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Mar 14

SPICE GIRLS – “Spice Up Your Life”

Popular89 comments • 9,955 views

#775, 25th October 1997

spiceup The story writes itself: weeks of enforced grieving cast a grey spell across Britain that is broken – could only be broken – by the forces of Girl Power, in full returning cry. Pop is restored, joy is unconfined. And honestly the arrival of “Spice Up Your Life” did feel a bit like this. In just over a year the Spice Girls had become a touchstone in pop culture: Geri’s BRIT awards dress sealed that. There had been so many parodies, references and headlines that the group felt entirely familiar, looked on with the mix of fondness and complacency that gets people called “national treasures” in the long run. There would be a film, of course: nothing would seem more right and proper, except maybe the idea of their comeback single unseating Elton John and bringing the spark back to the charts. “Spice Up Your Life” enjoyed a tailwind of unusual goodwill.

Which was just as well, as it sounds to me now like the Spice Girls’ first big misstep. In a few months time, the group will publically sack their manager and take over operations themselves: a statement of on-message independence, but also a response to the fact that Simon Fuller was brutally overworking them. Yes, the Beatles had managed multiple albums and a film in a similar crunched timescale, but both moviemaking and the media demands on a globally successful group had changed since the early 60s. Trying to make Spiceworld (the film) and Spiceworld (the LP) at the same time was Fuller taking a gigantic risk in quality terms while being meanly, cynically cautious from a marketing perspective – nobody would care about the Girls in six months time, so get the product out while you can.

It’s on record that “Spice Up Your Life”, in particular, was scribbled between movie takes with the media clustered around, and the sloppiness shows: it’s hard to imagine “yellow man in Timbuktu / colour for both me and you” getting into a lyric if waving everything through wasn’t the norm. The germ of the song is the Spice Girls wanting to make a song “for the world”, which in practise means slipping into pastiche mode again and making a pantomime version of Latin pop, “Arriba!”s very much included. But that’s not all that’s going on – “Spice Up Your Life” has gleeful girl gang shouts, a chorus ending in a nonsense phrase (“Hi Ci Ya! Hold tight!”) and even plentiful talk of slamming. It’s an attempt to turn the quicksilver mess of “Wannabe” into a formula while cranking up the budget.

In doing so “Spice Up Your Life” misses a lot of what made the first few Spice Girls singles special. They stood out not just through being efferevescent, imaginative and noisy, but by situating pop’s usual relationship drama in a grounded perspective centred on their audience’s right to everyday autonomy: demand more of boys and boyfriends, and still sound like you’re having the best time on Earth doing it. To do this they also had to make it sound like being a Spice Girl was awesome, and this – not the autonomy – is what “Spice Up Your Life” jumps on by extending the band into a global, Spice-branded fun club. (From memory, the film it promoted does a much better job of bottling their appeal: a rewatch beckons!)

One problem with brands – and this is the first of four number ones in a row that are explicitly or implicitly about branding – is that if you’re in charge of them, you start seeing the rest of life through their lens, whether it’s appropriate or not. You reduce everyday life to a series of ‘touchpoints’ or ‘consumption opportunities’. As “Spice Up Your Life” falls into a series of mashups its music doesn’t have the wit to reflect – tribal spaceman, foxtrot the salsa, et al – it isn’t about relationships, or confidence, or even partying. If it’s about anything it’s about a vision of pop in which every subculture, every dance style, even every race is interchangeably Spicey. A world that’s only fun from a brand’s point of view, not a person’s.

So this is a massively successful British group coming back with an amped-up version of their sound, lower quality control, deliberately generic material and a lead single that’s a rallying cry for brand loyalty disguised as some vague call for unity. As the Spiceworld trailer put it, with unhappy aptness, “Blah blah blah, feminism…girl power.. d’you know what I mean?”. “Spice Up Your Life” is bouncier, catchier and thankfully briefer than Oasis, but grosser too, and freeing the charts of a dreadful song does not make its replacement better.

