Released: 19th June 2000
Writers: Girl Thing / Eliot Kennedy / George Merrill / Tim Lever / Mike Percy
Peak position: #8
Chart run: 8-19-28-35-39-40-50-71-X-X-65-67
Last One Standing ostensibly marked the launch of the next big girl group phenomenon. However, it quickly became apparent that Girl Thing were, in fact, a thinly-veiled attempt by Simon Cowell to put right a bad decision he’d made a few years earlier.
Comparisons to the Spice Girls were inevitable for any new girl group during the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, but most brought with them a point of difference, something that gave them a raison d’être. That didn’t always translate to success (21st Century Girls 😭); however, it demonstrated a willingness to try and offer something new. Girl Thing – by their own acknowledgement – had no such steer. Their existence was driven by the fact Simon Cowell had turned down the Spice Girls; at least, that’s how they tell it. Despite later claiming that the group, in fact, turned him down, the disparaging comments he continues to make about them show that either way, Simon Cowell’s ego remains deeply bruised. Thus, Girl Thing were masterminded, not necessarily as rivals to the Spice Girls but merely to replicate their success, as if it was that easy.
With a sizeable budget and top songwriting team (including Eliot Kennedy, who had penned Say You’ll Be There) thrust in their direction, the group was treated as though they were on pop’s A-list before they’d even released their first single. That, in itself, shows Simon Cowell didn’t fully appreciate or respect why the Spice Girls had been such a phenomenon, even though almost everyone else – including the naysayers (of which there were still plenty) – had worked it out by now. There was, undeniably, a degree of being in the right place at the right time, but they also had the right personalities and the right sound. They didn’t buy their way to the top.
This approach did Girl Thing – Jodi Albert, Michelle Barber, Anika Bostelaar, Linzi Martin and Nikki Stuart – no favours whatsoever. Rather than let them gain a fanbase organically, which they were more than capable of doing, the marketing was essentially telling people that they would like the group and were going to buy the single – and you can imagine how that went down. The irony is that if BMG had toned down the rhetoric around Girl Thing, then there probably would’ve been less focus on what Last One Standing did wrong because this is actually a solid debut single.
The track lands somewhere between Billie Piper’s Because We Want To, Five’s Slam Dunk (Da Funk) and the Spice Girls’ Wannabe. Sure, there’s scarcely a trace of an original idea here, but at the very least Last One Standing draws out the best elements of three debut singles that very successfully established their respective artists. Whether it’s the precociously chanted refrains (“Squeeze a little left, push a little right, there’s a whole lotta love in the world tonight, are you in, are you out, grab the mic and give a shout”); the rapped verses with pop-culture references (“Don’t get me wrong, we’re not tryin’ to front, but Cyndi was right, girls just wanna have fun”), or the ethos of friendship and togetherness (“Tight-knitted, we’re fitted, no-one can break us, take us away from each other…brother, ’cause when the girls wanna hit the scene, together like a team we’re gonna take it to the extreme”), every aspect of Last One Standing is a carefully constructed derivative of the previous four years, with little attempt to pretend otherwise.
It’s still a hugely fun pop track, though, which is brimming with personality thanks to the chaotic, rebellious energy running throughout. Considering how much lyrical content is packed in, the song always feels purposeful and avoids any outright stinkers (although: “It’s a girl thing with the right swing, G for the girl and T for the thing” is a bit of a ‘well, duh’ moment). Furthermore, the chorus is suitably huge and terrifically catchy to boot: “Pull your baby nearer, it’s the end of an era, and we’re the last one standing (yeah, yeah, you know, we are the last one standing), it’s your party, keep us here let’s stay up all night, and be the last ones standing (yeah, yeah, you know, we are the last one standing)”. As an introduction to Girl Thing, Last One Standing works; it’s immediately clear who they are and what they stand for, so the group deserve recognition for that, particularly since they are credited as songwriters. Besides a few nods to the broader context of their existence (“It’s the end of an era, the start of a new day”) – which weren’t entirely inaccurate given where the Spice Girls were by this point – nothing within the song is as conceited as the marketing that accompanied it.
And if there’s one part of Last One Standing that truly epitomises how much Simon Cowell and BMG misunderstood the brief for Girl Thing, then it’s in the music video. Taking it at face value, you can see what they were going for; the group decide to attend a wedding and are so bored during the ceremony that they interrupt proceedings and perform the song before crashing the reception and quite literally tearing the place apart. It’s a little vague, but one guest is left so shocked by the events (and having cake smooshed into this face) that he appears to be dead by the end of the video. There are parallels with Wannabe – in vision, at least – but with one core difference: it paints Girl Thing in a wildly unflattering light.
When the Spice Girls crashed a party, their enjoyment didn’t come at the expense of others. But here, there’s no rationale for Girl Thing’s actions. They go to the wedding – by choice – and then trash the ceremony for no other reason than because they’re bored. If this was a scenario where the groom had been unfaithful, and the group were getting revenge, then although their behaviour would remain questionable, the audience would maybe see where they were coming from. But no; they literally go out of their way to turn up and ruin a poor couple’s big day for a bit of a laugh, which just makes them horrible people. Maybe we’re seeing this through adult eyes, and the market that Girl Thing were aimed at would share the sentiment that weddings are boring. Nevertheless, it’s hard to see why anyone would watch this video and actively like the group when they’re portrayed as odious brats. In that sense, it falls so wide of the mark.
So convinced were BMG that Last One Standing was going straight to #1, that they’d already had Girl Thing pre-record an interview with Radio 1 to be played out when it was announced. Except the moment never came. The single instead debuted at #8 and was immediately (although not outwardly) deemed to be a disaster. Even if the aspiration had been for a higher peak, a top ten single should never have objectively been considered a flop; but there was no contingency plan here. It had – apparently – never entered the label’s mind that Last Thing Standing wouldn’t reach #1, and they didn’t know what to do next. The sheer arrogance of that stance makes it hard to sympathise. Taking a concept, throwing loads of money at it without adding anything to the formula and just presuming it would coast to the top of the chart reeks of entitlement. The real shame of the matter is that Girl Thing bore the brunt when it wasn’t their fault at all. Overnight, BMG lost interest in the group and sent them packing to Australia, where Last One Standing reached the top 20. However, in doing so, it kept them off the promotional circuit in the UK, which spelt trouble for their second single…
Fundamentally, Last One Standing isn’t a bad song by any stretch, and Girl Thing were not an act without potential. But the bar was set too high, and in the end, the only thing this ended up showcasing was Simon Cowell’s hubris.