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Jan 14

SPICE GIRLS – “2 Become 1”

Popular61 comments • 5,164 views

#755, 28th December 1996

2b1 The last Number One about sex and its uses was “Fastlove”, and at first that record and this one seem very different creatures. “2 Become 1”, with its gentle singing and its Vaseline production, is about closeness, or at least an ideal of it – the very thing “Fastlove” flinched from. But the songs have more in common than it appears. Both are about sex as a repairing force. Where on “Fastlove” casual sex was a sticking plaster for some awful loss, in “2 Become 1” the promise is that sex won’t just mend a relationship, it’s a stepping stone to something more profound. “Set your spirit free / It’s the only way to be.”

It’s very vague and very Spice, a Girl Power mingling of sex-positivity and self-improvement. And “2 Becomes 1” ticks all the boxes their other singles have: a specific situation, an empowered protagonist, a bit of advice for the boys, and a useful knack for giving the key role in the song to the best singer for the job: Emma, in this case.

The situation, first – an encounter in which the guy is hesitant, maybe feels guilty, and certainly is in need of reassurance. (I’m assuming it’s a guy because of the “put it on” safe sex line, though the group sensibly dropped Geri’s clumsy “Boys and girls do good together” line from the LP mix.) This is an unusual setup for pop as we’ve encountered it: men present themselves as vulnerable, but its rarer to see that from a woman’s perspective. Refreshing, too: as with “Say You’ll Be There”, the Spice Girls have taken a classic pop premise and tweaked it to give themselves a lot more autonomy. The soft-focus strings and Tinkerbell keyboard twinkles code this firmly as “slushy romantic ballad” – and it is – but it’s one in which the woman is unwaveringly in control of the situation, and just trying to get her partner to come to the same conclusion she has about what’s going to happen next. It’s a ballad with no tension, just anticipation.

If the production makes it generic, and the songwriting makes that deceptive, it’s Emma Bunton who really makes “2 Beyond 1” live. The other Spice Girls can’t quite get the balance right between soothing and sexy, and end up landing on the former, Mel C sounding like she’s trying to calm a startled colt. Emma gets the toughest lines – the ones which have to sell the song as a seduction, not just a cuddle – and carries them off wickedly and playfully. Her “get it on” and “put it on” are the song’s most intimate moments, all the more so for being sung with a slight smile. It’s not difficult to make pop music about people who want each other – but often a harder trick to make you feel they like each other too.

“2 Become 1” is the Spice Girls’ third single, third Number One, and the first of three years at which they top the charts at Christmas. They don’t dominate pop music – for one thing, they still have no credible imitators at this point, and won’t through all of 1997. But they are the biggest game in a chaotic singles charts now, and this run of singles makes a good case they’re also the best.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    Kinitawowi on 2 Feb 2014 #

    @50: I accidentally picked up a Craig Armstrong piece from the soundtrack to Layer Cake while looking for another song. It wasn’t a disappointment – Ruthless Gravity was brilliant (and also string-laden).

    The song I was actually looking for, Hayling by FC Kahuna (the one that plays over a load of the opening monologue from the film) was still a bit better, though.

  2. 52
    taDOW on 2 Feb 2014 #

    ha! i was going to write that this might be the closest popular got to trip-hop instead of ‘ready or not’ but i wasn’t able to listen to it again at the moment to see if that was a bridge too far, never would’ve guessed there was a direct connection to massive attack.

  3. 53
    E on 2 Feb 2014 #

    #44 – First of all, anyone who would have cried “BAN THIS FILTH” was crying it way before “2 Become 1″ came out — the complaints about the Spice Girls being bad role models were based on what they wore, and how they behaved, and started as soon as “Wannabe” was released. At this point, anyone who was going to be offended by them was already offended by them. Second of all, the general “sex is special, do it safely with someone you love” message of the song was IMPORTANT to their intended audience — I was twelve when this song came out, and I remember talking with both my friends and my parents about how much it mattered to me that the Spice Girls were promoting safe sex and went out of their way to include same-sex couples in the song and the video. (And no, I don’t remember anyone being bothered by the same-sex couple in the video. I remember the opposite — as others have mentioned, there was enough grumbling about the “boys and girls feel good together” line on the album version that they changed it for the single.)