4

Comments

  1. 1
    taDOW on 30 Mar 2014 #

    otm w/ the oasis comparison though i’m more fond of this (and ‘dyou know whuh imean’ for that matter) than you. spice girls play like an updated sex pistols in my head so i wonder if the extent to which both acts were comet like phenomenon was due to mclaren/cowell creating their ephemerality or merely recognizing it and exploiting it (i’m not sure which option flatters them more). the pastiche element of the big spice world hits (w/ one exception, bunnied but by far my fave from spice world for reasons i’ll go into when that time comes) is of such a different kind then what similar effects were there w/ spice’s singles (cf ‘spice up yr life’ vs the faux g-funk of ‘say you’ll be there’), easy obvious templates laying around to make up for a lack of time and inspiration to devote to the effort. it hurt them in america as well: their three previous singles hitting the top five, this barely cracked the top twenty, a similar fate hitting a subsequent pastiche single. their last top ten would be the bunnied single mentioned above. 6 for me, almost purely on charisma.

  2. 2
    Billy Hicks on 30 Mar 2014 #

    Here’s a photograph, taken around the time of the release of this single, with the Girls cheerily posing around a – as of 1997 – mostly-loved cheesy glam icon of the early 1970s. While you can’t blame them given as yet unknown future information, it’s astonishing for all the wrong reasons.

    http://images.fok.nl/upload/051120_272_garyglitter-spice.jpg

    New album, same old folded-arms and tutting from young me and – as with every Spice song releases so far – only exists for random nostalgic purposes now. My only main memory of this is a playground routine where the lyric “Colours of the world!” would see us display the peace sign, and “Every boy and every girl!” saw it flip around into the V sign. Amusing at the time until the teachers stopped us from doing it.

  3. 3
    Izzy on 30 Mar 2014 #

    This is quite hooky and backing track is okay if a tad overpowering. But the vocals are rubbish – both for the reasons in Tom’s review, and because it’s another example of Mel C’s horrible singing filling in all the gaps.

    Marked up one for having the good sense to be gone before the three-minute mark. But it’s all rather tiring. (4)

  4. 4
    anto on 30 Mar 2014 #

    I’m instantly put off this one by those tumbley keyboards. I’m not that keen on Latin music and it was about to become a frequent presence in the late nineties charts so this was curiously ahead of an upcoming trend even while being tethered to a previous one that was fast losing its charm.
    I genuinely can’t remember the last time I watched Channel 5.

  5. 5
    Chelovek na lune on 30 Mar 2014 #

    I can’t really substantially disagree with very much in this review. OK, SUYL has a appealing vivacious energy, which does to my mind make it preferable to the record it displaced.

    But….in all, it is a classic case of an act, having proved their worth and appeal, in those fabulous first three singles, having some of what precisely made them worthwhile and appealing wrung or crushed out of them by their management and/or record company. As in numerous prior cases, production values gain, but at the expense of inspiration and raw, less polished, talent. This is still rather good fun, and in its way, also quite out of the ordinary: but it precisely lacks the (to coin a phrase) the X factor – and the individuality, the sense of character and purpose – that had thrust the Spice Girls so into the limelight in the first place. From me (5)

  6. 6
    Kinitawowi on 30 Mar 2014 #

    I’ve said before that I prefer the Spices’ ballads, and this is part of why. Spice Up Your Life is terrible. A lot of my lad mates thought this was their first decent song; I hated it from the second I first heard it. I was hoping Tom would continue his 9-8-7-6-? sequence for the Spicey Ones, but alas – this is too terrible to even get a five.

    2.

  7. 7
    AMZ1981 on 30 Mar 2014 #

    Interestingly this is the Spice Girls’ most in your face single but arguably their last girl power record as what follows is rather anaemic (three ballads and an obvious pastiche follow). It’s worth noting that they delayed the release of this record by a week to gift Elton John an extra week (or equally possibly to ensure themselves a clear run – in the event they would have been okay).

  8. 8
    wichitalineman on 30 Mar 2014 #

    On the negative side: some solidly will-this-do lyrics (the Timbuktu line I missed at the time); a truly awful middle eight of global stereotype whooping; brand-enhancing vid (Spice coffee in the Starbucks logo).

    On the positive side: It’s a trailer for the film which does a very entertaining and compelling job – compare it to Men In Black, a single so literal it was no more than a 3 minute advert, dull and pointless if you hadn’t seen the movie. SUYL is closer to the Young Ones or Summer Holiday with its hollering redcoat pitch, but the million-mile-an-hour lyrical delivery is closer to Jailhouse Rock.

