The Spice Girls

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The Spice Girls

After half a decade of alternative rock authenticity ruling the popular culture landscape, Britain's Spice Girls burst upon the scene in 1996 and—seemingly within five minutes after the release of their debut single, "Wannabe,"—helped change the direction of mainstream pop music for the latter half of the 1990s. While their explosion happened on a smaller scale than Madonna, Prince, or the nuclear bomb that was Michael Jackson, the Spice Girls nevertheless left a noticeable crater in the pop culture landscape that was still evident by the turn of the century. Just as alternative angst-ridden demigods Nirvana and Pearl Jam wiped away the superficial spectacle that was pop music in the late 1980s, the Spice Girls made being shallow and fun cool again, paving the way for a number of other commercially successful soul/dance-influenced, good-looking boy and girl bands.

The Spice Girls comprised five young women chosen to be in the group after auditioning in 1993, making them similar to many of the "manufactured" girl groups of the early 1960s. But that is where the comparison ends. Writing or cowriting many of their songs, publicly acting fiercely independent, and, importantly, firing their manager before the release of their second album, these women were no mere puppets. Nor were they revolutionaries but, instead, existed very much as sexily dressed commodities who nonetheless brought the fire and brimstone rhetoric of the pro-woman punk rock riot girl movement to pubescent and prepubescent girls—which was either a calculated marketing strategy or a positive, empowering move, depending on one's perspective.

Early on, the girls carved out very specific identities for themselves: Geri Estelle Halliwell (Ginger Spice), Melanine Janine Brown (Scary Spice), Victoria Addams (Posh Spice), Melanie Jayne Chisholm (Sporty Spice) and Emma Lee Bunton (Baby Spice). This made the group more distinctive and, with the help of a number of catchy singles ("Wannabe," "Say You'll Be There" and "2 Become 1"), by the end of 1997 they were one of the top selling acts in the world. Many dismissed them as a passing fad that couldn't last a year and—after a series of Pepsi commercials, Top 40 singles and a feature film—several media watchers believed they would become overex-posed and fade from the public's consciousness. Their second album, Spiceworld, was considered a flop (even though it went multi-platinum), and in late 1997 it seemed that those predictions might have been true. But the critical and commercial success of their movie, Spiceworld, and their subsequent sold-out world tour proved those prophecies to be incorrect. The departure of Geri Halliwell at the beginning of the American leg of their world tour similarly did not keep the group down and certainly did not discourage Spice Girl fans from attending their concerts.

On the surface, the Spice Girls seemed as plastic as Barbie dolls, just as artificial as the numerous dance-pop groups that preceded them before the alternative rock explosion (and those groups that followed in the Spice Girls's wake, such as the popular "boy bands" N-Sync and the Backstreet Boys). While the Spice Girls may be the farthest thing from being "real," debates over their authenticity become moot upon seeing thousands of energized young girls chanting "girl power," the group's slogan. The Spice Girls are certainly not as complex as female-centered artists like Ani DiFranco and Bikini Kill, but at their best they provided a self-esteem boost for thousands of young girls and, at their worst, may have only been "mere" entertainment.

—Kembrew McLeod

Further Reading:

Aplin, Rebecca. Spice Girls: Giving You Everything. London, UFOMusic, 1997.

Shore, Nancy. The Spice Girls. Philadelphia, Chelsea House, 1998.

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The Spice Girls

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