- 04 Jan 06
When Jackie Hayden was enlisted to interview Sugababe Mutya Buena, little did he suspect that he would be loudly upstaged by another woman as he tries to get the lowdown on the Sugababes’ near break-up, Mutya’s concern over the sexing-up of their recent video, the effects of her pregnancy on her career and who ‘Push The Button’ was really about.
It’s not often you get the chance to interview a top female pop star while her eight-month old daughter is keen to make as voluble a contribution to proceedings as her lungs will let her, but that’s the way it was for my encounter with everybody’s favourite Sugababe, Mutya Buena and her baby Tahlia.
Apart from a starring role in this interview, baby Tahlia has a cameo role in the band’s new single ‘Ugly’, so she’s off to a flying start if she wants to follow in her mum’s footsteps. Nor does it end there. As Mutya explains, the track ‘Follow Me Home’ on the new album Taller In More Ways, their fourth studio effort, was inspired by the same Tahlia, the one that’s now waxing my ears with a piercing scream. As Mutya explains through a barrage of baby babble, “One of our producers suggested that the song could be a bit more personal than the usual pop lyrics, so I wrote the first verse specifically about Tahlia, but I didn’t want it to be a cheesy soppy ‘I love you’ song. I wrote it so that it could be about anybody you really care about, your sister, your Dad or whoever.”
Surely juggling motherhood and a music career is a struggle?
“It’s hard all right”, the elder ‘Babe admits with a laugh, “but I keep going by reminding myself that I’m doing it all for her. It’ll be nice too when she grows up knowing that I wrote a song about her that she can keep forever.”
But was finding herself pregnant a shock and was she worried about being a young mum?
“Yeah, it was quite a shock to the system! I had to think about the baby and my career and the other girls, Keisha and Heidi, too. So there was pressure. But I grew up in a big family of eight in the north-west of London and I was used to looking after my younger siblings. So I took very naturally to motherhood. In fact I worked in the studio on the new album right up to two weeks before I was due because I really didn’t want to let the girls down. I didn’t want there to be any excuses. But there were times when I wanted to be at home taking it easy for the baby’s sake.”
The Princess of Wails having decided to rest her vocal chords for a few bars, I ask her Mum about the Sugababes’ last visit to Dublin, when the band nearly splintered minutes before their Olympia show. That gig was cancelled, with Keisha and Heidi apparently arguing heatedly over Britney Spears. Is that true, I wonder?
“Yeah, it’s all true! It was silly really, but you know how these things get out of hand? I think they were arguing over lyrics and I suppose it all got caught up in the pressure and it was ridiculous. But we all laugh about it now. We’ve been getting on fine recently and the girls were really supportive during my pregnancy.”
According to music industry insiders Mutya wasn’t initially happy with some of the sexed-up scenes for the ‘Push The Button’ video, so could that also be true?
“There were a few short scenes when my shorts rode up too high and I have lots of young relations and young friends and I didn’t want them to think I was making a stripper video or a porn video so I had those bits cut out,” she admits.
And the guys in the video?
“Oh, they were just models and dancers who auditioned. We didn’t know them beforehand, but they were picked for their dancing talent not their looks and I thought the video turned out really great in the end.”
There are more intense industry rumours that the song ‘Push The Button’ was written after Keisha developed a crush on a pop artist in the US? Here again, Mutya is disarmingly honest.
“We all knew there was something going on between them at the time, but we try to give each other space. I can’t even remember what his name was now. He hasn’t released anything over here, although he has stuff out in the States.”
The band were away from the scene for 18 months, the longest they’ve taken off since they got together. Did Mutya worry about such a long absence, given the short shelf-life of many pop careers?
“Eighteen months is a long time in pop. You come in and there’s all these new groups around and you wonder if people remember you. But when ‘Push The Button’ went to number one we realised it hadn’t done us any harm at all. In fact it might have been a good thing, given people a break from us.”
So which of the current acts on the scene does she respect the most?
“To be honest with you, when you’re working so hard you don’t have enough time to check out other artists. I used to love ‘em, but I don’t like watching any of those video channels much any more, because I often find the videos are a distraction from the song. I prefer to wait until I can listen to the music properly. But I really like The Streets. They’re very credible. And that Lemar has a beautiful voice, a true talent.”
The Sugababes were initially labeled as moody, sulky teens. How much of that does she think is justified?
“I suppose there was some justification in it. I grew up a normal girl going around in our little gang doing girly things like shopping, so when I went into my pop career I had no media training. We were all just thrown into it. I didn’t know I was supposed to be a smiley happy person just for the photos. I didn’t want to act that way anyway, to pretend I was something I wasn’t. I just wanted to be meself. But I’m a happy person inside even if I’m not turning on the smiley stuff all the time.”
Is she happy with the fresher poppy direction of the new album and how it came about?
“We just went with the flow and did whatever seemed natural at the time,” Mutya concludes. “And that’s the way it came out and I’m really happy with it”.