For me to complain about what’s going on with the Spice Girls now is about as relevant as whining that The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things just doesn’t speak to me any more as a 23-year old woman. Although I held onto the Spice Girls and refused to believe it was over for a perhaps ungainly amount of time, the idea that any slight against their legacy would offend me is silly. I had my fun, bought my t-shirts, won fan of the month in their fanclub magazine. (My Nana and I made a Spice Girls quilt. Pretty cool, I know you’re thinking.)
However, youthful obsessions with pop are something that I’m still all for, so watching the above video and learning about the contents of the forthcoming Spice Girls musical - which will more than likely find them a host of new young fans - was temporarily despair-inducing. Their songs are going to help tell the story of a young band who try and make it via a TV talent show, which is a miserable conceit beyond the fact that it’s going to date the show terribly. (Though maybe it’s best that it doesn’t run for too long.)
The thing I find most interesting about the Spice Girls these days is comparing the reality of the period during which they were active to the version of them that I absorbed as a kid, via reading Smash Hits, TOTP Magazine, watching them on TV and so on. You didn’t get any of the salacious stuff (though I did learn about the reasonable duration that one could expect sex to last by reading the then-Mel G decrying a story Jimmy Gulzar had sold about them supposedly shagging for 70-something hours straight), though I knew perfectly well that they were manufactured. Even though the machinations went on behind the scenes, you were never in any doubt that such things were going on, even aged eight.
I would deny this to the last. Dad would come in whilst I was watching Top of the Pops and tease me that they were miming. NEVER! They are SO 4 REAL, DAD. In spite of knowing better, my steadfast belief was that this band were only beholden to me and people like me, not a bunch of managers, and when they appeared on a bag of crisps or a can of body spray, that’s because they KNEW that I liked crisps and body spray because they are just THE BEST and SO KIND. They were doing it for me!
I believe it was one of the Spice Girls herself who, having reached a certain level of fame, confessed that she had always thought that popstars were just pulled out of a box, put on TV, then put back in the box again afterwards. With the kind of TV talent show that constitutes the story of the musical, although I have no particular bugbear with X Factor and so on, that magic is gone. There’s no getting around the fact that these people are puppets in thrall to managers and men with chequebooks. The mystery and sense of unerring belief in the band’s uniqueness and power is gone, and it really disappoints me that the Spice Girls’ songs are being used to tell a story that totally lacks in the magic that enchanted me to the point of obsession as an eight-year old.
During a fine chat about the above issue in the pub this evening (only powered by fizzy lime), the ever-great Fraser McAlpine added that one of the great things about the Spice Girls was that they made being mates (this is going with the young perspective) look like a job. In a gang, got a few friends? Bingo! You can do this too. Although they each had their own talents, all the girls were supposedly created equal: Mel C was better at high kicks than Emma, but she was better that Geri at wearing babydoll dresses and being cute. (NB These are not necessarily values I would instil in any daughter of mine.)
Not so with TV talent shows. The story featured in the Spice Girls musical apparently entails a group getting through the many stages of one of these programs, only for the group as a whole to be rejected in favour of one of the band being picked to stand as a solo artist. Obviously, everyone knows that this happened with the band fracturing into solo careers to varying degrees of success. But making this part of the story feels wrong, because it elevates the idea of inequality, which wasn’t what the Spice Girls were meant to be about; rather, making the most of your talents and being accepted on an even keel with your other lady pals, and maybe even feeling powerful for it. The power balance shifts on TV talent shows, and control is put in the hands of adults, and, more pertinently, kids, who are made to feel that judging others is a powerful position to be in. This is not a general complaint against X Factor etc - I don’t care for those shows, so I don’t watch them, thus they don’t annoy me - but a criticism of the Spice Girls’ decision (NB I don’t know how much control they actually had over the story) to make this a factor of a show that’s going to introduce them to a lot of young kids. Don’t know about you, but rather than attempt to control pop according to the limits of my tame eight-year old imagination, I’d rather it lead me astray and into realms I’d never previously contemplated.
That is quite enough Spice Girls talk, let’s stop before it all gets a bit, “What?! The 90s? You mean you had those too?!”