If I were to ask you to tell me what you want, what you really really want, I have a feeling most of you would instinctively issue the same reply. What more could we possibly really really want than the elusive and suspiciously made-up sounding zig-a-zig-ah? The best part is, we had no idea of the zig-a-zig-ah shaped void in our respective lives until the Spice Girls handily brought it to our attention. When you think about it, it was really a pretty thoughtful gesture.
Spice Girls - Wannabe
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The Spice Girls didn't need meaningfully discernible lyrics or a roster of musically significant songs: they built their empire largely on image and public persona. What they needed, it seemed, was a healthy dose of Girl Power, some sparkly Union Jack dresses, and a line of delicious ice-cream flavored licensed Chupa Chup lollipops. The group was a marketing phenomenon. Each member was so well branded and commidified. Young boys found them appealing, young girls wanted to be them, and everybody loved those lollipops. No, really. They were completely delicious. I could really go for one right about now.
Aside from their marketing prowess, the girls had a fair amount of talent. As with most burgeoning pop groups of the time, they were chosen not only for their looks but for their vocal ability. The Spice Girls were far from an organically formed musical group. Their path to fame was tightly managed and preconceived by a team of industry professionals. If you're questioning my sources on that one, look no further than the handy timeline on the Spice Girls' still-active homepage. That thing is a gold mine. Just look at all I learned:
1) Heart Management LTD (which is apparently a music management team and not a cardiac coaching facility as I'd originally theorized) held an open audition in London in 1993 for their newly-conceived girl group. The magazine ad they ran began with, "R U 18-23 with the ability to sing and dance? Are you streetwise, outgoing, ambitious, and dedicated?" For some reason, I just love that they threw "streetwise" in there. It really conjures an effective visual of a line of girls at the audition each armed with a switchblade.
2) For their audition numbers, Mel C sang I'm So Excited, Mel B sang The Greatest Love of All, and Victoria sang Mein Herr. Now that they mention it, I'd love to see Posh in her current severe unsmiling state break out into a showstopping rendition of the Cabaret classic. She'd have to let her hair down, if she still had any remaining length on it.
3) The site does a great manager-approved job of glossing over the booting of an earlier group member, slickly stating, "It soon became clear that Michelle doesn't fit in, so she leaves to care for her sick mum and then to go on to university. She is replaced by Emma Bunton." Don't you just love that? Because she didn't fit in, she had to run off and care for her ailing mother. Somehow, I don't think the exchange went quite like that.
4) In 1994 the girls eventually take charge of the project, citing Chris Herbert's terrible, god-awful ideas as reasoning. This guy thought they should wear matching outfits and sing cover songs. What is this, Labelle does karaoke? Well done, girls.
The gripping fact list goes on and on, I seriously recommend you check it out. Until you've completed you solo assignment, though, let's get back to basics. The girls each assumed an alter-ego performance persona, giving girls everywhere a questionable "type" to aspire to depending on their penchant for sneakers or 7-inch platform heels:
Thusly named because of her flaming red hair, Geri Haliwell was Ginger Spice. It's rumored that she was originally christened "Sexy Spice" but the music managers were afraid it wasn't kid-friendly. You know, like micro-mini dresses and exposed knickers. Thank goodness for the swap.
You've got to wonder how many Americans were familiar with the word "posh" before Victoria Beckham (then Adams) assumed the title in her Spice Girl role. It's a pretty distinctly British concept of upper class, usually having something to do with accents and manners, though I'm sure her designer clothes helped pave the way for her title.
Emma Bunton was the youngest of the group, so she assumed the role of "Baby Spice". She was the baby-faced girly-girl of the group and because of her, I wore my hair in sky-high pigtails for years. She was the one I most aspired to be, even though the press gave her some flack for not being model thin.
Apparently wearing a sportsbra or a track suit with an athletic-style ponytail is grounds for dubbing yourself "the sporty one". To be fair, Mel C was actually fairly athletic. She always threw in some fun gymnast moves at the shows.
Mel B was Scary Spice on account of her leopard print wardrobe, pierced tongue, and unruly hair. She was supposed to be the crazy one of the group, speaking her mind and getting in people's faces. Mel certainly proved herself as outspoken and headline-grabbing with the Maury-style paternity suit she launched on Eddie Murphy. Looks like she's still got it.
Spice Girls - Two Become One
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Catchy, isn't it? You know you want to sing along...
The Spice Girls emitted an aura of Girl Power, launching the concept into one of the most major catch phrase-inspired ideological mindsets of the decade. The concept stressed female solidarity and embracing empowerment. There arguable wasn't much substance behind the phrase, though it did give us a great sparkly slogan to pin to our backpacks.
Whatever the strength of their alleged message, the Spice Girls were irrefutably a cultural phenomenon. They quickly became the best-selling girl group of all time, moving over 40 million albums over the years. They held major influence over fashion choices for young girls, leaving many of us to classify ourselves by our wardrobes as a Sporty or a Posh. The Spice Girls also had oodles of lucrative marketing deals, including a Pepsi spokes-group gig and a host of officially licensed merchandise. If memory serves correctly, Target once had an all-Spice Girls aisle. Not too shabby.
Spice Girls - Spice Up Your Life
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Their success wasn't limited to music, though it's disputable whether they should have ventured into the feature film arena. Regardless of your feelings on Spice World, you must admit it was a spectacular financial success. For years Spice World boasted the highest-grossing debut on Super Bowl weekend. In the movie, the girls play themselves in a light comedy modeled off of the Beatles' successful films. It had all sorts of cutesy cameos and zany madcap scenarios. It's delightfully fluffy and cheesy and precisely what you'd expect from a Spice Girls movie.
Love them or hate them, there's no denying their enduring influence over a generation of young girls. Once upon a time, they were the reigning queens of Brit pop. Their recent reunion tour showcased their staying power, selling out shows all over the world. The verdict is in: we just can't get enough. So don't be embarrassed. Slip in the earbuds and blast Wannabe. You know you want to.Oh, and if you happen to know what a zig-a-zig-ah is, please enlighten me. I've been agonizing over that one for years.