Here’s a confession: I was once a teenage teeny-bopper. And I mean hard-core, wall-to-wall posters from Tiger Beat, BOP, Teen Beat, etc.–you name the magazine, I was buying it. And the band that started the madness: The Spice Girls.
I was probably around eleven or twelve years old when the Spice Girls broke out into the world. It was such a long time ago (arguably!) that I can’t even remember when I first heard of them. The flashbacks to my Spice Girls’ obsession start smack in the middle of a memory where my best friend and I are screaming all the lyrics out at the top of our lungs, dancing in her bedroom, jumping on her bed. We dressed up as the Spice Girls (she was Scary, I was Posh), sent a letter to the Spice Girls, filmed a video for the Spice Girls, drew The Spice Girls on any blank piece of paper I could get my hands on. There’s even a memory of my best friend and me screaming bloody murder into each other’s faces when “Wannabe” came on at a friend’s birthday party.
There have been very few relevant all-girl bands throughout history that have managed to leave a mark. Sadly, it’s not a very large set. The Supremes, TLC and Destiny’s Child are perhaps the top three of that small group. And though I know there are haters out there who will argue that the Spice Girls don’t belong anywhere near that group, I hereby cordially invite anyone who contradicts my opinions to fight me. (Online though–don’t come to my house or anything because I have really bad anxiety.)
The 90s were bursting with boy bands, most of them not even good. It literally felt like there was a new boyband emerging every week. They sprouted like gray hairs–every time you yanked one out, three more popped in its place. (I have no scientific proof of this. It’s just what I’ve heard people say. I also have no first-hand experience with gray hairs, so don’t ask me. *shifty side-eye*). The Teeny Bopper world was saturated with men–and while we had fun pinning their posters up and deciding who we were going to serendipitously meet backstage at a concert and marry, I’d be lying if I said we didn’t sometimes look up at our poster-covered walls and feel a vague sort of emptiness. While there was plenty there to entertain us girls, there was very little to inspire us.
Then out of nowhere came this all-girl band like a breath of fresh air. Or rather a breath of something sweet and pungent, like raspberries and cream scented body spray that prickled your nostrils and made you sneeze wildly, slapping you awake and forcing you to pay attention. (My sister owned this body spray. I know what I’m talking about.)
It’s hard to say what exactly it was about the Spice Girls that was so captivating. When I set out to write this article I tried to come up with one principal answer but I quickly realized that it wasn’t just one thing.
These five girls were colorful, fun and playful. Their music didn’t have much depth and it wasn’t the most artistic or abstract, but it was catchy and it didn’t suck. (You know you’ve sung along or even danced along to “Wannabe” at some point in your life and if you haven’t then you’re either a liar or completely dead inside.) They were sexy without being raunchy and they weren’t trying to sell sex for attention. In fact, there was something almost innocent about them. (Innocent in the way that Princess Jasmine wears that form-fitting, belly-bearing red two-piece ensemble when she seduces Jafar. It’s sexy, but you can still look your parents in the eye while watching it.) They even came preaching Girl Power which was something unheard of back in the 90s. They were themselves on purpose, all staying true to who they were, refusing to be put into the cookie cutter mold that afflicts so many other bands. Each one brought something fresh and unique to the band and to the fandom. For young girls, it wasn’t just that we were being represented by these women, it was that we could see ourselves in these women individually. You could be tomboyish like Sporty, or wild and in your face like Ginger or Scary, maybe a bit on the sweeter more childish side like Baby, or even dark and reserved like Posh and still be a girl in all your glory and go out into the world and fulfill your dreams.
The Spice Girls didn’t just bring us platform shoes and catchy, cheesy pop tunes to drive our elders mad. They brought us the kind of confident individualism that girls have been lacking for ages.
The minute the Spice Girls entered into my life–or rather kicked down the door, barged in and made themselves at home–all my boy band posters came down. (Save for one large framed picture of Selena because she was the OG queen on my wall-shrine.) (And when I say Selena I mean Quintanilla. Don’t even get me started.) Up went dozens of pictures of the Spice Girls. On came whatever similar piece of clothing to theirs that I could find. On came the CD that 20 years later won’t play anymore due to endless scratches from overplaying (on my boombox and Discman) and from coming along with me everywhere I went. (The cover cracked off. If you’re a 90s kid you know the struggle.) Back then, I was probably too young to understand and put my fascination into words. But today I know it’s because they brought color to my reserved introverted life. Through our mutual like, the Spice Girls brought me closer to other girls whom I might’ve wanted to be friends with but was perhaps too scared to speak to. They gave me a sense that if they could go out and conquer the world, raw, loud and mismatched as they were, that maybe I too, could someday make my own voice heard in this big patriarch driven world.
They may not have won any Grammy’s, they may not have been the pioneers of a new style of music, and maybe what they had to offer was no more than bubblegum pop and pink glittery merchandise, but the Spice Girls left a mark in the world and in musical history that can’t easily be ignored. What Spice Girls left behind was more of a message: That girls just wanna have fun and they can have it if they want to, when they want to, how they want to and for as long as they want to. All you need is Girl Power.