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There is no need to say you love me.

October 28, 2010

CONFESSIONS OF A ’90s SURVIVOR

Spice Girls – Say You’ll Be There
From: Spice

I distinctly remember my introduction to the Spice Girls. I was an 8th grader who was chasing after a particular girl in my class. Utilizing a tactic that I still (sometimes stupidly) employ to this day, I decided the most direct route to get my “in” with said girl would be to charm her best friend, who could then put in a good word for me. The plan was going along swimmingly. I had befriended the best friend, found ways to make the crush in question laugh, and it was all building up to a nice conclusion when best friend dropped an unexpected bomb: another girl in my class had developed an interest in me.

This was an intriguing twist, because I’d always thought highly of the girl who now seemed to like me, but never in the sense of, “Oh, I’d like to be with her.” But here’s the classic shy-boy conundrum. Do you pursue your original target, who may or may not feel the same way you do? Or, do you shift interest to a sure-fire alternative that you know will agree to being a girlfriend? At only 14 years old and a dating novice by all measures (oh, who am I kidding, I’d probably do the same now), I chose the latter.

For whatever reason, the ubiquitous best friend that was supposed to snare me the original girl stayed in the picture for the new girl. This meant “group” dates and so forth, and it was during those original 7- or 8-person outings that the ubiquitous best friend started talking about this “amazing” new group called the Spice Girls.

She’d snagged an advance single of “Wannabe” before Spice was unleashed on the American masses, but because we were all still below driving age and our get-togethers didn’t consist of sitting in someone’s front room playing all of our latest CD acquisitions, no one else in the group managed to hear it. Then, one fateful Friday night at my parents house, the group was all over, MTV was on in the background, and the ubiquitous best friend shrilly announced the news to all of us:

“OHMYGOD, YOU GUYS! IT’S ON! THIS IS IT! THIS IS THE SPICE GIRLS! WATCH! WATCH!

I watched that video intently. I know these five British upstarts had basically offered a new religion to one of my friends, so being the courteous fellow that I was, I decided to pay attention and really try to get an informed opinion by the video’s end. I didn’t.

Here’s the thing about the “Wannabe” video: it’s completely amorphous for a group that staked so much on each girl’s individual identity. It’s five girls crashing a high-society party, dancing a bit on a staircase and then being quickly identified in a mundane roll-call that does nothing to clue you in to who’s who. That’s because the only question on your mind when the roll-call rap ends is: “Slam your body down and zig-a-zig ah?”

Now, I could see the appeal for girls. The whole point of the song is friends are more important than lovers, and any real man should be able to realize that and include others in the fun of being in a romance. Hell, it was “group date” night at my house … who could miss that point? But for boys? “Wannabe” was just the butt of zig-a-zig jokes and an annoying blip that would now sound itself with high frequency on MTV and VH1.

But for as popular as “girl power” became in 1997, the machine that ran the Spice Girls quickly realized they weren’t going to sustain world domination if they appealed to only one sex. And so, “Say You’ll Be There” was selected as the follow-up single, and the video was essentially “something for the boys.”

The video does a much better job at individualizing each girl, although it also makes her character all the more convoluted. Melanie C is not only Sporty Spice, she is also Katrina Highkick. Geri is not only Sexy Spice, she is Trixie Firecracker. In addition to being Baby Spice, Emma is also Kung Fu Candy. Although you might better know Victoria as Posh Spice, did you also know she moonlights as Midnight Miss Suki? Ah yes, and good old Melanie B — talented enough to be both Scary Spice and Blazin’ Bad Zula.

Of course, 14 and 15 year-old boys didn’t see that. They saw five attractive women wearing leather bustiers, little black dresses, vinyl body suits and leopard print bustiers out in a desert. They saw cleavage. They started seeing this on magazine shelves. And this.

Soon, guys were having legitimate lunchroom conversations about their favorite Spice Girl. I remember having a heated debate one afternoon with a friend who staunchly defended his love for Baby Spice while I doggedly worked to make him admit Posh was the most attractive of the bunch. Alas, it was to no avail and our friendship vaporized soon thereafter.

