I woke up from some pretty vivid dreams last night with a Spice Girls lyric in my head. And so, naturally, I used my precious iPod Nano to plug into some nostalgia on my commute. As always, once those 90’s pop tunes started playing in my ears, I wondered to myself Why the fuck did you ever stop listening to this glorious music?
You know guys, I know the 90’s were a frivolous time. And it would be easy to dismiss this group as frivolous. But that’s a huge mistake. These ladies were a global phenomenon, and for an elementary age kid like me they were PERFECTION. They were true role models in my formative years, with delicious pop tunes and a huge campy movie and one very simple message/catch phrase: Girl Power! And you know what, it doesn’t take much to plant the seed of an idea in a child’s head. That phrase stuck with me, as did their message of fun and friendship. They may not have been perfect feminist icons (cause really, who is?) but they felt so fresh and free.
First of all, they had those probably completely contrived personalities, which meant you could definitely relate to one of them. I loved Ginger. She was sassy, sparkly, and loud. Emma was for the cutesy girls, Posh for the fashion obsessed, and then Mel B for the black girls and Mel C for the budding athletes and/or lesbians. Something for everyone! Maybe they weren’t super dynamic, but whatever. We were 8. Their image was campy, over the top, tongue in cheek and timely. Once you knew which Spice Girl you were going to idolize forever, of course the only logical thing to do was bond with 4 other girls to round out your group of singing, dancing, globe trotting future pop stars.
Which reminds me. The most important lesson these ladies taught me was about female friendship. Their first hit Wannabe is an assertive but not too aggressive list of demands. You have got to give. If you want my future, forget my past. Now you know how I feel. Say you can handle my love. The message was basically take me on my terms or leave. It was a breezy, silly, slumber party anthem. And the most iconic lyric, the crux of it all: If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends. How revolutionary is that idea!! It sets up a hierarchy in your life, where your friends come first and your lovers second. And sure, maybe that isn’t and shouldn’t be true at all times in your life, but shouldn’t it be true for us all as young-ins? Before shit gets real? After all, your friends are the ones who will accept and love you for who you really are (whichever Spice personality that is), through all the years when you’re confused and stumbling and naive and not-yet-formed. They’re your core, your support, your stage mates. They’re the ones you harmonize with.
When I was listening to or pretending to be the Spice Girls, I was in a girl only zone. It felt amazing to have something that was just for me and my girlfriends. And sure, they dressed pretty sexy and mostly feminine, but you just didn’t feel like it was for boys. I know there is a lot of exposed midriffs, but damnit this was the 90’s! They mostly dressed to fit into the very marketable boxes they’d created, and blah blah blah I know that’s phony & feigned & faked but WHO CARES! They made me feel like I should dress to express myself and dance because I wanted to. Boys just didn’t enter into it.
I’m not saying the whole world should be this way, or that girls rule and boys drool (although, yea, kind of.) But for young girls, so much of the world seems off limits. I think it’s super important to have spaces that are special for them, where they feel safe and free. And I think the message that you can be who you are without worrying about boy friends/lovers/whatever is super empowering. You know, you don’t have to make it perfect or complicated for kids. They absorb a lot without us even knowing, and what they hear at a young age sticks and matures along with them. Girl Power, as basic as it is, is enough. Sure it’s not nuanced, but it’s a good place to start!
Oh, and one last thing. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that the Spice Girls opened up some space in the pop universe for girl super groups. Their success, I believe, was a direct pre-curser to Destiny’s Child. Which means that without the Spice Girls, we wouldn’t have Beyonce. And if anyone is pushing some mature and nuanced feminism right now, it is Queen Bey herself. So Viva Girl Power Forever, never give up on the good times with your surfburt, and if you can’t dance you can’t do nothing for me cause friendships never ends and we all woke up like this.