There Was Really Only One Spice Girl

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March 19, 2015 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

Ginger Spice was always my favorite Spice Girl.  It’s a position that she’s held since I was six, and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.  She was a redheaded British chick who spoke Spanish fluently and strutted around in lingerie and black stockings.  Out of all my celebrity crushes, Geri Halliwell is probably most indicative of the kind of woman I’m most attracted to.  She had the most demonstrative personality out of the bunch, and not just because she was the most sexually visible, although she was hands down the hottest one.[1]  Ginger was the most independent and the HBIC of the Spice Girls.  She was articulate, business savvy, and possessed a fiery personality to go along with her hair, red enough to overpower the Sun.  She took shit from no one, and once she left the group, the Spice Girls floundered and disbanded one year later.  This was a woman who did whatever she wanted and knew exactly how to get shit done.  Geri does her own thing, and that’s why she’s my favorite Spice Girl.  And yet every time I ask people who their favorite Spice Girl was, no one ever says Ginger.  Although I wouldn’t be surprised if Ginger Spice was my arch-enemy’s favorite too.

The point of me fawning over Ginger Spice isn’t to indulge in some boyhood fantasy (at least not completely), but to reflect on the idea of the persistence of memory.  Just because we remember something to have been a certain way, doesn’t mean that that was how it really was.  Essentially the question posed is this: “Is the point of view of my memory correct?”.  Not necessarily the opinions, but the way we remember how something or someone was, does our memory of the experience accurately reflect the original sentiment of the experience.

For a decade filled with as many iconoclasts as there were icons, no other force in pop culture, besides the Spice Girls, generated their own image that transcended itself to the point of becoming a zeitgeist.  I can’t speak about grunge, because I was only three and just coming into cognizance when the grunge movement evaporated.  That’s really the crux of the article, no matter how much I read up on grunge or any other humungous trend, to me it will always pale in comparison to the Spice Girls.  The reason is because I never experienced grunge, so I can’t explain how big or influential it was.  Because I can’t provide a firsthand account, grunge, as a popular trend, movement, or idea becomes almost inconsequential.  I have no frame of mind to call upon when explaining it subjectively, or when trying to gain objective omniscience.  I don’t have that problem with the Spice Girls; I can tell you just how influential and ever-present they were from 1996-1999.  Whether that’s the truth or not is a whole other story.

From the eyes of a six-year-old there was no force on the planet as dominate as the “Girl Power” ideology that the Spice Girls espoused.[2]  There were Spice Girl dolls, candy, video games, and trading cards; even KISS didn’t have trading cards for Christ’s sake![3]  In the first and second grades, every girl in school knew everything there was to know about the Spice Girls and all the boys would secretly talk about which Spice Girl they had the biggest crush on.[4]

The Spice Girls were the biggest British force in pop since Beatlemania, and by sheer record sales, they are the most successful female group of all time.  They sold over 85 million albums, and between 1996-1998, they earned an average of $75 million.  Everything from Halliwell’s Union Jack dress to Posh Spice’s high fashion sheik become cultural statements and sign of the times in a way that nothing since has been able to replicate.  From the standpoint of a child who had up until that point never been inundated with such a permeable pop culture juggernaut, the Spice Girls were the unchallenged empresses of society.

Who’d have thought that five attractive British women would become so popular in America?

 

Looking back on it though, I’ve had to ask myself if the Spice Girls were this immortal and irresistible force that my memory tells me they were?  Music and film critics would seem to prove my memory wrong.  “Wannabe” was their only #1 single in the U.S., and Spice was their only album to top the charts in the States as well.  Rolling Stone, who gave the album one-and-a-half stars, said that on Spice, “the girls don’t get bogged down by anything deeper than mugging for promo shots and giving out tips on getting boys in bed”.  Spice went on to sell over 28 million copies worldwide.

