|Stylistic origins||1930s-1965: music hall, vaudeville, swing music, jump blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul music, gospel music, traditional pop pop, dance-pop, teen pop, pop punk, indie rock, contemporary R&B, EDM, hip hop, indie pop, electropop, garage rock, dance punk, pop rap, emo/post-hardcore, new rave|
|Cultural origins||1930s United States|
|Typical instruments||Vocals, electronic backing, sampler, sequencer, electric guitar, bass guitar, drum kit, keyboard|
|Derivative forms||boybands, twee pop, riot grrrl, indie pop, bubblegum pop, Yé-yé|
|Motown Records, Eurovision song contest, camp (style), pop icon, teenybopper, postmodernism, consumerism, kitsch, pop culture, manufactured pop, teen idol, girl power, all-female band|
Girl groups emerged in the late 1950s as groups of young singers teamed up with behind-the-scenes songwriters and music producers to create hit singles, often featuring glossy production values and backing by top studio musicians. In later eras the girl group template would be applied to disco, contemporary R&B, and country-based formats as well as pop.
During the Music Hall/Vaudeville era, all-girl singing groups were mainly novelty acts singing nonsense songs in silly voices. One of the first major exceptions was the Boswell Sisters, who became one of the most popular singing groups from 1930 to 1936, with over twenty hits. The Boswells were noted for their artistry, and often played their own instruments and performed their own arrangements. The Andrews Sisters started (1937) as a Boswell tribute band, filling the vacuum left after that group's demise. The Andrews Sisters remained hugely popular through the 1940s and 1950s as recording and performing stars, until the rise of early rock and roll made their tight-harmony, big band-derived style obsolete.
Among the earliest acts categorizable as a "girl group" are The Chantels, whose 1958 hit "Maybe" had many of the earmarks of what would become the classic girl-group sound: looser harmonies mixing elements of pop and rhythm and blues, an identifiable lead vocal within a harmony arrangement, and subject matter centered around young love.
As rock and roll began to grow quickly in popularity, dozens of groups tried their luck, often teaming up with established songwriters and record producers. The Shirelles, who had had some minor R&B hits, hooked up with Brill Building songwriters, notably Gerry Goffin and Carole King, who wrote "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" for them. The song became a number one pop hit in early 1961, and is widely recognized as establishing the prototypical girl-group style.
Other songwriters and producers quickly recognized the potential of this new approach, and recruited existing acts (or, in some cases, created them anew) to record their songs in a girl-group style. Phil Spector recruited The Crystals, The Blossoms, and The Ronettes, while Goffin and King handled much of the output of The Cookies. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller would likewise foster The Dixie Cups, The Shangri-Las, and The Exciters. Other important girl group songwriters included Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. The Motown label also masterminded several major girl groups, beginning with The Marvelettes and later with Martha and the Vandellas and The Supremes.
By the mid to late 1960s, in the face of the British Invasion and the increasing popularity of rock music, the popularity of girl groups began to wane. During this time, only a few all-female groups, such as The Supremes (who scored the first number one album by an all female group), and Martha and the Vandellas (both Motown), made the transition to an earthier, soulful sound with success. The influence of the girl-group sound would continue to be heard even as the rock era progressed; particularly through The Beatles, who would cover several girl-group hits including "Chains" (The Cookies), "Please Mr. Postman" (The Marvelettes), "Baby It's You", and "Boys" (both originally recorded by The Shirelles) and vice-versa as with The Supremes album, A Bit of Liverpool.
Besides harmony singing, girl group songs of the time were characterized by high-end production and dramatic arrangements, and producers were often as important to the recordings as the artists themselves. Spector was the most famous and influential producer of the era. His Wall of Sound production featured a thick layer of instrumentation (drums, guitar, bass, a horn section and often something more exotic, such as Glockenspiel or vibraphone). Amidst the musical accompaniment, there was a lead vocal, often deliberately girlish in tone, singing deceptively simple, naïve lyrics which artfully and eloquently expressed the emotions of teenagers of the time. An example would be The Ronettes' "Be My Baby," which doubles as both a charming love song and, implicitly, a portrayal of adolescent sexual mores. Many groups, such as the Shangri-Las, used productions inspired by Spector, even if Spector himself did not work on their records. Others, including some New York City-based groups like The Chiffons, used more conventional pop music arrangements, while the Motown groups used typical driving Motown arrangements of the period.
The high-production, harmony-heavy sound of girl groups was so well-established and proved so popular that many individual singers adopted the "girl-group sound." Lesley Gore, Little Eva and Mary Wells were solo artists, but are often considered part of the girl group genre. Other groups, such as Ruby and the Romantics and The Essex, had the "girl-group sound,"  even though they were not composed entirely of females. The sound was also a key element of many of the "Beach Party" type movies of the same era, many starring Annette Funicello.
Fashion became a key aspect of the girl group phenomenon, especially as the acts began to be invited to appear on variety television programs and musical revues. Despite their often-humble backgrounds, the girl groups wore the latest and most stylish dresses (often in matching sets) and set styles for hair and clothing.