    I mean, I get that, given your name, you’re supposed to be a rebel or something, but maybe cool it with the affectations about how above-it-all you are. “The blonde one”‘s name was mentioned three times in Tom’s writeup and seven more in the thread before you commented — and if you haven’t managed to absorb enough about this band to know the blonde one’s name, consider that perhaps you haven’t managed to absorb enough about this band to have a good idea of what anyone thought about them at the time, either.

  4. 54
    iconoclast on 2 Feb 2014 #

    #53: Ouch! I’m perfectly happy to stand corrected; thank you for your elucidation. Those were musings-out-loud which in retrospect I should have been more decisive about editing out. The same thing happened with “the blond one” (sorry Emma): so as not to be influenced by anyone else’s opinions, I write my reviews before Tom’s go up, and her name inexplicably slipped my mind for some reason and I never got around to fixing it. I’ll try to be more careful in future :-(

    As for “supposed to be a rebel or something”: my choice of name merely reflects the fact that I approach these things from an idiosyncratic perspective which sometimes results in very non-congregational opinions. To be perfectly honest, I’m unsure to what extent these opinions are actually worth making public here, especially since I haven’t undergone the same sort of pop-cultural conditioning which everyone else has, and I’d be happy to shut up and stop spoiling someone else’s blog if I’m rocking the boat too much. Sorry if I caused any upset.

  5. 55
    Kat but logged out innit on 2 Feb 2014 #

    I think I finally realised that the Spice Girls weren’t going to go away during our (compulsory) Religious Education GCSE class, where poor old Miss Harris was trying to explain the concept of the sanctity of life according to the Roman Catholic faith to a class of unengaged teenagers, in her strong Welsh accent. “Come on, we did this last week. Two become wen? You know, like the Spice Gels? Wheredya think they got that line from in the first place, eh?”

  6. 56
    Izzy on 2 Feb 2014 #

    54: hey! Not upsetting at all!

    I’m not sure there’s really much in the way of pop cultural conditioning, though I do get suspicious if everyone agrees with Tom so dissenting views are very necessary imo. Even (almost especially) if they’re from a position of little knowledge – because then the assenters have to reëxplain basic things that might otherwise be taken for granted, which might make interesting gaps open up.

    In short: keep posting.

  7. 57
    Rory on 5 Feb 2014 #

    The third Spice Girls single is the second I barely recall having heard before, so I spent a bit of time with it before committing to a mark. My first listen and viewing of the video last week left me relatively indifferent – the instinctive balladophobia of a ’90s indie fan, no doubt – but I could tell there was more going on, and gave it a chance to rise from a 5. The second, with the video hidden, sounded much better, the lush orchestral backing and interplay of voices working well for me now, taking it to a 6. But that’s where I’m stuck a week later. I watched the video again to see if it would add more, but something about the five of them hanging out together in a New York street feels at odds with the intimate message of the song. (Why don’t we d-d-do it in the road?) Not that I would rather the video showed them hanging out in a bedroom. There were five in the bed, and the Baby Spice said…

  8. 58

    […] In the introduction my list of best singles of 1997, published in my college paper, I praised “2 Become 1″ as the best of the three top five Spice Girls singles. Then and now I prefer uptempo numbers except when they’re as good as this. I’m happy Tom Ewing agrees: […]

  9. 59
    Lazarus on 25 Oct 2014 #

    2 becomes 1 tonight, don’t forget

    (OK, so I caught a look at the Yahoo homepage)

  10. 60
    Mark M on 16 Dec 2014 #

    With the video getting Christmastime play, I’ve struck by how vampiric they look in it. Posh, obviously – she looked like that anyway back then (see the single cover above), and she’s wearing a long, cape-like black coat, but the others – barring Mel C, I suppose – have an undead-chic vibe. But I can’t imagine it’s deliberate.

  11. 61
    flahr on 16 Dec 2014 #

    THE SPICE GHOULS, MORE LIKE

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