In the past year, "girl power" has been a cultural rallying cry against oppression and gender inequality.
Since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, the country's women have twice marched in cities across the nation with signs boasting the feminist phrase. An abbreviated version, "GRL PWR," has become a tattoo trend. And recently, after the hashtag #MeToo turned Hollywood upside down and women declared Time’s Up on men abusing their power, #GirlPower has shot up in popularity on social media, with nearly nine million tags. To put that in perspective: #Feminist has just under four million tags.
During a time when we exhausted women are reclaiming our power and unapologetically boasting our womanhood, there is nothing we need more than an all-woman band to deliver empowerment anthems that will help us hold our heads high during a long day of fighting and help us scream louder when we feel invisible. Just last week, we got a promise of that girl group. And, as it turns out, they just so happen to be a girl power blast returning from the past: the Spice Girls.
On February 2, the five original members of the '90s British pop band posted a picture on Instagram confirming what the industry has been speculating about since their initial breakup in 1998: They are finally getting back together. After each of them shared the picture, they released a statement that "the time feels right to explore some incredible new opportunities together." They ended the note with the affirmation that they will be "reinforcing our message of female empowerment for future generations."
For this uber Spice Girls fan, it's hard to understand that anyone out there could be unfamiliar with the group's in-your-face brand of girl power. But it has been two decades since the British pop band made their debut in 1994, with Melanie Brown, a.k.a. "Scary Spice," Melanie Chisolm, a.k.a. "Sporty Spice," Emma Bunton, a.k.a. "Baby Spice," Victoria Adams (now Beckham) a.k.a. "Posh Spice," and Geri Halliwell (now Horner), also known as "Ginger Spice." The fivesome was actually only together for four full years, but during that time, they took the world by storm. Their first single "Wannabe" is still the best-selling debut single by a girl group of all time; all together, they've sold 85 million records worldwide, and their comedy girl power film Spice World shattered box office records both in the U.K. and the U.S. Their brand of “Yes, you can be a feminist and exactly who you are, whether that’s a sports enthusiast or an unapologetic fashion lover,” opened the door for dozens of pop icons that would later follow. Everyone from Britney Spears to Destiny's Child to Rihanna and later, a solo Beyoncé, have been able to stand on the feminist, pro-woman pop stage that the Spice Girls stood on before them.
This isn't the first time the group has reunited. They briefly got back together in 2007 and released the single "Headlines," and later "Viva Forever," and in 2012 they performed together at the London Olympics. In 2016, Bunton, Horner, and Brown tried to start a trio, "GEM," without their two other members. But an actual return of the Spice Girls never truly worked. And that is perhaps because the timing has never been more perfect than right now.
Back in the '90s, the Spice Girls' greatest hits featured lyrics like the unforgettable “If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends," a rare mainstream song about female friendship, of all things. But they also had young women shouting lyrics like, "What part of no don't you understand? I want a man, not a boy who thinks he can..." The lyrics might be from the '90s, but during a moment where debate swirls about consent and women's rights, they couldn't be more relevant. And with their promise of continuing to reinforce messages like those, we can be hopeful that the Spice Girls return might gift us with more I Am Woman anthems best sung at the top of our lungs, whether from a car window, the shower, or a march surrounded by hundreds of thousands of kindred spirits.
The manufactured British pop band, however, can't actually take credit for "girl power." First, there's the term itself; the mantra first began to spread in Olympia, Washington, with the rise of feminist underground punk groups, starting with Bikini Kill and later Riot Grrrl. The Spice Girls have often been accused of ripping their pro-woman, revolutionary messaging from radical groups like these without giving them proper credit. And while there's no real way to tell how much of their ethos was "borrowed" (Horner told Vice in 2016 "I think we were all influenced"), there's no denying that it was the Spice Girls who made that rallying cry mainstream. Thanks to these five women and some savvy marketing, "Girl Power" was plastered on little girls' lunchboxes, empowerment was blaring out of every radio, and feminism was cool again. In the mid-'90s, this was no small feat. Backlash, a book by journalist Susan Faludi, had just made waves after its 1991 release for pointing out the ways society and the media had turned feminists into a negative stereotype after the feminism wave of the '70s. Back then, the word feminism was a word saved for Gloria Steinem and liberal arts college classes.
The Spice Girls' dynamic has always been far from perfect, of course. Even the names themselves were problematic, reinforcing the stereotype that women have to fall into specific personality boxes. There's the innocent, girly girl (Baby), the tomboy (Sporty), the stylish sex kitten (Posh), the fiery one (Ginger), and the outspoken Black woman (Scary). Those character dynamics were as old as time and would only continue to repeat themselves in popular culture. (Sex and the City, for example, arrived at the tail end of the Spice Girls reign.) And then there was the very public feuding when Horner exited the group, which she attributed to "differences between us." The downfall of the Spice Girls only fueled the popular assumption that women simply can't get along, and cat fights are inevitable.
Still, the Spice Girls represented many firsts for millions of women. Mel C. a.k.a. Sporty was encouragement for young girls that they didn't have to be the girly girl; for many young brown girls like myself, Mel B. a.k.a. Scary was one of the first outspoken Black feminist icons we knew. And despite what went wrong behind the scenes, on the surface, at least, they offered up some positivity and pride in being a a girl, a girlfriend, and a woman. Mel B. may have defined girl power best in the group's 1997 documentary One Hour Of Girl Power: “It’s about spreading a positive vibe, kicking it for the girls…It’s not about picking up guys. We don’t need men to control our life. We control our lives anyway.”
So even if it took two decades and a little bit of drama for them to get here — and even if it's only temporary — I sure am glad that the Spice Girls are back. Because the one thing that this feminist moment in our history could use more of is a little bit of zig-a-zig-ah.
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