Sunday 17 November 2019

Tell you what I really want - girl power

We have been sorely lacking a girl group with the personality of the Spice Girls since their split

Old spice: Twenty years on, we still miss Baby, Ginger, Sporty, Posh and Scary - who were perfect examples that women don't have to be compliant. The band also remains the best-selling and highest-earning female group ever Photo: THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
Old spice: Twenty years on, we still miss Baby, Ginger, Sporty, Posh and Scary - who were perfect examples that women don't have to be compliant. The band also remains the best-selling and highest-earning female group ever Photo: THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

I hate International Women's Day. No, I hate what it has become on social media. On the day, my Instagram feed became a back-slapping free-for-all screeching about how wonderful women are. Which is true of course - we are rather amazing. But the day has been hijacked by keyboard warriors fetishising the female existence, mutating it into something that needs to be gushed over and adored.

The day is now a desperate one-upmanship (or womanship?) to declare the loudest how 'amaaazing' the women in your life are. The function of the day - to celebrate female achievement and promote gender parity - is buried beneath meaningless photos of female friends looking hot and brands using the day as a coupon code to shift stock.

A far more powerful example of female achievement and #women4women has sadly, over the past two decades, been lost. Yes, it's hard to believe it's been 20 years since the Spice Girls shimmied their way onto the airwaves, introducing a whole new generation to the concept of girl power.

I feel lucky to have grown up to the strained warbling of this motley crew whose lyrics instilled in me the value of friendship and loyalty, and whose success was proof of what was possible with sheer determination. Quite possibly the most unlikely pop group in the world, the Spice Girls remain the best-selling and highest-earning female group, ever. Pop music is constantly written off as not 'proper' music. Pop stars are fluffy carbon copies, poster girls, not of substance. But the Spice Girls challenged that perception, and won.

They were mouthy and unfiltered and perfectly imperfect, a living, breathing, all-singing, all-dancing example that women do not have to be acquiescent.

When Geri patted Prince Charles on the bottom she subverted the universal hand movement of workplace sexism that pervades women everywhere, just as she took the moniker used to insult redheads and proudly made it her own.

Forget Sex and the City, the only question in 1997 was were you a Scary, Baby, Posh, Sporty or Ginger?

Their stage names may have been simple, childlike even, but they sent a powerful message. Distinct and purposely different from each other, they focused on personality rather than physical attributes.

Their appearance relayed that it was OK to wear a very short skirt with very high heels, or a ridiculously patriotic mini dress. If you wanted you could even wear trainers and snap pants on stage or choose to rock your natural 'fro.

In recent years there has been a swathe of incredible female solo artists - Adele, Lana Del Rey, Lorde, FKA Twigs, Taylor Swift, to name but a few - but girl power glory days seem to have faded with the demise of the Spice Girls.

In the almost 20 years since Geri's shock departure, in May 1998, what has happened to the girl group?

Atomic Kitten trailed in their wake, then the Sugarbabes. Even the names purveyed a different type of woman - one who preferred to be called kitten or babe rather than feisty or worse, scary. And then there were the lyrics - Atomic Kitten's debut single and runaway success was Whole Again, a song that spoke of yearning for a man to make them once again complete.

While the Spice Girls advised any potential lovers that they'd need to first get on side with their friends, The Pussycat Dolls cooed at men and goaded women with 'Don't Ya Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me?'

Girl group of the moment Little Mix reportedly use songs like Shout Out To My Ex to take swipes at their ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend while making jibes at his performance in the bedroom. Nice. In their short-lived careers the Spice Girls mostly sung about each other, as well as one spectacular power ballad dedicated to their mothers.

We learnt the lines to these songs and repeated them, chant like, until they became ingrained in our being.

Twenty years on I can still sing along to Stop, word for word, despite it being nearly as long since I last listened to it. With the anniversary of Spice mania, it's all the more apparent that we are sorely lacking a girl group with the personality and chutzpah of the Spice Girls.

Is it merely coincidence that this current wave of feminism is powered by outspoken Millennials, the likes of Lena Dunham and Emma Watson, who grew up listening to them? I think not.

As Geri so eloquently put it: "The essence of the Spice Girls was always 'we' rather than 'I'. You belonged.''

Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be slipping on my earphones with Stop playing on loop.

Sunday Independent

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