Something incredibly important happened this week: International superstar, cultural icon, and Eddie Murphy's baby-mother, Mel B, has been announced as the fourth and final judge for the new season of X Factor. That's right: Scary Spice is still getting work, and good for her. Of course, that now means the rest of the band has to be pitted against her—Geri, for example, was spotted wearing a "brave smile" the day it was announced.
If you were alive in the late 1990s, you spent some pocket of time addicted to the Spice Girls, and you know it. As a kid, I remember standing in the corner store one hot summer's day with a 20-pence piece in my right hand and two ice lollies in the left. I got to the register and something caught my eye. Spice. Girls. Chocolate. Bars. That's right—back in 1997, you could eat all five of those bitches.
Since then, no girl groups have ever really captured the special buzz that surrounded those vibrant, working-class girls back when it was still all right to wear all-white pantsuits in public. For instance, I first realized my big sister was cool as shit when she repeated the rap from "Wannabe" verbatim.
Everyone had a favorite. At first I thought mine was Posh Spice, because I was pretentious even at seven. Then I thought it might be Mel B, because she was clearly a mad bitch. Then I realized it was Ginger Spice. Obviously. As if to hammer the point home, she did a Robbie and left the band at the peak of their fame. You don't know what you've got till it's gone, they say, and those fuckers are so right. Gezza's departure left me devo'd.
Of course, they all went their own ways in the end, but a couple have stayed more visible than others. In fact, Geri was also in the news this week, telling the Metro she let the side down with her last single. I actually can't explain how much it upset me to see her turn out something so weak. It even made Mel B's last song look OK.
It wasn't always this way: Geri took a gamble, and at first it seemed to pay off. When I was at school, there was no doubt who'd won the battle of the Spices: Geri fucking smashed it. "Look at Me" holds up surprisingly well for late-90s pop, as does "Bag It Up." And I don't care what anyone says—"Mi Chico Latino" is classic summer camp, and I'm adding it to my playlist as I type. We all agreed she wasn't the best singer in the world, but she had sexy dancers and fun videos and charisma to spare. Girls and gays up and down the land stayed for the Geri Halliwell party, and it was great.
The Spice Girls sans Geri came back too. It was good, and I was excited, but everyone else at school tried to play it cool and make out they'd moved on. "Holler" got to number one, but when the album was beaten to the top of the charts by Westlife's, I knew that the glory days were over. Part of the Spice Girls' allure was the excitement they created—their absurdly huge success, the over-the-topness of it all. My friends had stopped dreaming of being the Spices and started having wet dreams about boy bands instead. We all grew up and got on with our lives.
Each of them tried their hands at solo careers, always carefully calibrated so as not to be in the charts at the same time (as far as I recall). After Geri, I liked Mel B's solo efforts best—her collaboration with Missy Elliott is a fucking tune, and the video is far more interesting than some of the dross turned out both then and now. I even "borrowed" her album from my mate Liam, which kind of sums up how I felt about Mel B; I wanted the album enough to beg my friend to lend it me and then never give it back, but not enough to actually go out and buy it. Unfortunately for Scary, Bo' Selecta! was ultimately the end of her; all it took to kill off her solo career was Avid Merrion and a slightly racist latex mask.
Some terrifying waxworks of the Spice Girls after Geri's departure. Photo via Flickr
Mel C was, by most people's counts, the best singer, and she can certainly lay claim to one of the strongest solo Spice albums, with Northern Star. Baby Spice never really happened, bless her. Posh Spice had some slick videos up her sleeve, but little else of note bar that annoyingly enjoyable garage trash she did with Dane Bowers.
While her music may have taken a backseat, Posh didn't. She got richer. Hotter. Famous-er. Like a mole stubbornly burrowing its way to the surface, VB forced herself onto the plains of mid-2000s international celebrity through sheer dedication. All those costume changes paid off, and she and her hubby became style icons the world over. She even had a hairstyle named after her—"the Pob." She annoyed plenty of people, yes, but she'd earned enough respect to be crowned Most Successful Spice. For a time.