    It’s not Wannabe, for sure, but this piece of crazed, unfocussed exuberance was an absolute blessing, something to physically shake Britain out of its sombre grey mood. 6.

  9. 9
    23 Daves on 30 Mar 2014 #

    Actually, this is probably The Spice Girls single that reminds me most of Toto Coelo, but it’s not as good as “I Eat Cannibals”.

    I must admit to having lost patience with the whole juggernaut at this point. I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that every advertising break seemed to have The Spice Girls in it, every magazine had an analysis of something they were doing somewhere in it, and even Clive James was supposedly forced to have them on his show against his wishes (http://youtu.be/oVn8OGH5eRQ) – I don’t handle inescapable hype well at the best of times, and this definitely wasn’t the best of times.

    The fact this single felt tossed off helped matters none, it almost felt mocking to me. “Ha ha! Not only are we constantly in your face, we’ve also released an irritating single, it’s going to go to number one and annoy you for ages, and there’s NOTHING you can do about it! We’re not even trying anymore!” Of course, a few months later it would become apparent through interviews that the Spice Girls were having doubts themselves, and the only one laughing like a loon was Fuller.

    That still doesn’t make me feel any more fondly disposed towards this single, though. 3.

  10. 10
    thefatgit on 30 Mar 2014 #

    Absolutely agree with Tom’s review. Anything upbeat following CITW97 would have been welcome, and the Spice Girls offer their comfort, or resetting of the status quo if you will, like a nice cup of tea or a Carry On movie. Fuller’s tactic, one supposes, was to make Spice Girls as recognisable a British brand as Tower Bridge or HP Sauce, but like Tower Bridge, like a symbol, Spicemania isn’t easily rolled out without being adapted to the market they’re being exported to. And unlike HP Sauce, the quality of Spice Girls’ product fluctuates with each new release. Fuller’s vision is flawed then? He’s no Epstein and the Spicies were no Beatles, but you can gauge the size of his ambition, and the amount of stardust he sprinkled on the girls. The pressure he put on the girls to become as big as, if not bigger than The Beatles was too much to bear, so he had to go. And some of that stardust went with him.

    SUYL is a pretty awful single in retrospect, but it’s better than a mawkish tribute to a dead princess.

  11. 11
    Keley Ann on 30 Mar 2014 #

    Not that it makes it much more meaningful, but it’s actually hai si ja (‘yes’ in Japanese, Spanish/Italian and German/many other languages) rather than just random noises.

  12. 12
    Rory on 30 Mar 2014 #

    Another first-listen-ever for this Spice neophyte, and I quite like it; but I fell for Latin noises around this time, via the late ’90s lounge music revival, so I can get onboard with a pastiche of them. Being primed by Keley Ann @11 to hear “hai, si, ja” rather than a nonsense phrase helped, I suspect, and like Izzy @3 I appreciate its three-minute running time, especially after our recent encounters with Oasis and the Verve. None of you have mentioned it yet, but that’s a nice Blade Runner spoof in the video, too. I could see giving this a 5 or even a 6.

    The visual joke about Starbucks is intriguing, as 1997 was the year before they had opened any stores in the UK, and I wonder how many UK viewers would have got the reference (a sign of the Spice Girls’ global target audience, I assume). My wife and I visited the west coast of the States a few times in 1997-99 and got a taste for Starbucks, which lingered for a while even after we realised that it was just a big chain, and I remember us laughing loudly at a joke in the second Austin Powers movie about Doctor Evil using Starbucks as a front – but being the only people in the cinema who did (Starbucks didn’t open any branches in Australia until after The Spy Who Shagged Me came out).

  13. 13
    lonepilgrim on 30 Mar 2014 #

    everything from the pace of the song to its scrambled lyrics sounds rushed and thoughtless – and not in a good way. Whereas in the earlier number 1s you could distinguish the different singers here they sound as if they’ve been shoved in a blender on a latin setting. I notice that Ginger Spice is more upfront and centre in the video with the others pushed back more. Not a good sign.

  14. 14
    Tom on 30 Mar 2014 #

    #11 Thankyou! Never trust Internet lyric sites, I guess. I always heard them as “Backseat, ya!” to be honest.

