The Score: Mapping the Music, Style, and Girl Power of 'Spice World'
Spice World is fun, frivolous, clever (really!) and ageless. It's also evidence of a simpler, much more naive time when people wore platform shoes unironically.
Before I knew you could be a Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte or Samantha, I knew there were five categories in which women could exist: Baby, Ginger, Sporty, Posh and Scary. I wanted to be Baby Spice. But I was not blonde or cute, having both a snaggletooth and a monobrow, so when I was 13 (which is how when the Spice World movie came out), my friends made me be Scary Spice. With Netflix FINALLY adding the classic to its instant collection, I took some time to revisit my scarier, spicier days. Two things are apparent rewatching Spice World for the billionth time:
1. Spice World does not get old; and
2. Spice World gets very, very old.
The movie is sort of genius—the plot is this meta nonsense that sees the Spice Girls en route to a huge concert, meanwhile the press is trying to bring them down and some Americans are trying to make a movie about it all while Alan Cumming is filming the whole debacle for a documentary. The Spice Girls themselves are stupidly adorable, the jokes hit every time, the sing-a-long factor is infectious and the supporting cast (Richard E. Grant as their manager) and cameos (Hugh Laurie as Poirot and Stephen Fry as their nightmare judge) are phenomenal. Spice World is fun, frivolous, clever (really!) and ageless. It's also evidence of a simpler, much more naive time when people wore platform shoes unironically.
The movie opens on the girls in all white outfits singing “Too Much” definitive proof that you can bend thematic dressing to suit your personality, with each Spice’s kit showing us exactly what kind of Spice they are. When I was a teenager, I once taught my 5 year old cousin a sexy dance routine to this song and we sang it in front of our family. Note that the lyrics include the line “I want a man not a boy who thinks he can.” I got in a lot of trouble which I thought was unjustified at the time, but in retrospect I can understand why you wouldn’t want your infant daughter singing those lyrics. Which is why, for a movie marketed at children and young teenagers, it’s a weird way to open the film. Like I said before: The 90s.
The next scene sets the tone for the movie, which is “decidedly chaotic”. Everything that’s happening here—their manager’s flippant “I love you like a wildebeest loves 5 lionesses chewing at his legs”, the Girl Power anthem “Do It” (“Don’t care how you look it’s just how you feel/You’ve to to make it real!”), Mel B’s amazing outfit and signature extra terrestrial hair, the girls terrorizing Jonathan Ross—tell us these girls mean business, and they’re not to be messed with. It’s a primitive version of pop feminism for sure, but the notion we’re now bombarded with on the daily was starting to take shape: women, even completely manufactured ones, want to, and can be in charge of their own identities and destinies.
I have a tough time deciding what The Greatest Pop Song of My Lifetime is, and once I’ve rationalized rejecting Britney Spears and Beyonce, it always inevitably comes down to “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry and “Say You’ll Be There” by the Spice Girls. The girls sing the track at rehearsals, while dressed as casual Spices, even though Baby and Ging are wearing some incredible platform space boots. Their pregnant Asian friend drops by, and we learn that she has no discernible identity and is just a regular person who wears the same orange cardigan all the time, and therefore not spunky or interesting enough to be a Spice Girl herself.
The scene breaks for “Mama”, the song that every teenage girl (or at least I) would throw themselves down on the bed and play after their mum told them they couldn’t go to Belinda’s pool party on Saturday. Here we see that even as you age and have children, you can still maintain your unique persona, although you’ll be much fatter and inexplicably tackier than when you were young and childless.
One of the Spicey’s lesser known, but still great tracks, “Denying”, plays as the girls, on their magnificent tour bus, complain about people seeing them as one dimensional personalities. But this is just a set up to one of the greatest movie dress-up montages of all time... with Detective McNulty as the photographer.
Because Grease is the ultimate example of a movie in which a woman changes her personality to please the world around her, Baby and Sporty do Sandy and Danny. And because Sporty is the dudeish one, she’s obviously Danny.
Ginger Spice is both Wonder Woman and Marilyn Monroe, a superhero and misunderstood icon respectively.
Finally, the montage culminates as the girls dressed as each other, and everyone except Ginger dressed in Sporty’s sweats in complaining.
In the next scene the girls attend a wanky industry party as “Stop” plays. Ginger is wearing what appears to be a dead bird while Baby is inexplicably in a negligee and tiara, I guess because babies (especially sexy babies) are stupid and don’t really know what things are.
