Xenomania is an English songwriting and production team founded by Brian Higgins and based in Kent, England. Formed by Higgins with his Creative Director Miranda Cooper and Business Director Sarah Stennett of First Access Entertainment, Xenomania has written and produced for renowned artists such as Cher, Kylie Minogue, Dannii Minogue, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Pet Shop Boys, The Saturdays and Sugababes. In particular, all but one of Girls Aloud‘s studio albums have been entirely written and produced by Xenomania. Sugababes’ “Round Round” and Girls Aloud‘s “Sound of the Underground” have been credited with reshaping British pop music for the 2000s.Gabriella Cilmi‘s “Sweet About Me” and Girls Aloud’s “The Promise” were named Best Single at the ARIA Music Awards of 2008 and the 2009 BRIT Awards, respectively.
The team has been referred to as “a Phil Spector” and “a Motown of the 21st-century”. Higgins himself has said that Xenomania aspires to be a modern-day version of RAK Records. Of Higgins and Xenomania, Girls Aloud’s former manager Louis Walsh says, “He just makes great songs for radio. They just jump out at you and stay in your brain.” There are wide influences present in their productions, including electronic, glam rock, Motownsoul, punk, and more traditional pop music. The name “Xenomania” means, according to Higgins, “the exact opposite of Xenophobia […] a love of everything, of all cultures.” Current members of the Xenomania writing and production team are Higgins and Cooper. Long term members Tim Powell and Nick Coler left in 2010. Xenomania also includes a house band who work on potential songs; members include Florrie Arnold (drums) Kieran Jones (guitar, bass) and Jason Resch (guitar, keyboards). French remixer Fred Falke also frequently works with Xenomania.
Xenomania started a “record label” of the same name in 2008, developing artists and working on material before looking for major label deals. Artists include Alex Gardner, Jessie Malakouti, Brooke X, Mini Viva, and Vagabond.
Brian Higgins found early success after producing Australian singer Dannii Minogue‘s third album, Girl (1997), which gained favourable reviews at the time but failed to enter the British Top 40. However, the success of the lead single, “All I Wanna Do“, led to a collaboration with American singer Cher and Higgins co-writing her international number-one hit single “Believe” (1998). Although the song outperformed all expectations and won him three Ivor Novello awards, Higgins found himself without a label when London Records was sold in 2000. After eighteen months, he decided to found Xenomania as an independent production company based in Westerham in Kent, outside London, because it is “somewhere where concentration would be easy [and] no one ‘pops’ in.”
Higgins met Miranda Cooper at the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest when she was a backing dancer for Gina G, while Matt Gray had started his musical career in the 1980s, writing music for the Commodore 64 home computer. Nick Coler programmed The KLF‘s singles and Tim Powell started out in 1989 “doing hardcore rave stuff”. Higgins attempted to launch Cooper as a solo artist under the stage name Moonbaby but failed to find success. “That’s when we started writing for other people”, according to Cooper. “I’d had writer’s block for myself, but as soon as it was for somebody else all these songs popped out.” Moonbaby’s “Here We Go” would later be recorded by both Lene Nystrøm Rasted and Girls Aloud.
We first met them [the Sugababes] in October 2001 and we’d spent the previous twelve months working on our own musical direction. We were getting quite desperate as we were struggling to connect with the predominantly R&B artists we’d get sent. Our ideas seemed a bit out of place, and for that reason we connected with the Sugababes as I felt they too were a little out on a limb from the pop mainstream at the time.
Brian Higgins, Popjustice, 2004.
Higgins says, “We developed this sound of electronics and guitars fusing together but this was in the late Nineties when R’n’B lite dominated pop music and we had to wait for our opening.” When British girl group Sugababes were dropped by London Records, they recorded “Round Round” with Xenomania, which Higgins says was “fusing electronics and guitars and tempo changes and melody shifts, so that the chorus was the only repetitive melody whereas traditional pop structure repeats verse melodies.” The song would later become a UK number-one single for Sugababes in 2002. Higgins praised Sugababes for the “crucial role” in Xenomania’s subsequent success—”To me they represented something superior to what was out there. As a result, the Sugababes undoubtedly brought the best out of us as we always felt under pressure to produce results that would do justice to their voices and overall talent.”
