

Stating that she basically wanted to be the next Whitney Houston (sans Bobby Brown), Hawaiian beauty Nicole was a sure-fire winner the moment she opened her mouth at the audition… hell, even before she opened her mouth I’m pretty sure the judges were like “we are so done, welcome.” I mean, is there a more beautiful woman alive?! I have played videos of Nicole singing and wearing ‘some’ clothes to many a straight man, who has suddenly become VERY interested in pop music. She has an effect.

That effect did not however carry Eden’s Crush through to lasting success, as their record label went bankrupt within one year, forcing Nicole out on the street with her own demo CD, and then into the arms of ‘Burlesque’ troupe turned pop-stars ‘Pussycat Dolls’. Nicole was apparently recommended to the PCD management by none other than the BEP’s Will-I-Am… proving that he does indeed like pretty girls singing.

History happened of course, with ‘Don’t Cha’ and ‘Buttons’ becoming the dirtiest, sexiest, dance-floor bangers of the mid-to-late 2000’s, and then the Doll’s imploded, citing difficulty reconciling four other girls being in a ‘band’ where only one of the girls is actually singing anything resembling a ‘Melody’. See what I did there?!

Let’s also be honest here, for a beautiful and curvaceous woman, Nicole looked, well, skinny A.F. Turns out being in a ‘band’ made up of ‘dancers’ when you’re wanting to be ‘Whitney’ takes its toll on your mental health. For my part, I’m glad the Doll’s ended before one of the girls snapped beneath the weight of her own hair extensions.

So then in 2011 out pops the debut album ‘Killer Love’, and the truly spectacular singles ‘Don’t Hold Your Breath’ and ‘Wet’ (both videos that have helped straight men to ‘understand’ pop music’s appeal)… and SOMEHOW THE ALBUM DID NOT turn Nicole into a GLOBAL MEGASTAR. Was it that we just couldn’t get past her sordid past as a stripper, oops, I mean ‘burlesque pop-star’? I did not care. I blasted out ‘Killer Love’ like it was Lady Gaga, and I tapped my shoes together and believed that one day she would be the DEAL I KNEW SHE WAS.

Cut to her at 36 years old, with her next album, 2014’s ‘Big Fat Lie’… good title there. The lead single was a bit of a miss, with some ill-advised whistling and doo-doo-ing on a beach, and there was a ballad about ‘taking your shot on the rocks’ which was just a bit wrong… and then at the end she just LETS (swearing) RIP with this absolute gem of a broken down performance. Sit down and shut up. There’s a true DIVA on the stage and her name is Nicole.