It should be noted that back in the late ‘90s Posh Spice was widely regarded as Boring Spice. Now, with hindsight, we can see that POSH IS FOREVER. Her dress in this scene (as she chats with Jennifer Saunders, no less) is incredible (Versace?) and unlike the other girls’ outfits is still particularly stylish.
Scary does Bob Geldof’s hair.
And then their boring no personality friend shows up again, still wearing the same hideous orange cardigan, which I bet she called a “cardi."
Spice Girls was originally shot with a four-minute scene featuring Gary Glitter as himself, but before the movie was released Gary was arrested on child pornography charges, and his scene was cut. For some reason they still kept the scene in which the girls sing the Gary Glitter song “The Leader of the Gang," accompanied by some tight Italian dancer butts.
One of the best scenes in cinematic history involves a toilet blockage on the Spice tour bus, and Meatloaf as their driver, upon being prompted to unblock the toilet, answering. “I love these girls, and I’d do anything for them... But I won’t do that.” So the girls have to trudge off to apparently shit in the woods, proving that no matter how rich and famous you are when nature calls, no one is above wiping their ass with some leaves.
There’s something really adorable about the girls in this scene, and I the more I think about it the more I feel like it’s their round thighs. None of them are fat, but still--you never see little biteable thighs and knock knees like that in movies any more. Anyway, the girls are confronted by some aliens who sexually molest Scary, but its OK because Ginger speaks Alien and all the aliens want is tickets to the Spice Girls concert.
The girls are then sent off to boot camp with the toughest dance teacher of all time, Mr. Step. He’s actually quite shit, and the girls show him what’s what to probably the most underrated Spice Girls song of all “Never Give Up On The Good Times."
The scene culminates in the girls doing a military drill to the tune of their own marching orders—”Strength and courage in a wonderbra”—that I could sing you backwards in my sleep while under water. Posh Spice continues to be Posh, wearing heels and tight camo dress, and you can’t help but admire her resolve.
Late at night, the girls are all awoken by their fears about the forthcoming concert, and pile into Posh’s bed, full faces of makeup, hairs did and personality matching pyjamas #iwokeuplikethis #flawless.
In another rare moment where a Spice Girls song ISN’T being played, the girls take some young competition winners on a boat joy ride where they jump about with absolutely no regard for anyone’s safety singing “My Boy Lollipop.” Obviously everyone ends up in the water and Posh says what we’re all thinking whenever we get wet fully clothed,: “This dress is dry clean only, Melanie!”
The first time they sing “Wannabe” in the movie is perfect. We flashback to the girls before they were famous, probably one or two years before the movie’s present day. Emma is still in school uniform and Posh, again, is wearing a dress I’d like to add to my wardrobe. If you didn’t love the Spice Girls before, this scene will absolutely melt your heart, not in the least for the benevolent coffee shop owner who puts up with them pretty much robbing him blind and taking over his cafe with their exuberant personalities and young people music.
The Spice Girls, having rebelled from their manager who, you know, unreasonably wants them to turn up to play the giant gig they’re booked for, decide to take their dullard, nine months pregnant friend to a raucous gay bar for some late night dancing, because that’s the logical thing to do with your about to burst, boring preg friend the night before you have to perform the concert of your life. The girls dance about with feather and glitter wearing transexuals to a remix of another of their most underrated songs and gay anthem “Who Do You Think You Are?” It’s worth mentioning that their non-Spice friend is still wearing the same cardigan, because at this point you’d think that one of her five, infinitely wealthy best friends would have brought her something new or at least gifted her some hand me downs from their own extensive wardrobe.
Obviously boring friend’s boring water breaks and the girls rush to the hospital while Geri, anticipating the imminent boring baby entering the world, puts on these hilarious rubber gloves and situates herself between their friend’s boring legs.
The girls, of course, make it to their concert in time, and play out the movie to “Spice Up Your Life.” There’s so much going on here it’s insane: Fire crotch is like red Poison Ivy, Sporty is Sporty, Scary is obscene in over the knee boots what match her hotpants-and-floor-length-jacket ensemble, Posh is perfect (seriously where do I get this wardrobe) and Future Baby has just arrived from space to terminate you. Say what you will about Spice Girls and Spice World—you can psychoanalyse it until your brain explodes and the gunk of every think piece ever written runs down the wall with your blood and the stench of every self-righteous Tweet ever written. Or, you could dance about your living room and sing every song, and seriously start thinking about bringing satin hotpants and non-ironic theme outfits back, because sometimes girl power can just be about spicing up your life.
Kat George is bringing back girl power, one pair of platforms at a time. She's on Twitter - @kat_george.
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