“Hiya, everyone!” Five lithe bodies burst into the conference room, startling the gaggle of waiting journos. They mill noisily around the long table before yanking the chairs out unceremoniously and plonking down.
Sporty, the one in lycra bike shorts, tank top, and an impressive Celtic arm band tattoo, notices the name plates first. Scrambling onto the table, she picks one up for quick inspection before waving it frantically at the others. “Hey you guys, we’re not seated in order!” Scary, the one with supa spin-cycle hair, grabs it from her. “We’ll just have to switch names then…!” Her hands get busy.
Meanwhile, the rest slouch about in their seats, behaving for all the world like girlies at a slumber party rather than celebs at a press conference held in their honour. Naughty Ginger (the one stuffed into an illegally micro mini and tiny tee) and Posh (the quiet, cool one) fondle the basket of orchids in front of them, cooing over their exotic beauty. Baby, the youngest and sweet as cotton candy, twirls her hair absently and stares vacantly into space. Sporty plucks a flower, leans forward and tucks it behind Scary’s ear, who, in turn, promptly snatches it and starts tossing it about in the air. A flower fight ensues.
Hellooo… Spice Girls! That’s Melanie C (Sporty), Melanie B (Scary), Emma (Baby), Geri (Naughty Ginger), and Victoria (Posh) to you. The famous five have flown halfway around the world from cold, clammy England to a sweltering Bali to meet their Southeast-Asian fans and the media. The last time they were in this neck of the woods, sometime late last year, the Spice Girls were just firing up the pop charts with their infectious debut single ‘Wannabe’, provoking everyone to tell them what they want, what they really, really want.
These are the same young women (Geri, at 24, is the oldest) who, three years earlier, were one of thousands hovering on the fringe as dancers and session singers – until they answered a call for an all-girl group. Right off, these pop babes already had attitude to spare. Deciding they could pull up their own knickers, thank you very much, they fired their “money-grubbing manager” and set out to make the kind of music they liked.
The result: the squillion-selling debut album Spice (a massive 11 million worldwide sale to date) and its four No.1 singles (‘Wannabe’, ‘Say You’ll Be There’, ‘2 Become 1’, ‘Mama’) all of which rocketed straight to No.1, with ‘Wannabe’ alone heralded as the pop anthem in 32 countries. No waffling. No flop records before the victory album. Already the girls are said to be worth a cool 20 million quid (S$46 mil), and counting. Fact is, when you’ve conquered the charts faster than, omigod!, the legendary Beatles, even the critics are compelled into respectful silence. Hell, even the Pope is a fan of sorts, having given them his blessings to shoot part of their upcoming movie in the Vatican.
At our first encounter, the girls came off like, well, a bunch of regular gals who enjoyed singing and gabbing and shrieking – very rowdily – over one another. You don’t so much interview them as eavesdrop on girlie natter. They were also gobsmacked by their phenomenal success. To quote Victoria, “Sometimes you just can’t quite believe it, the support’s been unbelievable! We’re living our wildest dream!”
Half a year down the road, they’re quite happy not waking from dreamland. Five, the movie, was only a matter of time. Like them, the film, to be shot later this year in England, promises to be “mad, colourful and a lot of fun!”
Little has changed. Talking to them now, the girls come off like, well, a bunch of regular girls who enjoy singing and gabbing and shrieking – very rowdily – above one another. They’re still gobsmacked by their phenomenal success. And whaddya know, they admit to still getting goosebumps every time they hear themselves on radio.
How has success affected them? “My hair’s got bigger!” retorts Mel B, brazenly fluffing up her do, which really does boast a life all its own. “I can buy better shoes these days!” quips Victoria, mock sniffily. Spokeswoman Geri jumps in as the voice of reason, “Not all that affected, really. As much as we are optimistic, we’re also realistic and we have a good head on our shoulders.” But it is Mel C (for all her sportiness, the 22-year-old’s surprisingly soft-spoken) who sums up the very core of the Spice Girls. “We like our music, we’re very proud of it and we feel lucky and very happy that the public enjoy it too!”
Fans. If they could, the Girls would bend over backward for them: more than anything, they’re not above appreciating the fact that they owe their success to the people. In the two days that the 56 Spice Girls contest winners gathered at the bucolic Bali Inter-Continental to meet their fave group, the Spice Girls were much more than a thanks-all-wham-bam presence.
At the 15-minute ‘live’ hit showcase, the girls whooped it up with their Spice moves, pulled cheeky faces at flashing cameras, even joshed about with the cheering crowd (Mel B: “Stop looking at our bums now!”). A meet ‘n’ greet session followed immediately after where the girls willingly let themselves be hugged, kissed, and generally slobbered over by starry-eyed devotees as they sat in a row on the sofa, the picture of royalty receiving loyal subjects.
