I first ran across the Spice Girls in 1996, as a sophomore in college. It was right after “Wannabe” came out in the UK, and their conquering momentum had yet to reach the US at the time.
My anglophilia was really starting to ramp up at this point in my young silly life, and so I made monthly excursions to the old Tower Records on Boston's Newbury Street to pay $10 -- a freaking king’s ransom on my student budget -- for last month’s copy of the UK's Q Magazine, which I subsequently devoured, wringing it of all the secret knowledge it contained of a distant country that I had reason to believe was soooo much cooler than my own. (I was really into Oasis. Well, I was really into Blur, but I also sort of feigned interest in Oasis because britpop was britpop and I had to know it all, didn’t I?)
It was because of this automatic-cool factor that I trusted that the Spice Girls were something more than a collection of carefully crafted pop automatons, built to be dismissed by such discerning tastes of my own. I remember, though, being confused by the name (The what “girls”?), confused by the full-page ads for their album which consisted of a plain gold ring engraved with the word “SPICE,” and then confused by the magazine’s unending coverage of their oeuvre, all without much explaining what they WERE.
I finally caught the video for “Wannabe” at someone’s house -- someone with cable, which I didn’t have. I was perplexed. It was so VERY pop.
Uh, I loved it. OBVIOUSLY.
When the Spice Girls’ first album debuted I bought it right away, and soon after their world domination was unavoidable, the “girl power” battlecry ringing around the planet like a glittery flavor-enhanced feminism you could buy in packets in a store.
ALLLLL my smart feminist friends hated “girl power,” to be fair, calling it superficial and diminutive, and it certainly was. But then nobody else had successfully used pop music to market self-esteem to 10-year-old girls before so I thought it was probably not a terrible idea in the larger scheme of things.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before everyone I knew was dissing the Spice Girls with enthusiastic disgust and snark. The lyrics were inane! The music was derivative! They can’t sing! None of them were “real”! I was caught between archly defending my Spice Girls appreciation and losing the respect of my music-snob peers, or hiding my shame in the back of my CD racks behind ABBA Gold and Howard Jones’ greatest hits.
Fuck shame, though. Even when it comes to pop music. I let my Spice Girls-lovin’ flag fly high and proud, and spent two Halloweens in a row as my own iterations of Spice Girls (one was “Goth Slut Spice,” OBVIOUSLY). And when “Spice World,” the MOVIE, came out, I dragged three of my best friends to see it on opening weekend, even though it meant heading out to the suburbs (horrors!) to do so.
“Spice World” is actually brilliant, and hilarious, and I will fight you if you disagree. If you just haven’t seen it, and you have any appreciation for camp at all, I recommend it in the strongest terms.
The extreme self-awareness and self-deprecating humor of the film made me love these broads all the more. Even at the time, when the world was suffering mightily from Spice Fatigue, all three of the friends I forced into accompanying me left that suburban multiplex in absolute love with the group. Posh was a particular favorite. (It probably helped that all three of said friends were gay dudes with well-established weaknesses for snotty bitches. I mean OBVIOUSLY.) (She said, self-deprecatingly.)
The Spice Girls would come to represent a huge part of 1990s pop culture, and the group has since indulged in a few reunions, most recently at the closing ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics. But a planned reunion tour for next year hit a snag because Victoria Beckham, a.k.a. Posh, has just announced she’s out, having no plans of singing onstage with her Spice colleagues again.
The obvious solution? A reality show to find the next Spice Girl! Apparently this is Geri Halliwell’s idea, and while I’m not a person who watches reality television basically ever, I can see how this could be a popular series. Certainly the years between now and the height of Spicemania has created a nice soft cushion of nostalgia for the Spice Girls’ brand of energetic earnestness, which was already sort of a strange anomaly in the irony-laden 90s.
I mean even Glee is covering “Wannabe” in its April 11 episode. Which you can watch below, if you enjoy pain.
I'm not taking issue with the performances, which are great. But I gotta be honest, that was still harder to watch than I expected. Kids under the age of 17 today (and I know none of the actors are that young, but still) were not even ALIVE when the Spice Girls debuted. Let that sink in for a bit.
So I’ll be interested to see if this reality show idea works out. Like you could EVEN replace Posh. Although I know it’ll never happen, what I’d really like to see is the group only audition women who are their own contemporaries -- Halliwell herself is 40 now, and it’d be kinda rad to see a show that sets up everyday women over 35 as still capable of Spice Girls levels of awesomeness.
And, you know, Goth Slut Spice might still be available. I’m just saying.