Xenomania were approached to create the debut single for a girl group formed through the television talent show Popstars: The Rivals. The eventual winners, Girls Aloud, recorded “Sound of the Underground“, one of sixty songs that Higgins and Cooper had written with the aim of launching their own girl group. Higgins said Girls Aloud were “a blueprint for a girl group that we’d had in our minds for ages, one that was individual rather than generic, with a sound that blurs the edges between pop and indie. We know that people aren’t really interested in pop music as it was.” “Sound of the Underground” received critical acclaim, with The Guardian exclaiming it “proved a first: it was a reality pop record that didn’t make you want to do physical harm to everyone involved in its manufacture.” The song was the Christmas number-one of 2002, selling just over 213,000 copies in its first week of release. The single spent four consecutive weeks at number one, achieving a platinum certification from the British Phonographic Industry. “Round Round” and “Sound of the Underground” have been called “two huge groundbreaking hits”, credited with reshaping British pop music for the 2000s.The Telegraph placed the latter song at number 15 on a list of 100 songs that defined the 2000s, while NME included it at number 39.
In 2003, Xenomania wrote and produced “No Good Advice” for Girls Aloud, which reflected Higgins’ general mood of failure after the deal between Xenomania and London Records fell through. Shortly afterwards, Higgins heard the other tracks that Girls Aloud had recorded for their debut album Sound of the Underground and was dissatisfied with the obscurity and inconsistency of the group’s direction, and personally intervened to produce four more original tracks for the album to replace some of the weaker content. Shortly after the album’s release, another round of sessions during that summer yielded three new tracks that later surfaced on a reissue of the album in November, including a massively successful cover version of The Pointer Sisters song “Jump” for the film Love Actually. It was said that “Higgins injects an element of instant-catchy-cool to the songs without going overboard in trying to shape uber-chic dance floor hits.” Also that year, they produced the singles “Miss Perfect” and “7 Ways” for former Five member Abs‘s solo album, Abstract Theory. Sugababes’ “Hole in the Head“, another UK number-one, was one of several tracks for their album Three that were co-written and produced by the Xenomania team. According to Higgins, he knew “Hole in the Head” was “the single” as soon as he heard the backing track again: “Those moments of clarity are the best bit about the music business. We try to find perfect matches unique to the artist we are working with”. Cooper—who recalled being “scared” of Sugababes because of their heavy involvement in the songwriting process—said that Xenomania made a conscious effort to differentiate their Sugababes work from that of Girls Aloud, giving the former group an “urban feel” and the latter a “punky [and] guitar-led” sound.
Following the success of Girls Aloud’s first four singles, Xenomania was enlisted to produce Girls Aloud’s second album, What Will the Neighbours Say?, in its entirety. Higgins said, “The pressure to come up with singles was, as always, immense. But […] we were able to have a lot of fun working on ideas that were maybe a little too odd to be on the radio.”The Guardian hailed Neighbours as “a great album: funny, clever, immediate, richly inventive.”Stylus Magazine declared, “There is no pop in the world like Girls Aloud today.” All four of the album’s singles (“The Show“, “Love Machine“, “I’ll Stand by You” and “Wake Me Up“) were top five.
Xenomania were approached to work with Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue on new tracks for her greatest hits collection Ultimate Kylie, including the single “Giving You Up“, which developed a reputation among her fans as one of her worst singles. Other Xenomania productions proved less successful. Mania was a joint venture between Higgins and BMG. The duo, consisting of Xenomania songwriters Giselle Sommerville and Niara Scarlett, released one single before being dropped. The boy band V, whose single “Hip to Hip” was produced by Xenomania, was short lived. Higgins called V “bright and motivated, with a lot of charisma […] When we decide to work with an artist it is normally a decision based on personality and the challenge we feel it holds for us”.