The time is right for the next great girl group. From the Supremes to the Spice Girls to TLC to Destiny’s Child, music history has proven that the charts will welcome the arrival of talented, confident, and vibrant women time and again. With their fun-loving, irreverent debut single “Vacation,” G.R.L. announce themselves as a major contender for pop chart domination. (The track has been tapped for the soundtrack to the highly anticipated summer movie Smurfs 2, and is also featured as a bonus track, bundled with Britney Spears’ brand-new single “Ooh La La” also from the soundtrack.)
Each member of the group’s unique personality and musical ability shines through on “Vacation,” an irresistible summer anthem about going out with your girls and forgetting about the boys, co-written by hitmakers Dr. Luke and Max Martin as well as Bonnie McKee and Henry Walter and produced by Dr. Luke, Max Martin and Cirkut, with whom G.R.L. are recording their debut album for Dr. Luke’s Sony Music Entertainment record label Kemosabe.
“It’s funny because three of the girls in the group were actually going through break-ups when we first heard the song, so the timing was perfect,” says Paula Van Oppen. Adds Emmalyn Estrada: “We could all really relate to the lyrics and bring something extra to it because it was something we were experiencing together.”
“Vacation” is a perfect introduction to G.R.L., which Lauren Bennett describes as being about female empowerment. “It’s about girls being united and supporting each other,” she says. “We want to be good role models for our younger fans but still super fun and silly.” Adds Simone Battle, “The message is that every GRL in the world, though different and unique in her own way, is connected. Together we form a GRL Nation full of smart, courageous, independent, and fierce women. We want to inspire unity, strength, independence, and self-esteem in all GRLs around the world.”
To that end, G.R.L. has been in the studio recording songs for the album, infusing their catchy, bright dance-pop with sassy, vivacious attitude. “A lot of the songs are about keeping a positive outlook and having fun,” Natasha Slayton says. “To me, they represent having the ability to be confident in who you are no matter the situation. Whether the songs deal with emotions, love interests, or friendships — they all have an uplifting theme.”
The roots of G.R.L. lie with dancer, choreographer, and Pussycat Dolls creative director Robin Antin, who was looking to work with highly talented singers and dancers for a new group. She had already selected Lauren Bennett and the rest of G.R.L. came together organically over the last two years. “We didn't stop searching until we found the right girls,” Lauren says. “The chemistry between these five girls is perfect. We have a really solid bond. We absolutely love, respect, and inspire each other.”
MEET THE GIRLS OF G.R.L.
The morning Simone Battle turned four, her father came into her room and woke her up by playing Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” on a stereo boom box. “After that I played the tape over and over till it unwound,” she recalls. “I love Josephine Baker, Eartha Kitt, and Dorothy Dandridge, but Whitney definitely inspired my dream to be a singer.” Growing up in Los Angeles, Simone joined the cherub choir, studied ballet and tap, and did television, commercials, and print modeling before landing a post-high school internship with a company that worked with The Black Eyed Peas. An audition for will.i.am led to a tour with the band and an interest in songwriting. The other members of G.R.L describe Simone as “the brainy one.” “I can go to Simone if I need advice or help and will always get the answer that I'm looking for,” Lauren says. Simone studied Music Industry and Songwriting at USC before trying out for Season 1 of The X Factor, where she reached the Top 16. Using the show as a platform, Simone released a song she wrote called “He Likes Boys,” and appeared in the 2012 feature film We The Party directed by Mario Van Peebles.
Her fierce blonde beauty might be intimidating, but Lauren Bennett is no ice queen. She’s actually G.R.L.’s resident goofball and jokester. “Lauren always finds a way to make everyone laugh even in the most uncomfortable situations,” Emmalyn says. “I like to think I have a good sense of humor,” Lauren says. “I don’t take myself too seriously.” Lauren hails from the small town of Kent in the southeast of England. Encouraged by her mother, who sang and played piano, she began singing after her parents bought her a karaoke machine. “My dad heard potential in my voice, so he began entering me in talent competitions when I was 12,” she says. At 17, Lauren joined Paradiso Girls, whose debut single for Interscope Records (“Patron Tequila,” featuring Lil’ Jon and Eve) reached No. 3 on the Billboard Dance Chart. Lauren has also been featured on a remix of will.i.am’s “I Got It From My Mama,” Cee Lo Green’s “Love Gun,” and LMFAO’s international smash “Party Rock Anthem.” She was the first member of G.R.L., having met Robin Antin when she joined The Pussycat Dolls in 2011.
Raised by Filipino parents in the small Canadian town of Surrey, British Columbia, Emmalyn Estrada has been singing since the age of six. “I was terribly shy growing up, but when I began singing I felt like I'd finally found myself,” she says. “I was so surprised that my voice could capture the attention of people; I had never experienced anything like that before.” From the age of 13, Emmalyn competed in singing and dance competitions, studying hip-hop and jazz and teaching herself to play acoustic guitar and piano. She was tapped for G.R.L. when the girls discovered her singing covers on YouTube. “Emmalyn was kind of quiet and shy when we first met her, but she blew our minds with her voice,” Simone says. “She's always down for fun, but is most likely to be the designated driver.” Prior to joining G.R.L., Emmalyn released a debut single and also pursued acting, landing a lead role in the Hallmark TV movie The Wishing Tree and a recurring role on A&E’s hit television show Bates Motel.
Los Angeles-born and bred Natasha Slayton brings a fiery, passionate, won’t-back-down attitude to G.R.L. “But I also try to carry my kid self with me everywhere I go to create a positive, happy-go-lucky vibe for me and for everyone,” she says. “Natasha is a crazy, beautiful, fun G.R.L. all wrapped up in a sparkly bow,” says Emmalyn. Natasha’s childhood memories include traveling with her father, comedian-actor Bobby Slayton (Get Shorty, Ed Wood), hanging out in green rooms backstage as he made the late-night talk show rounds. Not surprisingly, she caught the performing bug young, describing herself as “a ham who loved to entertain people.” She began dancing at age four, studied piano and music theory at eight, and writing songs at nine, which is when she also began acting professionally, appearing in several TV shows including playing William H. Macy’s daughter on the animated show The Lion Hearts. She also took up guitar at 13 and eventually performed her own soulful, acoustic compositions at live music venues around L.A., including The Troubadour and The Knitting Factory. She continued to hone her singing and songwriting skills (attending the Grammy Foundation’s Grammy Camp) and working as a professional dancer before joining Lauren and Paula in G.R.L. “The Spice Girls were my first major obsession,” Natasha says. “It’s kind of funny that what you daydream about as a kid can become a reality if you never stop dreaming.”
A dancer since the age of three, Orange County native Paula Van Oppen not only brings killer moves to G.R.L, but also a playful, carefree energy. “When I first met her she offered me homemade almond hummus and jasmine tea in a fancy kettle,” Simone recalls with a laugh. “The girls call me a hippie because I’m a vegan and I drink green juice, but I love my heels and dressing up, too,” she says. Paula played several sports growing up and tested out of high school early to devote herself to dance. “I started out an underdog,” she says. “No one wanted to be my duet partner. I wasn’t good enough and that sparked a fire in me. I worked very hard and the following year things changed. I practiced obsessively. I poured everything into dance.” Paula has danced in movies (No Strings Attached, Burlesque), commercials, music videos, television (So You Think You Can Dance), and on stage with such artists as Usher, Katy Perry, Keri Hilson, and Lady Gaga. She also plays bass, writes songs, and DJ’s, and hopes to produce music at some point. “I love the connection and freedom of expression one can achieve through music and dance,” Paula says. “I’m a free spirit. I want life to be simple and beautiful.”