G.R.L. started out in 2011 as a relaunch of the Pussycat Dolls, but after three years of personnel changes and guest appearances, has evolved into a girl group for the 21st century — all that's missing are the Spice Girls-style nicknames. Its five members include one from England (Lauren Bennett), one from Canada (Emmalyn Estrada) and three from California (Simone Battle, Natasha Slayton, and Paula Van Oppen).
Natasha Slayton says, "Paula's the bad girl, the crazy one. We don't ever know where she is — she's either late or she ran off. Lauren is the supermodel, glam goddess. And Simone is the fearless warrior, doesn't take no as an answer if she wants something." Lauren Bennett continues, "Emmalyn's our baby, she's the sweet one. She keeps us all mellow. And Natasha is our girly-girly-girl. She likes pink and rainbows."
Their debut EP, out this week, is built around the pop candy confection "Ugly Heart," produced by Dr. Luke and Cirkut, with Max Martin as executive producer. "The first time I met Dr. Luke, he was very quiet and reserved," says Lauren Bennett of the wildly successful pop producer. "He's very artistic — when we recorded 'Ugly Heart,' he was walking around the studio barefoot, playing the guitar."
What are you guys doing today?
Natasha Slayton: We're hard at work on dance routines, so I'm a bit sweaty. But it's a good thing.
Emmalyn Estrada: We're rehearsing for a little show at the Mall of America. I'm pretty excited — I've never been, although I went to the mall in the Philippines that's the equivalent.
This group has been coming together for years now, with different members. What made these five the right ones?
Lauren Bennett: One of the main things that me and Robin [Antin, of the Pussycat Dolls] said when we were starting it was that we wanted girls who really wanted to be in a girl group for the long run, not just someone who was trying to use the opportunity to get somewhere else. And someone who was committed to being equal. Because if you're not willing to share in a group, it's pretty much the end.
What's been your favorite day with G.R.L.?
Slayton: The first day we went into the studio with Max and Luke. I think I was 30 minutes early. I get major anxiety if I don't show up early.
Simone Battle: Probably shooting our very first music video, for "Vacation." We got to meet Melanie B from the Spice Girls, who I've looked up to since I was a kid. I always dressed up as her for the talent show in elementary school.
Bennett: Cutting the video. I could see by the amount of people we had on the set, and the props and the scenery, that they had invested a good amount of money. And it made me feel like our team had hope for us.
Paula Van Oppen: I think the biggest moment was when we signed our contract. It was on February 22nd, so we love the number 2/22.
Estrada: The iTunes festival. I remember that moment we went out onstage — it felt like the beginning of the rest of my life.
What sets you apart from other girl groups?
Estrada: We all sing, we all share lead vocals, and we really dance. I feel like people can relate to our personalities and our friendship.
When you disagree, what do you disagree about?
Bennett: Usually scheduling things, like who gets the single room. On the road, for now we get three rooms — we put everything on a rotation and keep it even. We work out our differences very quickly, because there's no time to waste. We don't have time to argue because it crushes our chemistry on camera and onstage.
Was there a moment when you realized that the group was going to work?
Battle: Right after we found Emmalyn, we did a little showcase for Dr. Luke and Max Martin.
Slayton: Lauren found Emmalyn on YouTube, and they had a Skype meeting with her, Lauren and Robin and Larry, our manager. They said, "We have to fly her out, she's amazing." We were doing the showcase the next day, but she clicked with us and learned the routine in one day.
Battle: The showcase was in a really tiny room at [L.A. nightclub] Bootsy Bellows. We were freaking out, because we thought there was going to be a stage, but we were just performing on the floor right in front of them. Luke brought his daughter — she must have been two years old, and she kept running out to dance with us. We were trying to impress him, and we didn't want to step on her or knock her over.
What's your working relationship with Dr. Luke and Max Martin?
Bennett: When I first started working with Luke and Max, I was really intimidated. Max took me aside and sat down with me for half an hour, and basically said to me, "Dare to suck." Don't be afraid, no one is going to judge you, so just go for it.
Who do you want to meet that you haven't met yet?
Battle: The President. That's aiming high, but who knows? Maybe we'll blow up.
Bennett: The main person that I wanted to meet was Jimmy Fallon. He seemed to be the funniest, most lovable person, and when I met him, he came running down the corridor and did this little dance. He was so cool, exactly like you think he is.
Van Oppen: I have an obsession with Jack White. He's not quite in our world, but I think he's so interesting and inspiring. He creeps me out in a cool way. I'm weirdly interested in his quirks and his appearance — I could just stare at him all day.
Estrada: Beyoncé. She's my idol and I would probably crap my pants.
When you're getting into full glam mode, how long does it take?
Slayton: Usually we have only one makeup artist and one hair person, so for example, when we flew in to shoot the second day of the Pitbull video, "Wild Wild Love," in Miami, I went to bed at 10 p.m. that night because I had to be up at 1:50 a.m., which wasn't even 11 p.m. L.A. time, because I was first. It takes an hour per girl for makeup and an hour for hair — luckily, Paula doesn't have hair.
What was Pitbull like?
Bennett: After the video shoot, he invited us out and didn't tell us where we were going. We arrived at this location: it was a dock and we went on Pitbull's boar for a little tour of Miami. He showed us the school he built, we had food and drinks and danced, and he was playing music for us. At the end, he gave us some advice: "One of the the main things you have to do is listen. If you scramble the word 'listen' it spells 'silent.'" Can I swear? He said, "Shut the fuck up, and you'll learn a lot."
Tell me something you're good at that has nothing to do with show-biz.
Estrada: I can do the wave with my eyebrows.
Slayton: I'm really good at making hand-woven and beaded bracelets on a loom.
Battle: I'm really good at school. I studied at USC, so I guess I'm good at writing papers.
Van Oppen: I love gardening. I like to be in nature, getting dirty.
Bennett: I'm good at animal impressions.
Well, now you have to do one.
Bennett: [impressive imitation of a chicken] It's fun doing something stupid.