Today is the 20th anniversary of the release of ‘Wannabe’ by the Spice Girls, and thus began the imperial era of Ginger, Sporty, Baby, Scary and Posh. When they bestrode the world like a tuneless colossus of Girl Power. While I liked them (Ginger in particular – her inarticulacy in no way diminished her fabulosity) I have to admit that I was a bit too old to appreciate them properly. My seven year old sister adored them – running around the house randomly shrieking ‘Girl Power’ like a cackling banshee.
In many ways they represent what it pure and perfect about pop music. Pop music is rarely regarded with huge amounts of respect by ‘real music’ fans. It is viewed with disdain. Treated as if it is disposable and worthless by the ‘real music’ aficionados. Those turgid, dreary, navel gazing music lovers in dirty, torn t-shirts who adore twelve minute guitar riffs. and who cream themselves at the news that some Dad-rock band (and I am not going to name these bands *cough* Oasis) have used new fendercasters on their latest pub rock opus.
Naturally I disagree with this dismissal of pop music. Bubblegum pop can transcend time in a way that ‘real music’ doesn’t. The Beatles, after all, were a boy band who started out singing harmonious pop melodies. Today they have been reappraised and are regarded as geniuses.
ABBA, for me, defines the music of the 1970s – not the music of Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd. ABBA were dismissed as throwaway pulp music, sneered and laughed at for their mainstream songs and for daring to appeal to the masses – that lowest common denominator. Forty years later they have been reassessed and are regarded as visionaries- capturing the essence of a decade in a way that the pub-rock, wedding band ‘real’ musicians singularly failed to do.
The 1980s were my awakening to the joys of pop music. The 1980s saw the original Spice Girl – Madonna explode onto the scene. Oh how I loved her. Brassy, tacky, shameless, mainstream – the pop music equivalent of Bet Lynch. Little did I know that her sound and look was lifted directly from the gay, underground club circuit of New York in the 1980s – the most tragic decade for that community. It spoke to me directly. I didn’t know why it resonated so loudly. I was only ten years old but hearing the word ‘You can dance… for inspiration … come on.. come on’ can still send a shiver of joy and promise down my spine. I don’t know what it was – the call of the gay coming through the mediocre voice of a Midwestern American girl. Madonna was also (of course) regarded as talentless and disposable. And while I would agree that her musical abilities are limited, her genius lay in knowing how to play to her strengths and to collaborate with those who made her shine.
Pop music is loved most by the young. Those bands or singers that you loved when you were aged between six and fourteen will stay with you forever (when I was ten I had feelings for George Michael – I can admit this now).
If I was ten years younger I know that the Spice Girls would have defined my youth. So today on the twentieth anniversary of their launch I raise a glass to them.
Spice up your life, spice up your life.