And that’s all you need to dominate the male market, sadly. Once you’ve got two lifelong friends annihilating their friendship over two girls in a group with one album that NEITHER OF US OWNS, you might as well throw a rally in Neuremberg, ‘cos now we are all one nation under Spice. Of course we knew “Wannabe,” “Say You’ll Be There,” and “2 Become 1” (which, by the way — total video let down. A song completely about sexual intercourse, and you wrap up these five attractive women in heavy overcoats and send them out into a New York City winter night? F*ck you, video director). But we knew the songs because they soundtracked eye candy. Girls, have you ever put a Spice Girls CD on in the car or on a bus with men present? The guys are completely disinterested. Because with audio only, it just doesn’t work.

Ah, but with visuals, you can make anything work. Who cares if they can’t act worth a damn? You’re telling me girls can go see a feature movie with them and guys can come along to just watch these five girls and let their mind wander into weird little personal caves for two hours? Ladies and gentlemen, I think we might have a flick that can gross $75 million worldwide! And what the hell, let’s put Mark McKinney and Elvis Costello in it too!

Still, the inherent problem of going the “attack-on-all-fronts” route on the pop culture landscape is that you’re exposing yourself to an incredibly short shelf life. It’s totally unfair to call the Spice Girls a one-hit wonder, but completely justified to call them a flash in a pan sensation. By 1998, the party was pretty much over (which was too bad, because the follow up album, Spice World, actually contained a great song in “Stop” and probably their sexiest ever vocals in “Too Much,” but no one was paying much attention by that point), and each went their own weird way. Mel C (a/k/a Sporty, a/k/a Katrina Highkick) made a deservedly-maligned attempt to become a punk rocker (at least in looks), Melanie B (a/k/a Scary, a/k/a Blazin’ Bad Zula) tricked Eddie Murphy into getting her pregnant, Geri (a/k/a Sexy, a/k/a Trixie Firecracker) made a bunch of songs for gay clubs, and somehow secured herself the distinction of being a U.N. ambassador, and Victoria (a/k/a Posh, a/k/a Midnight Miss Suki) became world famous for shopping and being somebody’s wife.

Nevertheless, if you still don’t believe the power of the “Say You’ll Be There” video, know this. It was this video that David Beckham saw and said “That’s the girl for me. I’m going to get that girl.”

The sad thing is, I said the exact same thing. He just had the means to get to her more expediently. Of course, it wouldn’t have worked between us anyway. I have a feeling she’d get sick of me asking “You spent HOW MUCH?!” really quickly.

Like the Spice Girls, my relationships with the girl who showed an interest in me and the ubiquitous best friend also faded away as quickly as the Spice Girls phenomenon. So it goes.

But here’s the cruelest twist. I wasn’t lying when I said I never spoke again to that friend who’d argued with me over the “Baby or Posh — who’s hotter?” debate. That wasn’t the sole reason we ended our friendship, but it certainly was a contributing factor. Anyway, in March of 2005, I found myself in Arizona for two weeks to take in some Spring Training games and explore the southwest that I love so dearly. One afternoon in Tempe, I found myself in an amazing local record store and gazing at an album that had a ’60’s styled cover, down to the Mod looking girl adorning it. The album was attributed simply to “Emma” and called “Free Me.” I decided to listen to it at one of the listening stations and found myself quickly wowed by the Burt Bacharach-meets-Verve Records bossa nova-style production. I decided to buy it and then saw the record store’s description of the album on the shelf, which said simply, “She’s not Baby Spice anymore!”

“Oh sh*t,” I thought to myself. I bought the album, but I’ve had to justify it to a lot of people (especially girlfriends) since.

And yes, musically, “Free Me” is a fantastic album. But looking at the title track’s video, I wonder if I’m still susceptible to the tricks that the “Say You’ll Be There” video pulled on me 13 years ago … Jason, if you’re reading this, I apologize.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve got anything else to say to you.

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