At this point, Geri was lying low after a lackluster album in 2005. I can't give you any information on it because of how much luster it lacked—all I remember is Gezza messing around in some 1970s nonsense in the video. The point is, she dropped off the radar. As did the rest of them. Victoria Beckham, style icon and socialite, felt like a noble survivor from a lost era.
Then something special happened—something I'd secretly wished for but never believed would come true, despite years of teasing hints in Hello! and OK! They reformed! It was on the news! Everywhere! The Spice Girls! Back together! With Geri! Geri! All sophisticated ladies in their 30s by then (even Baby), it was glorious and sad in equal measure. Part of me wanted them to leave their legacy alone; another part just wanted anything they had to offer.
It was shallow, but we all talked about who looked the best. Mel C. Hands down. She of the track suits and frequent winner of "Spice Girl the Boys Least Fancy" had transformed into this super hot woman. Posh Spice looked like she'd shown up to film a porno, and the others looked nice—apart from Geri's silly dress, of course, but at least she was back and center stage. The only reason any of them were doing this was because their solo careers had failed, but the fans didn't care—we were just pleased to see they were friends again.
The reunion didn't last long. Yet again, a boy band outdid them. This time it was Take That, who pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in pop history. I want to blame sexism and the social codes of what male and female pop stars are allowed to do and achieve in their 30s—and I've no doubt there was an element of that—but the truth is, Take That had stronger songs.
The Spice Girls dazzled on tour, before disappearing into the darkness again.
Since then it's been six of one, half a dozen of the other. None of them have successful solo careers anymore. Most of them have children. VB has succeeded where even Gwen Stefani didn't and is genuinely making waves as a fashion designer. There's not much else to report. Don't mention the Spice Girls musical. Emma's a DJ on Heart FM. I felt sad, to be honest, seeing her and Mel C perform "I Know Him So Well" on breakfast television last year.
It's wrong for me to miss the crazy glamour of their heyday—after all, it was a façade hiding more than a few eating disorders, resentments, and breakdowns. But while the adult part of me is pleased to see two women who clearly still love each other come together after many years of friendship, the shallow part of me weeps at the sight of two forgotten megastars reduced to performing an underwhelming cover song that barely scraped into the charts.
Maybe the Mail is right and Geri Halliwell was "putting on a brave face" the day "it was revealed Mel B had been made X Factor judge." I hope not, though—I hope they all found greater meaning in their lives beyond the extraordinary achievements of their early careers. A little rivalry is healthy, but being a woman isn't a competition. Female friendships are special and important and unique and—as the Spice Girls demonstrated so beautifully—when we come together we can create something so much bigger than the individual parts.
When I was six, I wanted to know who your favorite Spice Girl was, and I wanted you to know who mine was too. It was about identity and finding out what sort of girl you wanted to be in the world. Now, I see it doesn't matter. Everyone has a role to play.
I watched the Spice Girls at the Olympics. I'm not ashamed to say it was my highlight, and—judging by the views it's had on YouTube—I'm clearly not alone in that.
It doesn't matter who has a hit single now, or who gets into the tabloids, or who judges shitty fucking X Factor—the truth is that these five women created something special together, for a moment in time, that resonated with girls and women around the world. They made a contribution to global pop culture and British pop culture in particular—not to mention my childhood—and for that I'm hugely grateful.
I don't care what you think. If you disagree, you're either too old or too young to have joined the party. Or you're a smelly boy. The Spice Girls ruled. They all won.
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Topics: spice girls, Girl Power, Paris Lees, girl bands, Geri Halliwell, Scary Spice, X Factor, mel b, Mel C, Posh Spice, baby spice, Nostalgia, The 1990s, being washed up, Reality TV, celebrities, Tabloids, ginger spice, 1990s music