Katie Underwood and Belinda Chapple battled through a pandemic, an ocean between them, and their own doubts to form a duo and release new single “Broken Hearted” under the moniker Ka’Bel – 20 years after they experienced massive national success in Bardot.
They met for the first time in the hothouse of reality TV. Both had taken part in Australian reality TV show Popstars back in 2000, which took the winning contestants and formed them into pop band Bardot. Together with Tiffani Wood, Chantelle Barry, Sophie Monk and Sally Polihronas, they were picked from over 2,500 wannabe entertainers who auditioned for the show. Having made it through multiple elimination rounds, the band were moved into a shared house and flown to Sydney to record a debut single. The program was hugely popular in Australia and each of the girls was followed by paparazzi, their every word and outfit analysed – and criticised. The relentless attention resulted in chart-topping hits (debut single “Poison” ranked number 1 on the ARIA singles chart after selling over 60,000 copies in its debut week) and major album sales, but it also proved an exhausting and damaging experience of the music and TV industry.
“What didn’t we learn?” reflects Underwood from her Melbourne home. “One of the really amazing things about Popstars and the Bardot experience was that it wasn’t like being in a normal band… we did everything all at once, to the max. Almost immediately upon forming the band, we started recording. We also started preparing for tours, doing dance routines, doing fitness programs, doing media training, constantly being interviewed, doing fashion shoots, makeup shoots, product endorsements… everything you could possibly do with and around a band we did in the first year, even in the first six months…it was like an industry apprenticeship. We did everything, [and though we] didn’t get paid very well, we learned a lot. ”
A year after they stormed the Australian charts, the band was flown to the UK to promote their singles and begin work on a second album. It was there that Underwood informed the band she was quitting. Soon after, the band made changes to management, released the album Play It Like That, and toured, but ultimately broke up officially in April 2002. While their second album didn’t blow up in the charts like their first, it was strong. It featured co-writing credits from all the members of the group, and their live performances at the time proved that there was no production trickery: they were all genuinely talented singers in their own right.
It seemed inevitable that some, if not all, of them would continue to make music. And so it’s proven. Last year, in celebration of their 20 year anniversary, Underwood, Chapple and Wood performed “Poison” online from their respective remote locations. It preceded a greatest hits album on vinyl in January this year, in addition to a remix compilation album.
“All through 2020 we were in communication with two of the other Bardot members, Tiffany and Sally, and tossing around ideas about what an online reunion would look like and whether we want to revisit the Bardot stuff,” Underwood explains.
Ultimately, Wood and Polihronas stepped back from any commitment due to other commitments, and it was touch-and-go as to whether Chapple and Underwood would continue.
“We floated the idea of what it would look like if it was the two of us – would people think that we’re desperate?” remembers Underwood. “I think that was Belinda’s concern initially. She was concerned what people would think, but only for a hot minute, and then it was more the logistics, because she was still living in Singapore.”
With Chapple overseas, she and Underwood hadn’t been in contact until the end of 2019 when they reconnected to discuss the anniversary, apart from a brief reunion in 2010. But that didn’t mean their connection was lost. “It doesn’t matter if it’s two years or two decades that have passed, we picked up as if it was yesterday,” says Underwood. “[Our relationship has] probably matured a little bit because we’ve had our trials and tribulations over the years. She seems always to be comfortable sharing her truth with me, and me with her.”
Ultimately, they went ahead with Ka’Bel once Chapple and her husband decided to move back to Sydney, though she recorded the vocals for “Broken Hearted” in Singapore. She emailed the result to Underwood, who added her vocals, with production by LA producer Dylan Bowes. The song was sourced by their talent agent Joe Dadic; with both Underwood and Chapple determined that they’ve proven themselves as songwriters decades before, they were selective about a ready-made song.
“Broken Hearted” is no holds-barred, disco-style pop that channels some Kylie Minogue diva vibes, unashamedly made for the dancefloor with its dramatic string arrangements, four-to-the-floor beat and catchy-as-all-get-out bridge and chorus (“Am I crazy? I just can’t get enough/When I’m fading, I’ll make you believe in love”). It is a lovesong that recognises the trials and tribulations of women in their 30s and 40s, who don’t want to sing about getting ghosted on Tinder or falling in love over TikTok.
These days, Underwood is a single mum to 10-year-old twin daughters. She is a qualified remedial masseuse, teaches meditation and makes mantra-based music for relaxation. Chapple has lived overseas for the past 15 or so years and runs her own interior design business, House of Chapple Interiors.
Underwood’s confidence in Ka’Bel is unswayed by armchair critics. She’s already experienced chart-topping success in the industry, so there’s no need to chase it now. “We’re both in the same situation where we have nothing to lose,” she says. “This project is not suddenly going to become a full-time project for us, but it’s a wonderful side project to have.”
“Over the years from my early 30s – I’m 45 now – as every year passes, it’s not that I don’t care, but I don’t let other people’s opinions of me make a dent,” she adds. “The view from here is amazing. I thought my 30s was pretty good but my 40s has been even better. You get a little bit more confident, less stressed, more discerning about who you let in your life. I care a lot about a lot of things, but caring about other people’s opinions of me, I’ve let go.”