Released: 12th February 2001
Writers: Mike Stock / Matt Aitken / Steve Crosby
Peak position: #18
Chart run: 18-25-38-51-71
As record labels crammed pop acts in the charts during the late ’90s and early ’00s, some, inevitably, fell by the wayside. Girls@Play were one such example, even if their debut single, Airhead, deserved to be so much bigger than it was.
The brainchild of Mike Stock and Matt Aitken, Girls@Play (featuring Rita Simons before she landed the role of Roxy Mitchell in EastEnders) were unofficially labelled as a female version The Village People. Which actually does them a massive disservice because Airhead offered a profound insight to modern relationships. It’s a whole lot of fun, but the meaning behind its lyrics are one that the bubblegum pop generation was perhaps just a bit too young to fully appreciate at the time.
Airhead teaches many life lessons. On the surface it’s a throwaway bop about a mismatched couple; one who is intelligent and one who is attractive. Because in the early ‘00s – of course – you could be one or the other, but never both simultaneously.
Unpicking the song a little further, the individuals within this song are not made to feel shame for their respective identities; the titular male ‘airhead’ is: “in the slow lane, but he don’t care”. This was several years before Jessica Simpson became a household name almost entirely due to her ditziness and a whole decade before the TOWIE phenomenon birthed a subsection of celebrities famous for their apparent lack of common sense. Truly, Airhead broke the mould here and reassured people that it’s ok not to be the sharpest tool in the box.
And what of the Girls@Play ladies? Well, here lies the origin of the term “Netflix and chill” (possibly). For while the group acknowledge that conversation with their beau is limited, they still have needs and so they: “had some fun fooling around”, but: “never talked of settling down”. In the late ‘90s, pop music projected a highly romanticised version of love that didn’t appear to involve sex of any kind, but certainly not outside of a long-term relationship). Yet, this was not the reality older teenagers were confronted with when
sneaking into clubs underage legally attending nightclubs after turning 18. It was upon stumbling into these new worlds that Airhead’s message suddenly rang loud and clear, providing a relative amount of clarity amidst the murky haze of Smirnoff Ice and Liquid Gold.
In many ways, Airhead makes much more sense now than it did in 2001, such is the burden some songs must bear as they trailblaze and open new doors of understanding. Thankfully, the single was future-proofed so that it would remain a point of reference for future generations. If the lyrics should ever be forgotten, they can be easily recalled by quickly following the accompanying dance routine, which will be firmly embedded within the memory of anyone who encountered the song.
Airhead’s video is a simple one; a necessity given the importance of the auditory and visual messages it is required to convey. The visuals show a series of individual shots designed to emphasise the ‘characters’ within the group, even if some raise questions about the accuracy of their portrayal (do pilots really wheel their suitcase out onto the runway while planes land overhead?). Most notably though, the music video for Airhead set a new benchmark for what could be achieved with a few sheets of tin foil and a wind machine.
Having established this single was groundbreaking in both composition and delivery, success seemed certain to follow. Alas, Airhead entered the chart at a lowly #18, which was – and still is – a bitter pill to swallow. There are cases where art is worth more once the artist is dead, but even Roxy Mitchell’s grisly death in 2017 didn’t provoke a palpable spike in Airhead’s sales. Consequently, Girls@Play‘s genius largely remained unrecognised, resulting in a legacy that consists of a mere two singles and a handful of unreleased album tracks littered around YouTube.