TV drama Paper Dolls no comparison to the 1990s Bardot girl group story

Paramount +

Back in the late 1990s, pioneering reality show Popstars selected five young Australian women and morphed them into a girl group called Bardot, named after French actor Brigitte Bardot.

They were an instant hit in an era where UK pop culture icons the Spice Girls, including Victoria Beckham (aka Posh Spice), and America’s Destiny’s Child, including Beyonce (now one of the world’s biggest solo acts), broke global records with playful sex appeal, hits, skimpy costumes and dance moves.

It was all about “girl power”, and teenagers around the world all wanted to be like them.

Who could forget Ginger Spice’s history-making Union Jack dress at the 1997 Brit Awards or Destiny’s gyrating Bootylicious music video clip?

Sadly, the Bardot juggernaut lasted just three years, but made inroads with No.1 singles, ARIA awards and several national and international tours through the UK, India, New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific region.

The members went their separate ways in 2002, each forging very different careers in the entertainment industry.

Now, original Bardot member Belinda Chapple is back in the spotlight as executive producer behind new Paramount+ drama series Paper Dolls, a fictitious story about the meteoric rise and fall of a manufactured girl group.

“Our goal with the series was to produce a fictional TV show that resonated with viewers around the globe,” creator and writer Ainslie Clouston tells The New Daily.

“In order to do that we dug into the universal themes that artists/groups experienced at the time, and more recently with artists speaking out, as opposed to basing anything on any one particular group,” she said.

Paper Dolls also incorporates ‘Poprush cam’ which follows the group. Emalia says she studied reality shows to see how contestants interacted with the cameras. Photo: Paramount+

Paper Dolls is set in 1999, the same year Bardot formed as a result of the Seven talent quest show.

The five-member group is made up of accomplished Australian singers and actors including Miah Madden (Charlie), Courtney Monsma (Lillian), Courtney Clarke (Jade), Naomi Sequeira (Annabel) and Emalia (Izzy).

The series is not a biopic and the girls’ characters are not even close to the original group members, nor any other girl band, they say.

“I’ve seen comparisons drawn to certain elements within the series … there are elements that act as references and Easter eggs for fans of Bardot, and bring in a sense of familiarity and nostalgia to the show,” R&B singer Emalia (who plays the lead) tells TND.

“Everything else is completely fictional, inspired by stories of celebrities from all around the globe both during that era and still today, giving voice to issues that plague the industry.

“We watch as they try to navigate the dark side of a glamourised industry,” she said.

However, Emalia does “see similarities” to the Spice Girls where she reveals her character was inspired by Sporty Spice: “Charlie definitely gives ‘Posh Spice’ vibes, and I think Lillian would be ‘Baby Spice.”

“It’s also so dramatised,” says Madden, who plays the daughter of pretend record producer Roger Levitt (played by Ditch Davey), of Millennium International Music.

“You’ll watch it and be like, ‘Oh my god, surely that couldn’t be anybody’s life because every character’s got a million things going on’.

“So I think the audience will be like, ‘Oh yeah, [Bardot] definitely didn’t go through all that’,” Madden (Redfern Now, The Clearing) told Yahoo earlier this week after comparisons were made.

The chosen girls to make up Harlow move into a share house together, and share one bathroom. Photo: Paramount+

How did the show make these girls shine and be unique?

Clouston tells TND they contracted a clinical psychologist to help develop a psychological profile for each member of Harlow as they delved into difficult subject matters.

And the five girls delivered “gut-wrenching” performances.

“I wanted to understand the effects of fame on a deeper level, why each member of the group may be drawn to it, and how it both exacerbates and soothes their insecurities or wounds.

“We intrinsically understood our girls’ core driver and it meant we didn’t have to lean into stereotypes,” she said, adding it gave the writers “licence to explore the gritty underbelly of the industry”.

“On a macro level, we see Harlow’s fame grow and the world literally open up to them, but on a micro level, we are simultaneously watching them deal with such intimate, personal issues that audiences can relate to.”

So what are the storylines?

“Abuse of power, hiding of sexuality, self harm and mental illness.”

“In and among all of the glitz, gloss and glamour of the music world, we explore each girl’s personal struggle … [and] the opportunity to intimately explore five different experiences of getting a shot at your dream and the cost of it.

“A lot of people forget that when they achieve the success and fame they’re striving for, they take themselves, and their struggles, with them.

“It really is a coming of age for the five members of Harlow.

“A baptism of fire as they straddle the two worlds of who they want to be and the reality of who they are.”

Where are Bardot now?

Chapple, Katie Underwood, Sophie Monk, Tiffani Wood and Sally Polihronas all remain in the world of entertainment but have very different careers.

Chapple, an author and model, has been an artistic director, producer of live TV and entertainment and an interior designer, both in Australia and Singapore.

She reunited with Underwood, who runs healing and meditation retreats and recently set up her own record label, launched Ka’Bel and released a single in 2021.

“My heart was broken entirely. I was so passionate about song and dance. I just didn’t have the heart to handle what was going on behind the scenes in the music industry,” Chapple told The Sydney Morning Herald in August after the release of her memoir, The Girl in the Band.

Monk, 43, is still enjoying huge success on Australian TV, hosting shows like Beauty and the Geek, Love Island Australia and is a regular panellist on Nine’s The Hundred.

Polihronas went on to write songs, and produce TV shows working with brands like The X Factor, Grand Designs Live, and Kim Kardashian’s in-store events, according to a Mamamia cover story in August.

Wood, who has six children and runs a talent school called Popstar Kids on the Gold Coast, signed briefly with Warner and then launched a children’s lullaby album.

Emalia says Paper Dolls shines a light on the music industry in the ’90s, and now: “It forces the viewer to sit with each character during their darkest times, rather than just see the end result of a person’s struggles where it is so easy to judge.”

“I would love for it to create a deeper sense of empathy and understanding of what it is like to go through these experiences, and perhaps not be so quick to cast judgment.

“I hope it also leaves a lasting impression of the power music has in people’s lives … both the dark and beautiful sides to it.”

The first three episodes of original series, Paper Dolls, are streaming now on Paramount+ with a new episode every Sunday

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.