Girls Aloud at the O2 review: a reminder of the timeless brilliance of one of the greatest girl bands of all time

It would have been very hard to convince someone watching Girls Aloud being crowned the surprise winners of Popstars: The Rivals back in 2002 that the group would go on to become one of the greatest girl bands of all time. Or that they would turn pop on its head and have 21 top 10 singles – four of them number ones.

Yet, last night’s show, the band’s second of five performances at the O2 as part of a sold-out reunion tour, was a vivid and potent reminder that they are owners of the most scintillating collection of singles in British pop history – and also that their bubbly, fearless attitude was crucial to that success.

Nadine Coyle, Cheryl Tweedy, Kimberly Walsh and Nicola Roberts asked us to join them on a “magical journey of unity, nostalgia… and most importantly a celebration of our Sarah (Harding).” And Harding is a massive part of the show. When she tragically died from cancer in 2021, it was her dying wish that the tour would go on and her presence was felt throughout.

This was most notably during Whole Lotta History, as the shots lingered on her face and the message “the darkest nights produce the brightest stars” appeared, while I’ll Stand By You saw iPhone torches light up across the arena in an emotional tribute.

“I’ve never felt so much love in the room,” exclaimed Kimberley Walsh, genuinely moved by the huge surge of emotion that rushed through the arena from the moment they began with Untouchable. Yet the show never felt maudlin or self-indulgent – this was a party, a celebration.

All parties need a soundtrack this good. As each member addressed the crowd, the word ‘nostalgia’ was constantly used. But these eccentric, electric, weird pop songs – crafted with production team Xenomania – still sounded like they’d been freshly beamed in from the future; a melting pot of Sixties girl-group harmonies, pop, new wave and kitsch – all filtered through 21st-century production and a rejection of boring, traditional pop clichés.

It meant, as each song began – the band atop motorbikes 20 feet in the air one moment, on podiums with 10 feet billowing red skirts underneath them the next – you excitedly decided that it was actually this track which was the best pop song of the last 25 years. Love Machine definitely. Oh no, it’s No Good Advice. Maybe Call The Shots? Or Biology. It has to be Something Kinda Ooooh!

But the answer was definitively delivered with the final song, The Promise. It’s the perfect Spector-inflected pop single. It was written in just seven minutes, but here, it was a reminder of the timeless, brilliant presence of this band.

The O2, to June 27;