The highlight of the occasion, however, had to be the rousing barbecue by the beach the first evening. No one expected more than an eat ‘n’ run from the Spice Girls. What unfolded instead was a night of spontaneous performance from the Girls; from lively karaoke sessions with the winners, to urgings at everyone to come up on stage to shake their booty along-side. And specially for the fans, a Spice Girls dance-a-like contest with the girls personally handpicking candidates from the crowd (“Do you think you can do a Victoria, luv?”… “Yeah, you look like a Mel B!”… “C’mon, don’t you wanna be a spice Girl?”)
Spice Girl. Spice Boy. Either way, the girls don’t care, “…so long as you stand up for your beliefs, make your own choices, not let anyone tell you how to run your life, and still respect the opinions of others, you’re one of us!” explains Geri. What they are can sometimes be too hot to handle. These ladies don’t understand the meaning of the word ‘evasive’. They speak plainly. Loud and clear. Like it or not.
Case in point: the photogs are clicking away furiously. The girls pose obligingly. Someone asks if they could move in for a closeup. “Sure! But we’re not bending over so you can get what you want!”
Early this year, the girls had embarked on their inaugural promo tour of the US. ‘Twas all very thrilling, ‘cept for the American media’s obsessive questions about sex (“Sex sells, we’d be naïve not to think so, but we’re not just about sex!”)
The music fades, suddenly Mel B, cold smile on her face, is kneeling in front of a photog poised at the foot of the stage. “Oy, girls, you know wo’? (Stabs a finger in his face) This bloke as going ‘pssst! pssst!’ at us to pose for ‘im… That’s very rude! Very rude!” The culprit turns beet-red. If there were a hole in the floor, he would’ve gladly shoved his head in.
Cut to beach party. Blaring music. The girls are having trouble hearing their fans’ requests. Mel B – again – saunters up to the DJ stand. “Could we have the music off, please?” No response. She repeats herself. Finally, she strides right up to the DJ. “I said, could you turn the music down? …Or could we get someone who speaks English around here!” Crikey.
Go ahead, ask them if they’re the female Take That. This is the answer they love tossing: “Well, we have b**** too, if that’s what you mean!” For sure. They have no qualms, period. And the media love ‘em for it. Listen up:
Boy bands, girl bands, they’re all show and no quality, what do you say to that?
Mel B & Emma: There are many who can sing very well, you shouldn’t generalise, that’s Lazy Journalism!
How about rumours that Geri and Mel B are really men?
(The girls hoot, collapsing over one another.)
Geri: (Bolts up, thrusts out her chest at all who’ve missed her, er, very evident point(s)) You tell me if this is a man’s body!
(Cheers from the press)
Mel B: (Drops her voice to a low growl) Yeah, well, you should know better than to believe everything you read! Shame on you!
Who was the first Spice Girl then, Madonna or Margaret Thatcher?
Mel C: I like Madonna.
Mel B: I don’t like her at all!
Geri: See, that’s what’s special about us, ask one question and you get five different answers! Variety is the spice of life!
Pass the water. As far as the girls are concerned, if shooting off their mouths lands them in hot soup… that’s life, innit? Already their 80-page bestselling book Girl Power! is stirring controversy among parents for its liberal use of colourful language. But it isn’t only their countrymen they’ve riled. A 10-minute, foot-stomping fun tryout of the Haka, the traditional dance of Maori warriors, had New Zealanders seeing red and accusing them of denigrating a revered male-only ritual.
If by now, you still have to ask why the Spice Girls are so popular, why they’re a pervasive presence not just in current pop culture but the overall social fabric – as symbols of spiritedness and ballsy feminism…hell, they’re even talked about in British parliament – your ears need a royal flush.
Yes, we know they’re manufactured; yes, we know their music’s about as memorable as the garbled slew of pop on radio these days (trivia: play the Spice Girls backwards and they sound like, egads! Take That!). So let’s be honest, attitude with a capital A, was what clinched them two Brit Awards and a mega publicity blitz in every self-respecting ‘zine.
Girl Power has been their manifesto from the out-set, they flaunt it like a brand, and lucky them, it’s an instant-success credo, one that’s meant a chasm of a difference between being No.1 and No.101. They’re individual enough to earn their own nicknames. They dress different (“It’s not an image, what you see is what you get!”). They resonate down-to-earth, in-your-face appeal. And together, as clichéd as it may sound, these five young women stand as a beacon of female solidarity. “Ultimately our songs reflect who we are and it’s stuff women relate to, like having good friends around, practising safe sex…” adds Emma. All very ‘90s ra ra.
In the beginning, the girls had promised to “conquer the world, have fun and spice things up a bit”. They kept their word alright. Did they ever dream they would make it this big? Geri flashes a wicked grin, “I’ll tell you something – we were born screaming Girl Power!” On cue, all five scrunch their faces. “Arrggghhh!”