    #13 Yeah… my suspicion is that Geri is the driving force here if any of the group is, but I don’t actually have grounds for this other than a sense that this sort of fusion-food vagueness is her ‘bag’ (and the extensive bunnied future evidence that she isn’t very good)

  15. 15
    mapman132 on 30 Mar 2014 #

    It’s amazing how quickly Spicemania came and went in America. “Wannabe” had been released in the US at the beginning of this very same year, but nine months later the backlash and subsequent fall was well underway. SUYL flopped in the US, only peaking at #18. I actually don’t mind the song too much (I’ll give it 5/10) but I agree with others, it was sounds hacked together compared to their previous hits. Then when Spice World the album was released, I remember thinking that if they were really the biggest group in the world since the Beatles, shouldn’t their new album be entering the chart higher than #3? And finally their movie was a critical and commercial failure.

    Apparently they would still have three US Top 40 hits to go, but they must’ve been in-and-out fanbase records since I don’t remember any of them. Oddly, I do remember their two remaining bunnies that didn’t chart in the US.

    The most interesting thing though – and it’s hard to determine how much Spice-backlash caused this, but it certainly contributed at least early on – is that this was the beginning of a historic slump by UK artists on the US charts. Who would’ve thought at the time that Sir Elton was racking up weeks atop the Hot 100 that he would be the last Brit to have a US #1 until 2006? And it wasn’t just at the top of the charts – I believe there was even a year that had only a single British song in the entire year-end top 100. Inconceivable for someone like me who grew up during the second British Invasion of the 80’s. Things weren’t much better on the album charts: there was the Beatles 1 album of course, and Radiohead managed a couple of fanbase #1’s. Eventually Coldplay would break through to the big time. But that was about it for nearly a decade. I’m sure the British Withdrawal had many causes, but between the collapse of Britpop discussed in the last Oasis thread and the end of the Spice Girls having major US hits, late 1997 is where it began.

  16. 16
    Ed on 30 Mar 2014 #

    Tom: “this is the first of four number ones in a row that are explicitly or implicitly about branding.”

    Er, the second of five in a row, surely?

  17. 17
    Kinitawowi on 30 Mar 2014 #

    #14: Hasn’t Geri got some Spanish ancestry? It’d explain a lot of the fusion.

  18. 18
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 30 Mar 2014 #

    yes, her mum’s spanish

  19. 19
    Ed on 31 Mar 2014 #

    A bit early to be coming out with the Spice Girls obituaries, I know, but the juxtaposition with Diana reminded me of another way in which they were quietly revolutionary: in their steadfast refusal to drop into any of the standard tragic arcs of division and decline traditionally imposed on women in pop. As far as you can tell, they all seem comfortable and contented with their lives, and never have a bad word to say about each other. Even Mel B, who has generated a few tabloid headlines down the years, seems happy. And her career is doing well enough for rival TV networks to be fighting over her contract. It’s all very good to see.

  20. 20
    JLucas on 31 Mar 2014 #

    If you’d asked me two years ago, I’d have said this was one of the Spice Girls weakest number ones and agreed with all of the above.

    However, this single has been hugely rehabilitated for me by its use in their Olympics closing ceremony performance. On that night it was transformed from slightly rushed, ephemeral ‘make hay while the sun shines’ single to a magnificent victory lap for everything they stood for. If the sight of them, after everything they’d been through as a group (breakup, failed solo careers, disappointing comeback…) taking centre stage at the biggest global event of that year screeching “SPICE UP YER LIFE, SPICE UP YER LIFE!” didn’t warm your heart, well, I just don’t think you really understand the visceral joy of pop music or the Spice Girls. They’d been down, but they were never out.

    The movie is what it is. For me it’s essentially cash-in fluff, but for all that far funnier than it has any right to be. Victoria walks away with it.

    And Tom, it’s interesting that it Too Much is shaping up to be your Spice favourite. For me it’s the least essential of their golden era singles, and another bunny from this album outclasses it in absolutely every conceivable way. We’ll get to that one in due time, but I’m already worried you won’t rate it as highly as I do. God but it’s beautiful though…

  21. 21
    swanstep on 31 Mar 2014 #

    @2, Billy. Their Gary Glitter cover (‘Leader of The Gang’) in the Spice World movie (though not on Spiceworld album) was one of the best bits of the film. I’m not sure what the timing of the scandal was relative to shooting the scene for the film and then choosing pieces for the album, but I’m personally a little sad they never recorded the song properly or indeed headed more in that glam direction generally than they did. Signs from that scene in the film were promising.

