I ask her if she looks back now and cringes at what she said, and she pauses for a long time. "I think using her is a touchy one," she says eventually. "Because obviously she's like Marmite. There's an extreme polarity between people who do or don't like her because of what she did as prime minister. But for me, I'm not really judging that—let's put that to one side. For me, it was more about watching a woman where there'd never been a female before—as prime minister. That's massive in itself… I wasn't old enough to understand what she was doing or who she was upsetting."
"The Spice Girls were unmanufacturable, we were unmanageable." – Geri Horner
For the Riot Grrrls who had conceived Girl Power, that a movement that campaigned on hard issues like rape and sexual violence had been co-opted for profit was devastating. Perhaps nothing sums it up better than the song "#1 Must Have" by Sleater Kinney—whose singer Corin Tucker's previous band Heavens to Betsy were part of the Riot Grrrl movement. "They took our ideas to their marketing stars / Now I'm spending all my days at girlpower.com / Trying to buy back a little piece of me," she sings."I was exactly the target demographic for the Spice Girls when they came out," says Lauren Mayberry, lead singer and songwriter in the band Chvrches. "It's strange, now I'm an adult, to see how something that, on one level, could be really empowering and exciting for young girls was kind of all about selling shit.""We were 90s girls who'd been brought up by that influence of money and productivity," says Horner when I ask her if they really needed that much merchandise. Earlier in the interview, I quote her a line from the Girl Power Spice Girls book, in which they claim, "Feminism needs a kick up the arse." She says she can't remember it. There was so much stuff, so many products, it was impossible to keep tabs of it all.
"The Spice Girls were abhorrent… It was pretending to be women taking control, but none of them took control—they weren't writing, they weren't producing, they weren't playing… I found it a sham." – Shirley Manson.
I'd be lying if I said I remained a diehard Spice Girls fan. By the time I was 12, I thought Baby Spice was just lame infantilization. I later got into PJ Harvey and Hole and Elastica—whose singer Justine Frischmann's lyrics about fucking boys in cars ("Every shining bonnet makes me think of my back on it") felt way more emancipatory than the "shouting is fun!" sloganeering of the Spice Girls.But I never forgot about girl power. Critiques of Spice Girls are valid and necessary, but what they so often miss is a very simple fact: that girl power was never intended to be an academic feminist perspective; it was never meant to promote a poststructuralist vision of a utopian future where male hegemony was overthrown. It was pop music made for little girls to inspire them to be confident and believe in their abilities and support their friends. It was shallow, easy to understand, and very basic. And that was exactly the point.Horner gets up to leave for her next job—a photoshoot for a broadsheet. I tell her that I like her Instagram account. Mostly, I appreciate the baking pictures. I genuinely find it inspiring that a woman who has suffered for a large part of her life with bulimia can find joy in food again. She was a late adopter to Instagram, she says. "People are so airbrushed and perfect. I don't really understand it all. I just try and keep mine real, you know?" But then, she says, "I guess it's a different generation, isn't it?"I ask her what she thinks the real legacy of Girl Power has been. "There were braver voices before the Spice Girls, and there were braver voices after us," she says. "I hear other artists saying, 'I listened to your music, and I listened to your message, and it meant something to me,' and it makes me feel very proud. But it's not just artists. It's the woman with her gloves deep in the kitchen sink going, 'Actually, your music helped me get through something and made me take charge of my life.' That's what really matters."And as corny as it sounds, she's got a point.Follow Jenny Stevens on Twitter.
"It's strange, now I'm an adult, to see how something that on one level could be really empowering and exciting for young girls was kind of all about selling shit."—Lauren Mayberry.