Tuesday 17 September 2019

Sarah Caden: 'Friendship never ends? Not when we're all hoping for new Spice Girls catfight'

The Spice Girls have changed nothing in the persistent narrative of bitchy female friendships, writes Sarah Caden

BACK AND BOLD: Clockwise from front, Emma Bunton, Geri Halliwell, Melanie Chisholm, Victoria Beckham (who’ll miss the reunion) and Melanie Brown. Picture: PA
BACK AND BOLD: Clockwise from front, Emma Bunton, Geri Halliwell, Melanie Chisholm, Victoria Beckham (who’ll miss the reunion) and Melanie Brown. Picture: PA

Sarah Caden

When footage was released last Friday of the Spice Girls on Jonathan Ross's chat show it focused on one thing: the fighting, of course.

It wasn't just about the fighting with Victoria - not that anyone's fighting with Victoria or anything, wash your mouth out - but also that they were bickering with each other over whether or not they're fighting with Victoria.

Ah, how Jonathan laughed, and the audience laughed, and the Spice Girls hammed it up and it was all great sport.

Aren't girls great, all the same, the way they'll fight with each other for entertainment value?

In case you haven't heard, the Spice Girls are reforming and going on tour. Just the four of them, mind, without Victoria Beckham.

Official announcement of the tour came early this week, as the same Jonathan Ross Show announced that they'd have the foursome on the show this weekend. The girls - Spice Women? - were forced to announce the tour and no sooner had they announced than the focus began on the feuding.

Victoria would not be along for the ride. The official line is that Victoria is too busy with her fashion business to join them. This is of course plausible, but it's an excuse greeted with near hilarity. Yeah, right, too busy. Don't you mean that you girls are too busy catfighting to make it work?

Mel C did the talking on Jonathan Ross, as clear and polite as she ever was.

"I saw Victoria recently," she said, "and, you know, we've all been in contact, she's still very much part of the Spice Girls and she really supports us and we really support her, and she made the point that she was never actually asked, we just presumed."

This was news last Friday, because up to that point, the world at large had guessed that Victoria had declined to join. In fact, hasn't Victoria made it clear for years that after their outing at the 2012 Olympics, she's not doing Spice Girls again? Still, the others all managed to look shocked to hear that they hadn't actually asked her.

"Was she not?" asked Emma Bunton.

"She was," said Geri. "I spoke to her two days before the announcement and she said, you know, she's said it for years, that she doesn't want to do it any more."

"Still," said Jonathan Ross, "you should have offered her the opportunity."

Mel B pulled a face at the audience at that point. A sort of panto-villain, ''my bad'' sort of face that gets the intended laughs. Bold Spice Girls, and how great that the male presenter was able to point out that they were being bitches.

It seems like this is what it always boils down to in our perception of female group dynamics. It doesn't matter if it all starts out with "if you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends," in the end we are all just mean girls, jealous of one another's successes, happiness, looks, figures, clothes, the list goes on.

It's worth noting that when Westlife recently announced they'd be going on tour again, there was barely any focus on ill will between the boys. That's not just down to the fact that there is no ill will and they're all great buddies and we grew up with each other, blah blah. It's because we don't go there.

There was scant mention that Brian McFadden won't be along for the ride, because he, like the prodigal Geri Halliwell, left Westlife early, but that was it. Instead, the focus was on how fast the tickets sold and how they'd had to put on more performances to cope. The love was still there for the lads. And it's still there for the Spice Girls, but what gets us most revved up about them is the in-fighting, or perceived in-fighting.

Over last week, the history of the Spice Girls was raked over to fit the catfight theme. You could go all the way back to the lyrics of Wannabe, their breakthrough single, to find the origins of how it all went wrong. The mould was set for the Spice Girls from the get go, Mel B was in your face, Geri was a blabbermouth, Emma was inoffensive and Victoria was a "real laydee".

It was the recipe that meant there was one for every young girl to enjoy and emulate and relate to, but it also meant they were these distinct characters destined to clash. And they did.

Mel B and Victoria were polar opposites and both powerful in their very opposite ways. Victoria regarded Mel B as coarse and common, it was suggested last week, and Mel B found her stuck-up and spoilt. Apparently.

Admittedly, Mel B didn't help things by dressing up as Posh for Halloween, complete with a sign saying, "No I Am Not Going On Tour". She hooted with laughter at her boldness on the Jonathan Ross couch, and blamed it all on her "tongue-in-cheek" north of England humour.

It all fits the theme that girls just can't get along. Sure, the accepted narrative of the Spice Girls was that female friendship trumps all, but that was before time and age and divorces and widely varying financial fortunes got in the way.

The Spice Girls were very young women first time around, on an equal footing to one another. Life tips the balance, time shifts the power. Resentments are bound to surface in any five-way relationship. That's to be expected, but what's a shame is the playing of that for catfight laughs.

To see the Spice Girls going along with it all sort of takes the gloss off the reunion tour. Their mouths are moving and they're giving all the right lines about mutual support and love, but they're also laughing at being laughed at, playing the rumoured feuding for giggles or, more cynically, ticket sales.

The girls can't help it. And we can't help think it about the girls.

Whether any of it helps ticket sales remains to be seen, and all the while the band-of-brothers boys sell seats and maintain their manly dignity.

Sunday Independent

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