It was 1am one November evening, two days before show-time that the four girls from Neon Jungle got the call to pack their bags. The voice on the other end of the line told them a taxi would be coming to collect them at 6am prompt, to take them to perform at the Victoria’s Secret show in New York. Neon Jungle had been together less than a year. Chaos promptly erupted. That’s five hours for four full-on, self styled ladies to gather themselves to wow the world at the most glamorous, star-studded fashion event on the global calendar.
How did the Victoria’s Secret gig happen, girls?
Asami: ‘The Victoria’s Secret team heard the track and decided it would be perfect for the Pink section of the show. We got a phone call saying you’re going to go to New York.’ Shereen: ‘I didn’t quite believe it was happening until I heard an American accent after stepping off the plane.’ Amira: ‘I don’t think it’s even sunk in now. I still get images in my head of the yellow taxis, thinking “were we there?” It wasn’t just about being in New York, it was about Neon Jungle being in New York.’
It was their first time abroad, as one. Asami: ‘I felt like I was in a movie doing that journey because the only flights we could get were to Toronto, so we then had to take a car to the US border at Niagara Falls, before driving to Buffalo to take a final flight to New York. It was A-mazing.’ Jess: ‘I honestly think if we’d had a chance to click what was happening we wouldn’t have been able to do the show to the level we did. It only hit me when I watched the performance back. If it had weighed on our shoulders for weeks we would’ve been nervous wrecks.’ Shereen: ‘Taylor Swift walked past backstage and was like, hey girls, the crowd’s great out there tonight. Then the models would stop us after we came off and say great job! A couple of them even told us that they wished they were walking to our track. We hadn’t even been together a year. Some bands don’t get to do anything that glamorous in their lifetime.’ And who was their favourite Victoria’s Secret girl? ‘Cara!’ they all shout, in unison.
Neon Jungle are Jess (21; mum English, dad Jamaican, grew up in South London, discovered sitting on a bench on Brick Lane), Amira (18; mum from the Gambia, dad from Jamaica, grew up in West London, discovered at Westfield), Shereen (17; mum from Scotland, dad from Scotland, granddad from Belize, grew up in Lanark, discovered on Youtube) and Asami (18; mum from Japan, dad ‘from so many places in Europe I could bore myself telling you’, grew up in Suffolk, also discovered on Youtube). The four girls met at auditions and instantly bonded. Actually, that’s not strictly true. Asami thought Amira hated her. ‘You what?! I was looking at you thinking, I love her shoes, I love her hair, she’s so pretty!’ Jess explains the thoughts that went through her head the first time the four of them were put in a room together and asked to sing. ‘I thought, OK, this is probably going to be the rest of our lives starting right here. It felt like that. I might’ve just met these girls but they’re probably all going to be at my wedding and when I have my first child. We are going to be happy and sad together. We’re going to do everything with each other. So let’s own this.’
The girls tried out lots of different group names – one that was bandied about was ‘Tick Tock’, which they all hated (‘my mum’s got a really heavy Japanese accent, I just couldn’t put her through having to say Ti’ To’’ says Asami. ‘Actually that sounds cooler than Tick Tock,’ ponders Amira). After pinging back email ideas between themselves and their mums, who they sweetly say are like another Neon Jungle all of their own, they came upon the name that felt right (Neon for the brightness; Jungle for the raw energy). It was clear that Neon Jungle were a rush of pop blood to the head. Their energy and positivity didn’t need disciplining or ordering. It needed celebrating, encouraging and tuning to the sound of a bespoke collection of killer choruses. Enter the music. They were ‘Trouble’.
Neon Jungle would never be so impolite as to say they were better than other girlbands. They all hate the way that in this arena one tends to get pitted against the other, anyway. ‘We’re different from anyone else around at the minute.’ says Jess. ‘We’re not clean cut, we don’t dress the same, our voices don’t sound the same and we don’t stand in a line doing dance routines. We are individuals.’
For the past six months Neon Jungle have been putting together the rainbow-striped, kaleidoscopic, multi-faceted pop of their debut album. Trouble was their opening shot, a two and a half minute flash of bratty pop delirium. They all had a great feeling about second single Braveheart (nothing to do with Mel Gibson, everything to do with showing out under a mirrorball, rhythm bending you out of shape). So great, in fact, that they simply willed it to success. Pop magicians can do these tricks. ‘The magic belief fairy dust was sprinkled over that song from the first time we heard it,’ says Asami. ‘We all believed in it so much,’ says Jess, ‘that there was no option for it not to be massive’.
There is method to the Neon Jungle madness, process to their compulsion to do pop in a disordered way. ‘Trouble is getting ready to go out,’ says Shereen. ‘Braveheart is the one you’ll hear in the middle of a club, where all the dancefloor comes together.’
For their third single it’s about welcoming their fans into their crazy world. When she was first heard a demo of new single Welcome to the Jungle, Amira says she thought it was so good she couldn’t believe it hadn’t already been a hit, for one of the female pop stars they all adore from America. ‘I was like, are they actually pitching this song to me? It is incredible. The difficult bit of saying yes to that song was thinking how are we going to top this demo, but we went into the studio and it is one of those songs that when you hear it you cannot help but get into it, totally.’
‘When a new act comes along,’ says Jess ‘you expect big song, big song, ballad but we wanted to keep the momentum up. To keep that energy buzz as the essence of what we do.’ The rap that punctures the song in all the right places was initially intended as a guest slot, but the producers were so impressed with the girls’ conviction they kept them in. Just to show they can do mid-pace they play a new song just completed for their forthcoming, ‘90% ready’ debut album, called Louder. It is divine.
Neon Jungle are ready to give it. The four of them were aged between 2 and 5 when the Spice Girls emerged. Two of them were dressed as Scary by their mothers as tots. ‘I love it when anyone compares us to them,’ notes Shereen, ‘because they just took over everything.’ The four girls from Neon Jungle are Generation B (eyonce), most of them not even into double figures when Crazy in Love busted the shape of pop her way. They have just signed their own modelling deal, as a unit, with Cara Delevingne and Kate Moss’s agency, Storm. Neon Jungle are used to girls ruling things, being gritty as well as pretty. That’s just the way it is. Their time might just be next.