Live Review: Sugababes at The O2, 15/09/23

The reformed OG trio bring the house down with back-to-back hits, garage interludes and 00s nostalgia

It’s the reformation everyone wanted. It’s the reformation that, in the absence of truly great girl bands in today’s modern pop canon, this O2 crowd absolutely needed. And tonight, at one of their largest headline shows to date, Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan, and Siobhán Donaghy – aka, the original Sugababes – are taking no prisoners.

Much has been made of this “comeback” – the staggering Glasto set in 2022 that closed the entire Avalon field, the viral Tramlines festival moment that saw a bunch of fans losing their minds to ‘About You Now’. What many don’t realise is just how hard the trio had to work to make it happen. After an unsuccessful reunion under the name MKS in 2012, it took the guts of another 10 years for the Sugababes to legally reclaim their moniker and start performing again.

Line-up dramas aside, this journey is the stuff of pop legend. Finally, these talented and industry-hardened women can take back the name that made them, and boy, are they ready to show us what we’ve been missing.

They open the set with (arguably) their biggest hit ‘Push The Button’, and bang, we’re in. ‘Red Dress’ is second on the rostrum as a veil of red steamers shoot out over an already delirious crowd. On ‘Hole in the Head’, Buchanan’s voice soars and Buena beams, flanked by neon-pink strip lights. Donaghy looks very much at home between the bandmates she’s known since she was just 14 years old.

Despite the often-nonchalant choreography (come on, that was never really their schtick) this set displays a maturity that makes it all the more poignant. ‘Ugly’ – which extols the importance of self-love, written at a time when Buena and Buchanan were being targeted and body-shamed by countless celeb media outlets – feels especially relevant. Friends, partners, random crowd members, hold each other close and belt out the lyrics: “People are all the same, and we only get judged by what we do, personality reflects name, and if I’m ugly then so are you.” Fans are already balling their eyes out and we’re only five songs in.

‘Run For Cover’, a fan favourite from their 2001 debut album, One Touch, is given a slick club beat as the trio’s voices weave and dance through the harmonies. Their debut is further celebrated with a chunky section of song medleys and accompanying video footage (and we mean VHS) of the girls rehearsing their dance routines at 15. Blurred and of questionable quality, these scenes just reinforce the unique spunkiness and overwhelming talent the Sugababes had at such a young age. It’s a vindication. A “told you so”. A homecoming. And the crowd are absolutely here for it. Debut hit ‘Overload’ is met with a roar that nearly blows the roof off.

The latter part of the set is conducted on a lowered platform in the crowd under a giant disco ball. A cover of Sweet Female Attitude’s UK garage classic ‘Flowers’ sends the crowd into the stratosphere. An ode to the music that raised them and a low-key homage to their recent Boiler Room set, this is the Sugababes’ heartland. Their entire back catalogue belongs to the sweaty club dancefloor. “This is my favourite song to sing,” Buena smiles as her husky voice breaks into ‘Too Lost In You’. I’ve previously written about ugly crying when singing along to this song, and there’s no shortage of that in this 20,000 strong crowd.

They end triumphantly with new track ‘When The Rain Comes’ and the Gary Numan mash-up banger ‘Freak Like Me’. You can see everyone frantically checking off the hits in a euphoric riot, trying to predict the encore. Of course, it’s ‘Round Round’, swiftly followed by their biggest commercial hit to date, ‘About You Now.’ There’s confetti. The audience is elated. It feels like a honour to be part of something so special, so badass, and so, so deserved.

For many loyal fans (including your reviewer), the Sugababes never really left. But thank god they fought as hard as they did to make their presence felt in an industry that nearly destroyed them. This one’s for you.