The insanely catchy and kinetic “Spice up Your Life” was universally panned, and after its release many wondered if the Spice Girls would fade out as soon as they erupted onto the scene.  One reviewer said that the lead single “does for Latin music what Hanson has done for death metal”.  Early negative reviews weren’t enough to deter their momentum, however as it encouraged the Spice Girls and their management team to make their most brazen move yet.  The release of “Spice up Your Life” was purposely pushed back a week in an attempt to displace “Candle in the Wind 1997”, one of the biggest singles ever released, from the top spot on the English chart…and sure enough, it worked.

Spice – A great name for either a Spice Girls’ album or a porn channel.

For a group that was the musical equivalent of Michael Jordan, they certainly garnered their fair share of criticism, but that criticism has been entirely deflected by hindsight.  Anytime “Wannabe” starts to play at the bar, everyone starts to sing.  At every 90s party in college “Spice up Your Life” or “Say You’ll be There” always drew the most people to the dance floor.  Any criticism or negative publicity that the Spice Girls invited is largely non-existent to my generation because we never experienced it; even though it existed at the time, most of us share the same memories of the Spice Girls-that of their undisputed dominance in every single realm of pop cultural importance.  We remember what they did and what they made us feel back when we were children.  Even after reading bad review after bad review, and listening to their only two albums that matter, my perception of the Spice Girls hasn’t changed despite my uncovering of an objective truth.  Some of their songs like “Last Time Lover” and “Viva Forever” really do suck, but because my perception, based on memory, is set in stone, it doesn’t diminish the clout that they carried and the very tangible impact that they had on pop culture and society.

I’ve often wondered how people in other age brackets remembered the Spice Girls.  Did they seem to them like an overblown fad?  Did they think the Spice Girls were overrated and unimportant to pop music?  Were they sick of them from the get go?  The only comparable musician who had as much of a far-ranging effect on pop culture since the Spice Girls was Justin Bieber…I think.  I’m no fan of his, but between the movies, the film concerts, and constant barrage of music and the way that his fans fall to pieces at the very mention of his stupid name reminds me of the Spice Girls trend.  The reason I say that Bieber isn’t as big as the Spice Girls is purely based on my personal experience.  Objectively, Bieber could have been a bigger phenomenon than the Spice Girls, but because it didn’t affect me personally, I don’t have the experience of being involved in Bieber mania that same way that I remember the Spice Girls’ Girl Power explosion.  Bieber Fever was a culture that I didn’t want to be a part of.  Spice Girl Mania was an experience that I couldn’t avoid.

Doesn’t Bieber look like a cross between Jim Carrey and Vanilla Ice?

Bieber Fever will never be as big as Spice mania, even if it actually was, but it’s probably the closest thing since.  Because I was a participant in Spice mania, and not in Bieber Fever, my memory of the former is of it being more inclusive and all-encompassing than the latter could ever hope to be.  I remember Bieber Fever in the same way that I’m sure the older kids remembered Spice mania “When the fuck will it end!?!”.

Even though they only had a two-year reign as the undisputed matriarchal oligopoly of the pop world, their impact and effect on pop culture will forever linger on because that’s the way that my generation remembers them.  They were cool, sexy, and invincible; they owned the world and rivaled Michael Jordan in endorsements.  The Spice Girls are iconic more than they were good, but that doesn’t matter because an entire generation of people remember them as being colossal, and when you’re a titan, you don’t really have to be good.  Until I began writing this article, I had no idea I would be an apologist for the Spice Girls.  I’m a product of my time no doubt, but for me, the Spice Girls always started and ended with Ginger.

 


 

[1] Although her tendency to wear stockings with no pants certainly did hurt either.

[2] A truth that was made self-evident in the iconic video to “Spice Up Your Life” where the Spice Girls reside over a dystopian future in their panopticon inspired flotilla.  Ginger Spice is of course dressed as a sexy Latin American inspired military dictator.

[3] My sister used to collect the wrappers from the limited Spice Girls lollipops.

[4] Even back then I was the only one with a crush on Ginger Spice.

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