photo & text by nacrowe
not gonna lie here, my initial reaction to most songs from the debut SPICE GIRLS' album SPICE (VIRGIN, 1996) as an adult is one of viscerally excruciating awkwardness surrounding memories of cringe-inducing junior high dances and the transformational unreality of living through puberty abroad. i speak specifically of singles like "WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE," "SAY YOU'LL BE THERE," "MAMA" and of course, "WANNABE." this record in essence is the soundtrack to my most awkward moments as a young teenage in NIGERIA.
much has been written about the savvy marketing and fabricated nature of the SPICE GIRLS, but that angle doesnt really interest me. especially in our current digital world where artists are more involved with marketing schemes and global cross-branding efforts. what makes this record interesting is how said marketing actually worked on a global scale. i mean, i remember AFRICAN girls going as SCARY SPICE for halloween in the mid-1990s so on some level there was buy-in to the SPICE GIRLS concept. to some degree their sense of diversity and inclusivity is strikingly contemporary, especially given the tacit approval of LGBTQ relationships in the "2 BECOME 1" video when such was still very much a taboo subject. part of me finds such efforts authentic, as no bigwig would sign on to such a controversial position.
the global SPICE GIRLS phenomena is also interesting in that its heyday was concurrent with another outpouring of GREAT BRITANNIA revivalism in that of BRITPOP. but whereas the BRITPOP movement was largely a boys club with headlining acts like OASIS, PULP and BLUR (yes i know about ELASTICA and SLEEPER) and had attendant concerns surrounding LAD CULTURE and explicit and implicit MISOGYNY, the SPICE GIRLS phenomena represented a more safe and empowering alternative. especially for women. i have anecdotal memories of girls i knew in the mid-1990s abroad who were obsessed with the SPICE GIRLS, who had a favorite very much like they would a member of other collective singing groups. and for them the GIRL POWER feminist sloganeering actually meant something.
its no wonder that a disparate array of modern pop artists ranging from CHARLI XCX, BEYONCE, SAM SMITH, ADELE, LADY GAGA and BILLIE EILISH, all of whom have been vocal about their love of the SPICE GIRLS. so who am i to judge? if the SPICE GIRLS had a part in empowering this new generation of female and LGBTQ artists to rise up and be heard then i am all for it. and i would be lying if i said such influence makes me reconsider those very very awkward memories of my childhood shaking my head during middle school dances.