Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the chances are you know that the Spice Girls are reuniting for a world tour. According to the music section of the Guardian, the Girls feel that their songs are both universal and timeless and that it’s time for them to get back together.
Unless they mean universal in the “universally annoying” (surely you’ve all had the experience of the lyrics of “Wannabe” getting indefinitely stuck in your head for no reason at all….), I can’t help but to question their actual impact.
When asked what she thought of the Spice Girls reuniting, my (now) 13-year-old sister replied, “Dear Lord, help me.”
Though she wasn’t of age to experience the full effect of the Spice Girls, she got a taste of it.
We all have CDs we aren’t proud of. for some of us with big CD books, those CDs are in the very back, maybe even facedown. Maybe after we grow out of them we’ll even break them (I personally can’t do this. one of my pet peeves is seeing a CD broken or otherwise misused. I have way too much respect for this form of media). Some of us give them away.
I gave my Spice Girls cd to my sister (along with Hanson and the Backstreet Boys).** So she knows who they are and, despite her love of mainstream music, would never say that the Spice Girls are worth rotating in her CD player, unless she’s really bored of the few CDs she owns.
The Guardian article starts off with the quote: “Girl Power is back and stronger than ever.” It also quotes Geri Halliwell as saying, “We ARE girl power.”
While the Spice Girls in their reign pulled for “girl power” theirs was one that pulled for Barbie images, cute but insignificant nicknames (“baby spice”? “scary spice”?), and push-up bras.
In my Women in Music class last semester, someone did a project on the Spice Girls citing them as a source of girl power in music. When I read this in an email, I couldn’t help momentarily gaping at the screen. Who would think this?
Sometimes I have to remind myself that my opinions are in fact opinions, and not statements of fact. (It’s hard to remember this when so many others agree, though.) So, let’s take a few moments and consider what it meant to be a Spice Girl and of the Spice Girl generation.
In 1997, the song “Wannabe” hit the radio waves and became one of the biggest selling debut singles, and was number one on the pop charts of 32 countries. The Spice Girls were put together from the start. After seeing boy bands reach uncharted success decided to do a similar project, but this time with a girl band.
“The whole teen-band scene at that time was saturated by boy bands. I felt that if you could appeal to the boys as well, you’d be laughing. if you could put together a girl band which was both sassy, for the girls, and with obvious sex appeal, to attract the boys, you’d double your audience,” said Chris Herbert.
Geri, Mel B, Mel C, Emma and Victoria were only a few of the women who responded by the advertisements put up but the Herbert Team.
As individual women in the group, they were each given traits that were emphasized while self-actualization was discouraged. Geri, “Ginger Spice” was known for her red hair and sexy outfits, Emma, “Baby Spice” for her cute blonde hair and adolescent seeming qualities, Melanie B, “Scary Spice” for her ‘scary’ black hair and leopard print leotards, Melanie C, “Sporty Spice” for her athleticism and finally Victoria, “Posh Spice” for her upper class sophistication.
Sure the Girls emphasized friendship, but they were marketed heavily in a way that spoke of appearance and bra size. (For more of this I wrote a bit comparing grrrl power to girl power for my women in music class, so check it out.)
But then again, perhaps the Spice Girls aren’t all bad.
In an article published in Social Alternatives, Tara Brabazon suggest that the Spice Girls were in fact a necessary thing:
“What makes the Spice Girls significant…is that, as a group, each are performing a splinter of the contemporary feminine continuum. Mel B, Mel C, Emma, Geri and Victoria do for feminism what the Village People did for gay politics: they grant a spirit, power and humour to the performance of difference.”
Yet the author seems to forget that around the same time the music industry had found a new trend: women in music. The 90s was ripe for women musicians—The Spice Girls were not the only band who benefited. When Lillith Fair started in 1997, giving a unique home to women musicians, it was the first touring concert of its kind. The Riot Grrrls gave Kurt Cobain some inspiration in the early 90s and soon after that, two grown up Riot Grrrls, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, formed as an alternative rock band, Sleater-Kinney.
Over in the UK, Sinnead O’Connor and Skin from Skunk Anansie were beginning to make noise.
Yet, the late 90s were still reigned by the Spice Girls.
In addition, while acts such as the Spice Girls may give a voice to difference, it’s not enough. Ask anyone who is fighting for equality and queer politics. Sure mainstream shows like the L Word and Queer as Folk are great—but they are misleading. If The L Word is to be taken by its basic premise, then all lesbians must be wealthy gorgeous women with time to spend and plenty of other lesbians to sleep with.
Likewise a band like the Spice Girls might give voice to friendship among girls, but it’s not enough when these role models are gorgeous and more worthy of being pinned up than anything else.
I think an interesting question is this: why are the Spice Girls coming back now?
It seems that if anything, female pop stars who are popular for their looks are beginning to fall. Britney Spears is having to fight for her sanity, Paris Hilton just got released from prison, and Jessica Simpson broke up with her beau and for the most part we only see her in ProActive commercials.
But on the other hand there is the Pussycat Dolls. A modern incarnation of the Spice Girls, the Pussycat Dolls have much the same spiel that their forerunner had. They claim to be about empowering women, but honestly, how does dancing on stage in skimpy outfits singing about loosening buttons empower women?
If a woman wants empowerment she need look no further than Kathleen Hanna, Evelyn McDonnell, and even Kelly Clarkson. Though her roots are dubious (American Idol doesn’t say a lot to me), Clarkson is fighting the good fight. Her latest CD, My December is on a sort of trial due to all the controversy it has received. Reports of conflicts between her and her manager are stifling the actual music and all of this is having an effect on her tour dates—as my dad said at the dinner table the other day: “Guess what being on American Idol has done for people?” he waited expectantly then proceeded to go on and say how Kelly Clarkson is, in effect, turning into a has-been because of the decreased ticket sales.
Despite all the fabricated-made-up-women, we have a lot of women who are a lot more honest in what it means to be a woman—or a grrrl.
** Believe me when I say never do this to younger children—they’ll end up with questionable music taste. Well, maybe not bad…but it will help them develop a taste for what’s popular. It’s a dangerous thing to do.