Although the most popular girl groups of the 1960s were primarily of young black women, their success and popularity crossed all ethnic and cultural boundaries, even during periods of racial tension. (A few white girl groups, including The Angels and The Paris Sisters, had hits that were basically indistinguishable in style and sound from their black counterparts.) Even when the content of the songs bordered on the risqué, the well-dressed, well-mannered young women in these groups found acceptance in suburban America, subtly changing attitudes and spearheading the crossover successes of many black musical acts to come.
Patti LaBelle and The Bluebelles was a US 1960s girl group which had moderate success performing soulful pop typical of the era. In the early 70s manager Vicki Wickham helped remake their image, renaming the group Labelle and pushing them in the direction of Glam rock. Labelle were the first girl group to eschew matching outfits and identical choreography, instead wearing extravagant spacesuits and feathered headdresses. The group would finally score a major hit in 1975, with "Lady Marmalade," one of the first disco songs to top the charts.
From the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s, a profusion of successful disco/pop dance female groups were formed in continental Europe: Luv', Babe, Dolly Dots, Maywood, Doris D. & The Pins, Snoopy, Star Sisters, Mai Tai from the Netherlands, Silver Convention and Arabesque from Germany, and Baccara from Spain. Las Cheris, Fresitas and Monedas tried to imitate boy band Menudo's success in Puerto Rico.
In the United States, the 1980s saw the emergence of popular female bands such as The Go-Go's (the first all-female band that played its own instruments and wrote its own songs to top the Billboard album chart), The Bangles and vocal group The Pointer Sisters. The latter, an updated "girl group" of adults, charted several hits in the 1980s, including "Jump (for My Love)" and "I'm So Excited".
In the United Kingdom the New Wave/pop group Bananarama had an extensive number of Top 40 singles around the world in the 1980s and 1990s. Their most famous international hit, "Venus," hit #1 in the United States (a feat they didn't achieve in their homeland). In 1988, they entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the most successful all-female group in history, a title they held for over a decade.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s in the United States, Exposé, Sweet Sensation, The Cover Girls, Jade, and Seduction all enjoyed commercial success with the growth of Freestyle, a Latin- or R&B-oriented dance sound.
Many of the girl groups of the 1990s returned to a manufactured pop style, marketed as clean-cut and aimed at young, predominantly female audiences. A prime example of this was the US vocal trio, Wilson Phillips. In Canada, West End Girls achieved minor hits on the Canadian charts.
Former Bananarama member Siobhan Fahey created an edgy alternative group, Shakespears Sister, whose single "Stay" stayed at #1 in the UK for eight weeks (the longest run by any girl group) and made the top 5 in the US.
In the UK, the R&B act Eternal scored a string of hits both within the U.K and internationally as well as having three multi-platinum selling albums. One of the most successful American R&B girl groups of the early 1990s was vocal quartet En Vogue. According to Billboard magazine, they were the eighteenth most successful act of the 1990s. Irish girl group B*Witched enjoyed chart success with four #1 singles in the UK. Cleopatra scored hits both in the UK and the US. They had their own television sitcom and were signed by Madonna. All Saints became one of the most successful British pop groups of the 1990s with five #1 hits in the UK and two multi-platinum albums. Their second single, "Never Ever", is their biggest hit, topping the charts in UK and Australia.
In the 1990s, TLC also experienced high popularity in the US. Their second album, Crazy Sexy Cool is the best selling hip hop and female R&B group album of all time in the US with shipments of 15 million copies. It is also one of the few R&B albums to receive a diamond status. Billboard ranks them as one of the best musical trios of all time. Another R&B girl group SWV also became one of the big selling female groups in the US to come out of the 1990s.
Spice Girls had nine #1 singles in the UK and US, including "Wannabe", "2 Become 1" and "Spice Up Your Life". With sold-out concerts, advertisements, merchandise and a film, Spice Girls became the most commercially successful British group since The Beatles. They were one of the biggest selling pop groups of the 1990s, and the best-selling female group in modern music history. Their first album, Spice is the best-selling album of the all time by a female group, with 23 million sales worldwide. In total, Spice Girls sold in excess of 60 million records worldwide. According to The Times, The BBC and biographer David Sinclair they are the most successful girl group of all time.
Since the late 1990s, as J-Pop has become more popular outside of Japan (thanks largely to the Internet), Japanese girl groups such as Speed and Morning Musume have achieved a degree of cult status within certain communities and social groups, especially those associated with Japanophilia. Speed sold a total of 20 million copies alone in Japan in just three years before disbanding.
In the UK, Sugababes formed in 1998, and have been named the most successful all-female act of the 21st century in the UK. They have achieved 6 #1 singles and sales of more than 4 million albums in the UK alone. In terms of records sold the Sugababes are the UK's most successful Girl Band at the present time.
