Spice Girls, The
THE SPICE GIRLS
Formed: 1993, Maidenhead, Berkshire, England
Members: Victoria Beckham, vocals (born Victoria Adams, Essex, England, 7 April 1975); Mel B., vocals (born Melanie Brown, Leeds, England, 29 May 1975); Emma Bunton, vocals (born London, 21 January 1976); Mel C., vocals (born Melanie Chisolm, Liverpool, England, 12 January 1976). Former member: Geri Halliwell, vocals (born Wat-ford, England, 7 August 1972).
Genre: Rock, Pop
Best-selling album since 1990: Spice (1996)
Hit songs since 1990: "Wannabe," "2 Become 1," "Spice Up Your Life"
The Spice Girls represent the first important manufactured girl group of the 1990s, drawn as they were from auditions prompted by a 1993 advertisement in the London-based theatrical weekly The Stage, which called for the creation of a hit female act. The group raised interesting questions about the role of women and the role of gender in pop music making. Until they emerged, the debate about the domination of popular music by male musicians and the marginalization of women had focused principally on rock. In addition, the Spice Girls briefly suggested that the golden days of British music might return. As mid-1990s British pop music promised to repeat some of the glories of the British Invasion of 1964 to 1966, when a Beatles-led assault stirred unprecedented interest in music from the United Kingdom, this all-singing, all-dancing quintet hit the jackpot with its debut single "Wannabe." The song not only hit the top spot in United Kingdom and in twenty-one other countries, but it was also the first time since 1964—when the Animals struck with "House of the Rising Sun"—that a debut single by a British act had topped American music charts.
Wannabes on the Rise
The brainchild of Simon Fuller, who had managed former Eurythmics lead singer Annie Lennox, the Spice Girls took root in 1993 when an advertisement sought young women to try out for a new group: "RU 18–23 with the ability to sing/dance? RU streetwise, outgoing, ambitious and dedicated?" The successful applicants set up home in Maidenhead, Kent, initially under the name of Touch. Geri Halliwell, Melanie Chisolm, Victoria Adams, and Melanie Brown formed the initial core but were joined later by Emma Bunton. After two years of hard rehearsal and relative obscurity, the group was signed by Richard Branson's Virgin Records in 1995. A combination of astute management and promotion and the selection of an outstanding first single, "Wannabe," saw the Spice Girls attain the number one place on U.K. music charts in July 1996. The record spent twenty-five weeks in the Top 75.
After the success of "Wannabe," fame came quickly and easily for the group. In March 1997 when the double A side (a pair of tracks released on the same disc which typically combine a sentimental ballad with an assertive rant) "Mama" / "Who Do You Think You Are" became their fourth number one in succession in the United Kingdom, the Spice Girls surpassed a record previously held by Gerry and the Pacemakers and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, whose debut trio of singles had topped the charts. In December 1997 they extended their sequence of British chart-toppers to six; only a number two placing for "Stop" in 1998 halted the run. By this time, the group had also caught America's imagination, as "Wannabe" became the most successful debut single in America by a British act.
The premise for the Spice Girls' success was a blend of potent pop songs—ranging from lush romantic pop to Motown pastiche, ersatz street rap to Latin extravaganza, all penned by a team of Sheffield-based writers and producers—and the most skillful of marketing strategies, which exploited a series of nicknames the five girls were given by British pop publication, Top of the Pops, early in their careers. Halliwell became Ginger Spice, a reference to her hair color; Chisolm, Sporty Spice, a comment on her athleticism; Emma, Baby Spice, a remark on her infant-like appearance; Adams, Posh Spice, referring to her aspirational and sartorial tendencies; and Brown, Scary Spice, a comment on her rugged and uncompromising nature. Their management established personality profiles for the five members, which became a key factor in selling the act globally. Fans around the world could speedily connect with the five distinct individuals whose traits were stressed in interviews, promotional images, and videos.
In a broader sense, the group became closely associated with the notion of the Halliwell-inspired term, "girl power," the sense that the Spice Girls stood for a new era of independence for young girls and young women. This slogan quickly proved to be little more than that, although the campaign did appear to bring ideas of sex and sexuality to even younger audiences, prompting, in part, the emergence of a new generation of liberated teen performers such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.
At a time when traditional U.K. rock bands like Oasis and Blur were trying to ride the new Britpop wave in the United States, utilizing traditional means of touring and gigging, the Spice Girls' formula, which utilized the members' diverse personalities to win media attention, was more instantly effective. "Wannabe"'s huge international impact laid the ground for a string of subsequent singles that would also make a sizable impact, and within half a decade, the group had sold 35 million albums and 25 million singles worldwide. In the process, they employed another important selling device to spread the gospel: their 1998 release Spiceworld: The Movie. It carried echoes of an earlier pop age when Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and others became involved in a number of career-boosting, big-screen projects. The film paid homage to the 1960s format, marrying elements of the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night and the Monkees' television series.
Managerial Split and Solo Projects
But by 1998 the astonishing momentum that had fueled the Spice Girls to record-breaking achievement and success on stage and in movie theaters was beginning to ebb. Disagreements with manager Fuller led to a split—he went on to launch a new act, S Club 7, and an accompanying television show—and the announcement that the members would manage themselves. Not long after, Halliwell, the older, driving force behind much of what they did, revealed her intention to quit and go solo. Her two solo albums have spawned a string of hits including a debut number one in the United Kingdom, "Look at Me."
The subsequent years proved to be quieter but hardly uneventful. The period saw the four-piece group continue to record and perform, if intermittently. In 2000 their ninth U.K. number one hit with the R&B-influenced "Holler." Additionally, solo projects have been pursued by all group members. Chisolm's solo career has included collaborative work with Bryan Adams and the late Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes on "Never Be the Same Again." Brown has worked alongside Missy Elliott on the single "I Want You Back" (1998). That same year she was briefly married to dancer Jimmy Gulzar and for a short time adopted the name Mel G. Adams. Brown, the only Spice Girl not to achieve a solo number one, has nonetheless become in Britain the most famous member of all. Married to England's premier soccer player, David Beckham of Manchester United in 1999, she is now the one Spice Girl most likely to be found in the pages of celebrity and gossip magazines, rivaling the media attention that Princess Diana enjoyed at her height.
Although no official announcements were made about the actual demise of the act, the Spice Girls appeared, at best, to be a dormant group, but as a brand they retained the status and potential selling power they had earned during their greatest years. In early 2003, rumors of a possible return surfaced, but were speedily dismissed by Mel C. While their naïve, postfeminist manifesto seems to have been little more than a brilliant marketing tool, the ability of five young British women to take on the U.S. music scene and win some notable victories cannot be overlooked. They have inspired dozens of U.K. imitators from All Saints to the Sugarbabes and Atomic Kitten. The Spice Girls have shown that while they may have relied on a formula, there was also a business alchemy built on a team of skillful writers and producers and astute promotion that has been almost impossible to replicate.
Spice (Virgin, 1996); Spiceworld (Virgin, 1997); Forever (Virgin, 2000).
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