Nothing lasts forever — just ask any number of bygone girl groups. Often times, after (or even during) peak success, inter-band relationships can crack apart, leaving members of some of the biggest-selling acts of all time to continue on their own, or leave music entirely. But it’s also given way to fruitful careers that offer solo singers the freedom to explore sounds and looks that they wouldn’t have been able to try as part of a collective.
Melanie C, “I Turn to You (Hex Hector Remix)” (from Northern Star, 1999)
Each of the Spice Girls had respective solo careers with notable hits — Mel B’s “Feels So Good,” Emma Bunton’s “Maybe,” Geri Halliwell’s “Scream If You Wanna Go Faster,” Victoria Beckham’s… uh, moving on — but Melanie C, often given the most vocally demanding segments of Spice Girls songs, delivered the most compelling fare. With six LPs under her belt, the 41-year-old Sporty Spice leapt onto the club queen throne with the tension-mounting Hex Hector remix to “I Turn to You,” one of two standout singles from her 1999 debut Northern Star (the other, “Never Be the Same Again,” featured Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes).
Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, “The Block Party” (from Supernova, 2001)
While T-Boz and Chilli dabbled in solo careers, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was the sole member of TLC to release an LP outside of the trio. Her Supernova album only took off overseas, but “The Block Party” stood apart from the rest, sporting a tropical, percussive beat and nostalgic rhymes nodding to the freewheeling nature of the neighborhood fete.
Mutya Buena, “Real Girl” (from Real Girl, 2007)
After leaving Sugababes in 2005, Mutya Buena was the first of her former bandmates to drop a solo record post-breakup with Real Girl (Siobhán Donaghy’s Ghosts arrived a few weeks later, to much less acclaim). The LP was stylistically diverse, from the searing electro-pop of “Song 4 Mutya (Out of Control)” with Groove Armada to the curled-lip, doo-wop posturing of “B Boy Baby” featuring Amy Winehouse. But it was on the album’s title track that she was at her most confident, with a cool sample flip of Lenny Kravitz’s “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over.”
Coko, “Sunshine” (from Hot Coko, 1999)
SWV was the appropriate acronym for Sisters With Voices — the trio could sing. Once the group disbanded following the 1998 release of a Christmas album, frontwoman Cheryl “Coko” Gamble hit the studio to record her solo debut Hot Coko, led by the dynamic “Sunshine.” On the Darkchild-produced track, she delivers a powerful vocal display in an ebullient ode to a loved one.
Kandi Burruss, “Don’t Think I’m Not” (from Hey Kandi…, 2000)
Long before her Real Housewives of Atlanta days, Kandi Burruss went from being a member of R&B quartet Xscape to penning hits for TLC (“No Scrubs”). But it was with her debut album Hey Kandi… that she stepped to the forefront, combatting a dude who was creeping on the low with her own sidepiece game on the bouncy “Don’t Think I’m Not,” which became a top 40 hit.
Kelly Rowland, “Motivation” (from Here I Am, 2011)
Several members of Destiny’s Child that aren’t named Beyoncé enjoyed mild to moderate solo success: LeToya Luckett’s 2006 debut LeToya bowed at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, while Michelle Williams scored her very own hit with “The Greatest,” which crowned the Hot Dance Songs chart (pause your “poor Michelle” talk). Kelly Rowland had the most success of her non-Beyoncé peers, releasing incrementally better singles until she arrived at “Motivation” featuring Lil Wayne. The sizzling sex anthem topped the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, and stands as her most smoldering cut to date.
Yummy Bingham, “Come Get It” (from The First Seed, 2006)
Bingham’s girl group Tha Rayne was short-lived: they dropped a few singles, their debut album never saw the light of day and their most notable appearance was as guests on Jaheim’s “Fabulous.” The group fizzled, but Bingham soldiered on with her smart, underappreciated full-length The First Seed that spawned the horn-splattered “Come Get It” featuring Jadakiss that could still burn up the club today.
Nicola Roberts, “Beat of My Drum” (from Cinderella’s Eyes, 2011)
Uffie may have had this Auto-tuned, sing-rap style on lock when former Girls Aloud member Nicola Roberts dropped “Beat of My Drum,” but she took the baton and made the sound her own. No disrespect to fellow GA member Cheryl Fernandez-Versini (formerly Cheryl Cole), but she’s never come close to reaching this level of earworm.
CL, “The Baddest Female” (2013)
Arguably the most badass member of South Korean girl group 2NE1, CL dropped the appropriately titled “The Baddest Female,” melding hip-hop and dubstep for a stinging stunt anthem that breaks the language barrier. Expect even more sass from the iced-out K-pop star when she drops her full-length debut this year.
Dawn Richard, “Bombs” (from Armor On EP, 2012)
The former Danity Kane member actualized her vision with her solo career, dipping a toe in the spotlight with her excellent debut Armor On EP. Of the tracks, “Bombs” flipped the middle finger to anyone tossing a semblance of a shady look in her direction, all while cementing herself as a contender on the come-up.