Last month, newly formed girl group G.R.L. was bestowed with the kind of official debut that most pop artists would kill for. “Vacation,” the group’s debut single, was temporarily bundled with Britney Spears’ “Ooh La La,” with the two songs serving as the opening tracks on the upcoming soundtrack to “The Smurfs 2.” “Vacation” was produced by frequent Spears collaborators Max Martin, Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald and Henry “Cirkut” Walter, and was co-written by all three Top 40 maestros, along with Bonnie McKee. And the bubbly track previews a debut album that will be released on Gottwald’s Kemosabe record label, in conjunction with RCA Records.
None of G.R.L.’s five members are new to the music industry — one is an “X Factor” alum, another has danced behind Lady Gaga onstage, and the original G.R.L., Lauren Bennett, has an artist credit on one of the biggest songs of 2011. But the high-profile launch and pedigree of “Vacation” (which has sold 2,000 downloads to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan) has G.R.L. primed to join Little Mix, Fifth Harmony and the Saturdays as one of the more high-profile entries in mainstream pop’s current girl group revival.
G.R.L. was created by choreographer/director Robin Antin as a reboot of sorts of the Pussycat Dolls, which disbanded in 2010. Bennett, who was once part of the Paradiso Girls and was featured on LMFAO’s smash hit “Party Rock Anthem,” confirmed in November 2011 that she was the first member of a new incarnation of the Dolls, and more members were added gradually over the next year and a half.
“It started off as just an idea, and it kept evolving and evolving,” says Bennett. As for the decision to drop the Pussycat Dolls name and go for something fresh, Bennett says, “When the music came, it wasn’t as urban as the Pussycat Dolls. It was more of a pop group, and I think that’s different about us.”
Following Bennett was Paula Van Oppen, a veteran dancer and aspiring producer; Natasha Slayton, a former child actress who took up guitar at 13; Simone Battle, who had released a cheeky single titled “He Likes Boys” in 2012; and finally Emmalyn Estrada, an ambidextrous musician who has popped up on “Bates Motel.” The process of configuring the final G.R.L. lineup was painstaking, but necessary.
“This is not something that happened overnight,” says Van Oppen. Bennett adds, “You have to see who fits. I think bringing people in gradually makes it more organic.”
Along with Antin’s guidance over the project’s formation and pop wizards like Gottwald and Martin attached as producers, G.R.L. has gotten a boost from manager Larry Rudolph, who also oversees the careers of Spears and, as of last March, Miley Cyrus. “Working with Larry is definitely a dream come true — I mean, he manages Britney Spears, who I grew up idolizing,” says Battle. “He also knows what he’s doing in the business. He’s definitely inspired us and taught us so much… we feel like we couldn’t be in better hands.”
Next up for G.R.L. is the release of an official music video for “Vacation,” which will hit stores on the “Smurfs 2” soundtrack on July 23. According to Slayton, a radio tour that would run through the end of the summer is in the works, as is G.R.L.’s debut album, which will be as uptempo and carefree as “Vacation.”
“We’re recording our album right now,” says Slayton. “But this summer is about the single and promoting it, releasing a music video and having fans get to know us.”