In the start of the new millennium, the 2000s girl group sound changed from the bubblegum pop sound of the Spice Girls and the R&B/Hip Hop sound of TLC into a new Urban-style pop-rock/R&B sound popularized by Destiny's Child. American groups like Dream and I5 were two of the first girl groups to begin the new sound which would soon overtake girl groups globally. Eden's Crush was launched in the U.S off of Popstars, a TV show talent competition. All three of these groups experienced minimal, short-lived success, as they could not compete with Destiny's Child, and all disbanded by 2002. Destiny's Child experienced massive success during this time period, releasing Survivor which globally sold over 10 million copies. The success they had achieved in the late 1990s was continuing in the early 2000s and the World Music Awards recognized them as the World's Best-selling female group of all time.
No American group came close to emulating their success until 2005, when Pussycat Dolls released their debut album PCD which went on to sell over 7 million copies worldwide. Robin Antin, responsible for the Pussycat Dolls also created the girl group Girlicious, who experienced success in Canada with the singles "Like Me" and "Stupid Shit". Other American girl groups that experienced success during this time period include 3LW, Blaque, Cherish, The Cheetah Girls, and Danity Kane, the latter of which won Making The Band 3 and became the first-ever girl group to debut at number one on the official U.S. Billboard 200 with their first two albums. The Cheetah Girls are a multicultural band created by The Walt Disney Company in 2003. The group was based on a series of books of the same name. They have had three major Disney films and soundtracks, in addition to clothing and accessory lines. They embarked in 2006-2007 on a tour that brought in 43 million dollars; 26 million coming from the tour and 17 million from the tour merchandise. On one of the stops on the tour at the Houston Rodeo they had an audience of 73,200 people, with the concert selling out in just three minutes. This record was set back in 1973 with Elvis Presley. They are an international sensation, filming in locations such as Mumbai and Barcelona.
The girl group scene in Korea and Japan is musically diverse, as K-pop and J-pop are influenced by Electronic music, Dance pop, R&B music and Bubblegum pop, evidenced by the music of the following groups: from Korea, Wonder Girls, Girls' Generation, Kara, 2NE1, 4minute, F(x), After School, Brown Eyed Girls, Davichi, T-ara, Jewelry, S.E.S., Fin.K.L, and Baby V.O.X.; and from Japan, Morning Musume, Perfume and AKB48.
Elsewhere in Asia, many girl groups are more rock-inspired. Girl group t.A.T.u are arguably the most popular Russian girl group. Their single "All the Things She Said" reached #1 throughout Europe and Asia, and reached the top 20 in the U.S. Other Asian girl groups that experienced success include Viva, who won Popstars India and Orkideh from Iran.
In Europe, during the 2000s, girl groups have so far dominated the pop music charts. The Sugababes were the first girl group to experience success following the decline in popularity of the Spice Girls in the United Kingdom. Since the release of One Touch in 2000, they have gone on to sell over 8 million records in the United Kingdom alone, and they have 6 chart-topping singles to their name.
At around the same time, Atomic Kitten made their debut. They were initially considered a flop, as their debut album only reached #39, until they convinced their new record label to release Whole Again. The single reached #1 in 19 countries, sold over 2 million copies globally and launched the group to new heights. Atomic kitten went on to have 2 more number one singles, The Tide Is High and Eternal Flame, both going on to sell over one million copies worldwide. Atomic kitten subsequently went on to have two number-one albums, both being certified double platinum in the UK. Atomic kitten have sold over 10 million records globally in their 4 and a half year career, whereas the Sugababes have sold 10 million in their 11 year career. This makes them the biggest selling girl group in the UK of the 21st century interms for sales wise for their 4 and a half year career.
Elsewhere in Europe, No Angels experienced massive success throughout Europe from 2001-04 after winning Popstars, with 3 albums reaching #1 in their native Germany. They reunited in 2007 to mediocre success. No other European Popstars-launched group achieved such long-term success, until Girls Aloud won Popstars The Rivals in 2002. Their debut single "Sound of the Underground" opened up at #1 in the United Kingdom, eventually being certified platinum for sales of over 600,000 copies. Since then, they have released five albums, all of which have been at least certified platinum, and they currently hold the record for most consecutive Top 10 entries on the UK Singles Chart for a girl group, with twenty. They have four #1 hits on the UK Singles Chart, and have sold in excess of 7 million records in the United Kingdom. Girls Aloud have been named the best girl group in the UK now and the most successful girl band in the UK of the Decade.
Although most girl groups in Europe are pop groups, several girl groups from very different genres have experienced mainstream success, including Celtic Woman from Ireland. Other European girl groups that have experienced success during this time period include The Saturdays, Mis-Teeq and All Saints. Other successful European girl groups launched from Popstars include Monrose, Preluders, L5, Diadems, Hi-5, Lollipop, Nonstop, Excellence and Queensberry
Bardot and TrueBliss from the first seasons of Popstars New Zealand and Australia, respectively, were two girl groups launched at the start of the millennium. They both experienced short-lived success but paved the way for the new girl group sound that would eventually reach Oceania. Sister2Sister experienced musical success in the year 2000 in Oceania, although it was short-lived. Since then, the Australian girl group scene has changed drastically, adopting an electronic sound, as evidenced by the music of Young Divas, Slinkee Minx and The Veronicas. The latter group has achieved global success, with their single Untouched having been certified platinum in the U.S., and having reached #17 in the United States, #8 in the United Kingdom, and #1 in Ireland.