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5 November 2018

The Spice Girls reunion makes me pine for when pop music was dumb, artless and accessible

For me, the Spice Girls represent the last time I actually liked/got pop music. 

By Eleanor Margolis

If they formed today, the Spice Girls probably couldn’t even get away with the name “The Spice Girls”. It sounds like the title of a cookbook/last ditch attempt at celebrity by a pair of D-list twins. Contemporary girl groups are called things like “Little Mix” or “Fifth Harmony” – names with irony, and charisma; devoid of the type of naiveté so specific to the nineties. That is to say, they sound like they use that weird auto tune effect and feature Drake. That is also to say: cool as they may be compared to their predecessors, they just aren’t as fun and down to earth.

For me, the Spice Girls represent the last time I actually liked/got pop music. The hopeful days of pre-Iraq New Labour, where “attitude” meant wearing your hair in bunches and sticking out your tongue. Not that I was particularly aware of the zeitgeist (I was seven when the Spice Girls released their debut album). But I remember seeing the video for Wannabe for the first time. I think my jaw may have actually – honest to god – dropped. Here were five women – all of whom I fancied – singing the most immediately catchy and addictive song I’d ever heard. It was easy, it was funny, it had lime green accents. Plus, the message was strong and simple enough for me to understand: girls can and should demand respect from boys.

In an ideal world, the Spice Girls reunion tour (the first one in a decade) would usher in a new era of musical, cultural and political simplicity. If it doesn’t (which it probably won’t) it’s hard to imagine the peppy, garishly optimistic Spice Girls fitting in with our current “Nazis and climate disaster” hellscape. Plus, there are only going to be four of them this time round, with Victoria Beckham opting out. Which is maybe for the best, seeing as being “posh” isn’t cute anymore. Where it was once Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and Kettle Chips, it’s now Jacob Rees-Mogg and the erosion of democracy. If she were to change her mind and join the tour, “Posh” would be well advised to play up her Essex roots and change her moniker to “People’s Spice”.

A little-remembered thing about the Spice Girls is their last album, Forever, released in 2000. It was horrible because they were trying to be what they most definitely are not: an R&B band. At that point, perhaps the world was already too complicated for the Spice Girls. Because, in reality, their vocals weren’t strong (especially compared to the likes of Destiny’s Child) and most of their appeal came from being relatable. When – at midnight January 1 2000 – Big Ben bonged out the end of the nineties, we were all too busy waiting for the Millennium Bug to make planes fall out of the sky to realise that the bell actually tolled for the most popular girl band of last decade.

I still have hope that the Spice Girls reunion – as if it were predicted by Nostradamus – will bring in a new age of peace and prosperity. Although this didn’t happen when they made a go of it in 2008 (in fact, the subprime mortgage market in the US collapsed, leading to a worldwide financial crisis. Thank you Spice Girls). Mostly though, I long for the days where pop music was dumb, artless and accessible. 

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