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Johnny Marr’s surprising cameo on a Girls Aloud song


Johnny Marr has always taken on whatever project feels right, and it doesn’t matter who he works with as long as he appreciates the art presented to him. However, his collaboration with the 2000s pop group Girls Aloud was unforeseen even by Marr’s unpredictable standards.

Marr has joined up with Tom Jones, Crowded House, and M People throughout his career, but his work with Girls Aloud remains his most surprising moment. The Smiths guitarist worked with the all-girl five-piece, which famously included Cheryl Cole in 2008, and his assignment with them came about in a rather organic way.

The music press of the day turned their nose up at the improbable pairing when it was revealed and poked fun at Marr for agreeing to play with them. However, he, of course, knew it would cause a furore, and that was a further incentive that drove him to take part.

In fairness to the critics of his involvement, Girls Aloud were a product of the 2002 reality talent show, Popstars: The Rivals, manufactured by Simon Cowell. On the contrary, Marr has always been as a champion of the underground, and many of his fans were angered by seeing him get into bed with the group. 

For him, it was just another appearance, and Marr found the over the top reaction to his contributions to ‘Rolling Back the Rivers in Time’ and ‘Love Is The Key’ comical. “I was working with (Girls Aloud producer) Brian Higgins on a Pet Shop Boys record, and I let it slip that I liked the guitars on a couple of Girls Aloud’s early singles,” Marr explained.

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He jokingly added: “So he got me in a headlock, took me from behind and, before I knew it, I had a harmonica in my mouth. No, I loved doing it. I am evangelical about pop music.”

The chance to work with Girls Aloud also allowed Marr to make a wider point about the importance of pop music and why it should be celebrated rather than looked down upon. “The idea that pop is crass and commercial is an old-fashioned rockist conceit linked to the whole ‘Disco Sucks’ campaign,” he clarified. “I always saw The Smiths as a pop group. Sparks, Roxy Music, Bowie, Sweet all made great pop-45s. I’ve always held on to the nobility and aspirations of pop, and what it can be.”

Like every other genre of music, some play the tedious safe option while others are compelling and boundary-pushing such as Billie Eilish, who Marr also collided with on ‘No Time To Die’.

Specifying on the only requirements needed for him to work with an artist, Marr told the Huffington Post in 2016, “I’ve been consistent, always wanting to make music with all kinds of different people. My music decisions have always made sense to me.”

He also mischievously added: “Also, sometimes it’s good fun to get up the noses of the indie militia.”

While Marr’s scattergun approach has built up a strange-looking CV and reads like the most erratic festival line-up in history — his willingness to take on projects he believes in should be commended. It’s this same openness that has allowed him to maintain relevance for 40-years and not become a relic of the past. 

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