  22. 22
    jim5et on 31 Mar 2014 #

    I’m much softer on this than you all are – I think it’s possibly my favourite Spice record, exactly because of its maximalist, everything-turned-up-to-11 vibe. It’s a blast 7

  23. 23
    Billy on 31 Mar 2014 #

    #15. Critical failure, yes, apart from a few dissenting voices. Commercial failure, no. Wiki states it made $77mil off a $25mil budget. In that respect Fuller was right to milk this cash cow as determinedly as he did.

    I always get this mixed up with the Garbage track which had a similar girl powered spaceship video.

  24. 24
    wichitalineman on 31 Mar 2014 #

    Definitely a bit early for the obits – my two favourite (bunnied) Spice singles are still to come.

    My main problems with them at this point were Geri’s loud and undignified claims to be their frontwoman.

  25. 25
    James BC on 31 Mar 2014 #

    I agree with Tom’s review – as someone who quite unfairly hated the Spice Girls at the time, this made the ill feeling a bit more deserved. Terrible lyrics.

    But I also agree with JLucas that it makes a good part of their legacy and works well as a signature tune for them. You couldn’t have a best-of-the-Spice-Girls playlist without it, and you might have it as the opening track.

  26. 26
    AMZ1981 on 31 Mar 2014 #

    #16 This could be seen as the second in a trilogy of number ones about manufactured females (in that Diana was originally presented to the world as a fairytale princess but the reality turned out to be very different).

    #21 Just checked – Gary Glitter originally featured in that scene but he was first arrested in November 1997 and his part was cut although the song remained.

  27. 27
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 31 Mar 2014 #

    yes, the scene was filmed with GG and had to be refilmed later in the shoot — with meat loaf as a last-minute replacement? (not so sure abt the latter)

  28. 28
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 31 Mar 2014 #

    (i.e. meat loaf isn’t actually in the revised GG scene, but his arrival as their driver was conceived as a consequence… but i may be wrong about this)

  29. 29
    Steve Mannion on 31 Mar 2014 #

    Maybe they tried for Billy Idol but alas he was busy doing The Wedding Singer.

  30. 30
    Cumbrian on 31 Mar 2014 #

    Never seen Spiceworld but the opening paragraph of the wikipedia plot synopsis seems like a pretty good set up, with some of it years ahead of the news (photographer dispatched to get photos and bug their conversations!). Reading on beyond that point, I see less to enthuse me but I guess it will all be in the execution – as I’ve never seen it, I’m not really in position to comment.

    I’ve spoilered myself and set up a play list for the next tranche of #1s. Whilst this isn’t great, there are some clunkers – and some that are a bit worse than I initially remembered – in the upcoming batch. SUYL, on the other hand, is a bit better than I remember (I thought it was horrendous at the time) but benefits mostly from the short run time. I was never really a Spice fan at the time but listening through as we’ve gone along, my inverse law of quality to Geri involvement seems to still hold true. It’s been interesting listening to which voices seem to dominate when they’re all singing together – it sounds to me like there is some studio work going on to emphasise particular singers on particular tracks, even when they’re in theory all singing at once, so Emma might stand out amongst the five of them sometimes, another time it might be Mel C. This, to my ear, sounds like they’re emphasising Geri – so again, points off I am afraid, as her voice just grates on my nerves. Musically, I think it’s better (certainly more interesting) than it is lyrically or vocally – clattering along with a load of different sounds mixed together. I’d say 5 personally and move along, I think.

  31. 31
    Chelovek na lune on 31 Mar 2014 #

    #26 etc Wikipedia states that GG had been presenting one edition of TOTP annually for three years in the mid 90s (when “celebrity presenters” were the norm): I’d quite forgotten his presence in public life at that time…

  32. 32
    wichitalineman on 31 Mar 2014 #

    More on ’97’s Death of Rock/end of US/UK interplay… birthday boy and unrepentant racist Eric Clapton made a d’n’b/electronica in 1997. I have no memory of this and was only just informed:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OieG9WlbA_w

    Not great, not even good, but quite an odd move for such a capital-C Conservative.

    Apparently Jeff Beck did one too. April 1st isn’t til tomorrow in case anyone was wondering.

