What did I learn from the Spice Girls? Looking back to being 12 and Girl Power

Twenty years since the summer the Spice Girls landed. That’s a number that festers! I still remember that summer so well.

I loved the Spice Girls. When Wannabe came out, my sisters and I watched the music TV channel, The Box, non-stop. We even knew the three-digit code that showed someone has just called to hear Wannabe and got excited. I was twelve. The girls had a better excuse – they were six and five.

We want to Blackpool that summer and Spice mania had definitely hit. Any plastic or vinyl tat you could imagine had the Spice Girls plastered over them. It was BRILLIANT. I think I went for a white plastic backpack in the end. To match Baby Spice’s, obviously! They were happy, simple days and it was perfect music and marketing to capture me hook, link and sinker.

Before the Spice Girls pop music in the UK was the domain of boy bands. Which I liked well enough but I was definitely ready to see some girls on the scene. Seeing young women on the stage and not squealing from the front row stirred something in me. I hadn’t noticed before, women were missing from bands in the 90s. When I realised, I felt cheated and wholeheartedly embraced girl power. I have been observing these inequalities and calling them out ever since.

Now, even at 12, I was not naïve. I knew there were managers and PR folk looking after the Spice Girls. It was a marketing machine masterclass. I knew that it was most likely men pulling many of those strings but opinionated, non-conforming females on the front cover was a very good start.

I don’t think we had seen a girl band of similar popularity since the Motown girl groups of the 1960s and it was definitely time. Does the music of the Spice Girls have the timeless quality that will endure like the Vandellas, the Supremes and the Ronettes? No. I don’t think it does. But we remember the colour, the personalities, the fun, the sisterhood and the dance routines.

Girls of my age will remember the Smash Hits quiz, “Which Spice are you?”. No one wanted to be Posh back then… I think we’d take the handsome husband, fashion empire and immaculate grooming quite happily now. But that’s the maturing process for you. Like some of the girls we knew at school – a few of the Spice Girls found their talents later in life and look back with a wry smile at the days of being the odd-one-out and revelling in their longer-term strategy. Others will still be wondering what happened to Geri and Mel B?

Girl Power isn’t always about being the brashest or the loudest. But knowing what you are good at, being confident in your ability and smashing out a plan that knocks down barriers that are put in your place. That’s what stayed with me. That, and helping to make sure those barriers no longer exist for the people that come after you.

Often the world is a serious place with big problems to solve and pressure on our resources. So sometimes we need some light-hearted relief, brightly-coloured tat and feel-good music without feeling the remotest guilt for enjoying the mainstream music culture. With the exception of maybe the Spice World movie, the Spice Girls never did anyone any harm.

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