A Reappraisal of the Spice Girls
This Galentine’s Day, the Internet basically exploded when Danish pop star MØ released a cover of the Spice Girls’ “Say You’ll Be There.”
Okay, so maybe not The Internet, but my little corner (which is fed from a steady stream of Bitch Media, Vogue, Nylon and Rookie magazines, plus supermodel’s Instagram accounts) basically did.
I’ve been a fan of MØ since I heard about her (if you haven’t heard her yet, start listening NOW; she’s gonna be huge) so of course, I was immediately drawn to any song that girl would release. Everyone else, though, was super pumped about a great cover of the Spice Girls coming out, signaling the return of Girl Power and a new dawn of respect for the infamous girl group.
Even as a 20-something with a psychotically low amount of FOMO, I felt like I was totally excluded from some great girl’s club. Here’s the thing: I NEVER listened to the Spice Girls. I was in the correct age group and everything, and totally into both girl-fronted pop-music (I have the old Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera CDS to prove it) as well as manufactured groups of musicians (looking at you, N*Sync), but the Spice Girls never got to take a spin in my boombox.
Why? I don’t know for sure, because I was 5 when they hit, but I’m pretty sure my mom discouraged it based on their clothes (I mean, Victoria Beckham basically always wore a bikini top posed as a shirt). She definitely didn’t let me keep getting Christina albums after that “Dirty” music video, or Britney CDs after she stopped wearing things that qualified as clothing on the cover. I don’t remember exactly how this idea got planted in my 1st grade brain, but I knew so surely that the Spice Girls were bad role models for little girls, so much so that one time, when I was standing at the bus stop and a girl with a Spice Girls backpack told me she wanted to be a Spice Girl when she grew up, I told her that meant she wanted to be paid to be naked. I was totally the definition of a 6-year-old mean feminist.
Even if my mom did ban their CDs, she was by no means going against the grains of feminism at the time. Back then, the Spice Girls were hated by “real women.” There were all sorts of arguments about how manufactured they were, how they basically existed on sex appeal, how they were NOTHING in comparison to the real female artists like Alanis Morissette or Tori Amos.
That opinion is changing. Yes, the reasons to hate the Spice Girls may still hold, but really? They were an amazing source of empowerment and encouragement to the millions of little girls that got caught up in their storm. Now, a lot of girls are questioning whether they were totally wrong to write them off so quickly, to totally discredit their message of Girl Power! simply because they weren’t wearing Gertrude Stein-approved outfits. A lot of females feel sorry that there aren’t more girl pop groups today, maybe even feel a little guilty that their hatred for this group prevented the creation of similar ones. I am now proudly one of those guilty girls.
But, where do I go from there? I felt the need to actually listen to some Spice songs after MØ’s cover, but I couldn’t do it nostalgically. I couldn’t do it ironically, like some goth mall rat claiming her love for the group. I had to do it earnestly. Then, I decided, academically.
I’m halfway thorough this article, but if I wrote this like a college-discovery/investigation paper, my thesis statement would be something like: Without any outside influencers (i.e. Internet research that includes reading feminist blogs that have turned around to profess Spice power or articles decrying all the post-Spice scandals), I am going to listen to the entire Spice album (their debut, the LP with the most hit songs and their best seller) and decide how I as a conscious female adult feel about this group. Song by song, to keep it clean. Here goes.
“Wannabe”: this is the ONLY Spice Girl’s song I’ve heard before. Who didn’t? Back when I was on the cross-country and track teams in high-school, when we’d do really long runs or really easy runs and get bored, we’d sing this song. Everyone knew it! Plus, it was exceptionally fun. Ziga-zig-whaaa! So, I can’t get over that connotation. All I can think about when I hear this song is a pack of ladies singing for fun, no matter how shitty they sounded, no one left out, freely exercising their muscles like strong-ass women.
“Say You’ll Be There”: this is the song MØ covered, meaning I heard it from her first, meaning to me, this sounds like a bad cover. But, I’m also watching the music video, which is totally reminding me of a black-leather group of Kill-Bill assassins. I think Uma Thurman already proved the importance of this stereotype.
“2 Become 1”: okay, I have to say I find Baby Spice HILARIOUS. She’s the oldest looking in the group! Dress like Lolita and you can be Baby Spice forever, I guess? But anyway, this song is obviously about consensual sex, and I’m pretty sure she just sang something like “Be a little bit wiser, baby / Put it on, put it on.” Is she talking about CONDOMS? Safe sex, I guess? It’s at least the women’s saying SHE wants some tonight, so props for that.
“Love Thing”: Jesus, these girls made a lot of music videos. This is the first song that didn’t come with one. Bridge goes: “Don’t go wasting my time / You’re not the only thing I’ve got on my mind.” I do love a female character that doesn’t revolve around the man character because she has her own shit going on.
“Last Time Lover”: I’m writing at Starbucks right now, because if I stayed in my apartment, I’d get distracted by the March issue of Vogue I have sitting on my table like a wrapped up Christmas present. The hubbub of Starbucks is more interesting than this song. I’m more into this bitch that’s trying to get her latte bumped up in line BECAUSE SHE HAS TO GO!!! Anyway, I’m finding this song Meh, but inoffensive.
“Mama”: please watch the music video for this, because it is hilarious. They have all these flashbacks onto five little girls (supposedly the Spice Girls themselves!) practicing dance routines together. Which is totally fake, because these chicks didn’t know each other until the record company brought them together. But yeah, this isn’t anything close to Kanye’s “Hey Mama.” It’s just saying “Mama, I love you / mama, I swear” over and over.
“Who Do You Think You Are”: oh, jeez. This music video should be shown in history classes as the definition of 90s pop culture. It’s fun, though. Plus, I’m an advocate of sticking it to the man by writing “Girl Power” on a guy’s chest in lipstick. Now that I think of it, I think I heard this song playing in a gay bar before.
“Something Kinda Funny”: Again, here’s these lyrics that show the girls are in charge. Any man who wants to get in on the good thing they got going on best play by THEIR rules. That’s a cool attitude to teach young ladies.
“Naked”: the truest ballad of the whole album. I’m kind of confused: “Don’t be afraid to stare, she is only naked”; “I’d rather be hated than pitied / Maybe I should have left it to your imagination / I just want to be me.” You can guess what these lyrics mean as well as I can. I guess I’ll go on a limb and say it’s the Spice Girls telling you to stop fucking judging them based on how much/little they wear – they’re comfortable in their own skin. That could be totally wrong – I’ve heard the song twice.
“If You Can’t Dance”: okay, this is really fun. Poppy, British, preppy – “If you can’t dance to this, you can’t do nothing for me baby.” She don’t need your money. She don’t need you love. She needs a good dance partner, so if you’re not, LATER.
Ultimately, this is a catchy, sugar-sweet album. The songs mostly seem to be encouraging GIRL POWER with all caps and using boys as accessories / dance partners / committed sexual partners on your own terms. It’s not pornographic. It’s not flippant. Hell, it’s not even Rihanna.
I’m not saying EVERYONE! GO LISTEN TO SPICE GIRLS RIGHT NOW! (I am saying go listen to MØ right now, and while you’re on it, listen to Vivian Girls, the best all-girl group since the Spice Girls, in this lady’s opinion). I am saying: I was wrong. These aren’t horrible record-label created blow-up dolls. Sure, their outfits may not make them the best role models for impressionable youth, but hey, let’s cut them some slack. After all, isn’t a big factor in feminism the idea that a woman can wear whatever the fuck she wants?
Let’s stop the Spice hate. Let’s bring back Girl Power.