  33. 33
    wichitalineman on 31 Mar 2014 #

    Re 31: GG was making a lot of possible imminent retirement – his tour, advertised on posters all over the tube at the time of the PC World revelation, was called ‘Could this be the last time?’

  34. 34
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 31 Mar 2014 #

    i’m busy at the moment and will write this up later (probably), but just to say this: spice world is GREAT — i reviewed it at the time for sight&sound and am proud i said so and the critics it seemingly wasn’t a success with are all idiots

    spiky improv recluse derek bailey also made a dnb alb!

  35. 35
    Tom on 31 Mar 2014 #

    I am thinking of a Spiceworld rewatch (mind you I also said I would watch Men In Black and never got round to it) (I draw the line at upcoming Iceberg Bunny tho)

  36. 36
    Mark G on 31 Mar 2014 #

    #33 funnily enough, I did win tickets to GG’s ‘final gig really’ gig , but we already decided against going as we had tickets for two other gigs that week and decided we weren’t that bothered.

    The week after we won them but two days before the gig, the story broke via PC world, etc. Still, he did get to thank his loyal fans for standing by him before he goodnight Vienna’d.

    Oh yeah, and Meat Loaf was a replacement for Frank Bruno, who had already completed his scenes but got massively disgruntled after the girls ‘refused’ a meet/greet with his kids, or something. I do remember seeing a ‘behind-the-scenes’ Girls/Glitter section on Breakfast TV.

  37. 37
    Chelovek na lune on 31 Mar 2014 #

    #35 eh-oh

  38. 38
    Tom on 31 Mar 2014 #

    #37 Oh, I’ve seen plenty of that.

  39. 39
    Cumbrian on 31 Mar 2014 #

    Re: Frank Bruno – I had to check that. The story on wiki is that it was a security guard who prevented the meeting, though it’s not sourced.

    It looks like they were trying to pack this film out with “national treasures” in some respects. Frank sort of fit that mould at the time. I’m not sure about now. He’s the type of guy who you see in a photo with Peter Sutcliffe and Jimmy Savile and wonder just how the hell he got into that situation. Rightly or wrongly, I’ve always assumed that he wasn’t in control of stuff that like that and was being exploited in some way. What with the mental health issues he had, cocaine addiction and so on, married to the gentle giant public persona, I find him to be a tragic figure, though I have only a surface level of knowledge of his life and situation. I was delighted when he managed to finally win a version of the heavyweight title – against someone else who has had mental problems, Oliver McCall, who broke down in tears in the ring with Lennox Lewis – and one of the earliest sports events I vividly remember watching on TV was his first fight against Tyson, where Frank genuinely rocked Tyson for the first time in his career, with Harry Carpenter losing all sense of objectivity. He has a place in my heart at least.

  40. 40
    iconoclast on 31 Mar 2014 #

    Not much to say here that hasn’t already been said. Noisy but rather hollow, functional without being inspired, the Latin inflections clearly there to hide the absence of inspiration. A clear sign that the wheels were beginning to fall off the bandwagon. FIVE.

  41. 41
    Steve Williams on 31 Mar 2014 #

    Please don’t watch the film, Tom, it is atrocious. We rented it when it came out on video (because we were all too embarrassed to go and see it in the pictures) and there were about a dozen of us in the room when it began, but half an hour in only my flatmate Katie was left as everyone else had bailed out because it was so bad, and we had to ask her to take the tape into her bedroom to finish it because we couldn’t bear to be in the same room as it. And I’d happily sat through the Hour Of Girl Power VHS (several times) and watched all kinds of rubbish, but I was absolutely dying with embarrassment during it. They were very amusing in interviews and the like but they could not deliver scripted jokes for toffee.

    As for the single, this now marks the moment I went to university and, eager to amuse and entertain, I rather played up my liking for the Spice Girls and a photo did exist (but not anymore, I’m happy to say) of me donning Katie’s mini-skirt and platform boots during my first week as part of some kind of dare. As ever most of this was famed student wackiness of the kind that saw our flat get terribly excited when Vanilla appeared on Top of the Pops, but I did genuinely love the Spice Girls. But this was when the rough edges started being knocked out of them, losing a lot of the appeal they had, and the result was this massively over-produced affair.

    Anyway, there’s plenty more tiresome student wackiness for me to relive for the next year or so of number ones, fortunately for you.

  42. 42
    Tom on 31 Mar 2014 #

    I went and saw it in the cinema, along with FT alumnus Dr Thomson. We had just been to the Rough Trade shop where I had bought a great big courier bag with the shop’s name on it in colossal letters. Later this became a much-loved accessory and faithful record-carrying companion. At the time, surrounded by tweenage girls and their parents, I slightly regretted it.

  43. 43
    swanstep on 31 Mar 2014 #

    I watched Spice World a few months ago in part because of Mark’s review, but also because I remembered the bollocking it got from relatively open-minded critics like Roger Ebert (who thinks A Hard Day’s Night is one of the greatest movies ever made) back in the day. Here’s Ebert’s original review if anyone’s interested: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/spice-world-1998.
    SW is indeed pretty bad by any normal standards – if you don’t like the music and aren’t into the group enough going in so that you already understand their personas and what they stand for, what their particular sort of irreverent rebelliousness means, then nothing in it will be very amusing. E.g., a lot of SW’s alleged humour is poking fun at Posh for being her stereotype, and the others for enacting aspects of their stereotypes/character flavors. The film’s therefore not an introduction to The Spice Girls, rather it assumes that you’re completely familiar with them. Reading Ebert’s review again after seeing the film I could see what he was legitimately complaining about – SW *is* very amateurish in a lot of ways: it doesn’t have much of a story, it’s plain goofy and padded out a lot of the time, etc. – but it was also clear to me that much of his criticism was illegitimate and small-minded (and his short review contains flat-out errors suggesting that he didn’t pay close to the film). Roger takes it as axiomatic that the music’s terrible and that the gals have no personality or chemistry (indeed he expects to be introduced to them, whereas, as discussed above, the movie assumes you already know the Spices backwards).

    But how would A Hard Day’s Night look to someone who had no idea who the Beatles were and who took it as axiomatic that their music was trash?

    Well, I can’t unlearn everything I know about the Beatles but I did decide to try to rewatch AHDN sceptically or even unsympathetically, to say to the film, ‘Win me over; don’t assume that I already agree that these 4 guys are the most interesting, wittiest, most fun, most musically inventive thing ever’.

    Results of such a viewing: AHDN feels both *very calculated* in the way it’s padded out with not especially funny or inventive stuff like Paul’s grandfather, and tiers of business management bickering for no especially good reason. Yet it also *incredibly slap-dash* as in the big ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ sequence. There the Beatles goof around in ways that are basically winning (esp. if you already agree that they’re funny etc.) but there are only a few good shots and lots of bad ones, including the helicopter shots which just seem incompetent in terms of how much shaking there is. For another example, despite being only 90 minutes long AHDN frantically pads for the last 20 minutes leading up to the big ‘She Loves You’ performance: so we get Keystone cops to recycled play of ‘Can’t Buy’, a tepid on-stage ‘Tell Me Why’ (a Beatles song nobody cares for) and an on-stage recycling of ‘I should have known better’ (which was done much more memorably on the train at the beginning of the film). All of this seriously dulls the edge of the film. I think of the Beatles as *never* being short of a good song but here they are repeating themselves, stretching things out like they’ve only got ten tunes to their name (see also recycling ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ itself for the closing credits – although the photo collage behind those credits is fabulous). The point is that these sequences tell the truth about AHDN: it was knocked together very quickly and cheaply and it shows. The really good one-liners (‘I’m a mocker’) stand out, most are pretty dire. Not that any of this is a problem if you’re a Beatlemaniac…. then you’re happy to see/hear songs again and to watch low-comedy schtick from supporting players.

    Is SW is as good as AHDN? No. Are the SGs in 1997 as good as The Beatles in 1964? No. But they’re closer in quality than I’d appreciated. AHDN skates by on our prior affection for the wacky Beatles much as Spice World tries to with our affection for the sassy gals. Velocity substitutes for story in both cases. And general meta-awareness that’s nascent in the Beatles case is waist-deep in the Spice Girls case not the least because they’re operating in the shadow of the Beatles and AHDN, e.g., consider Spice World’s pretty funny closing credits (even if you aren’t versed in the personae).

    Anyhow, as SW’s climactic stage performance number ‘Spice Up Your Life’ works quite well. We’ve had a lot of pretty well-mannered pop songs by that point so a shouty stormer as a capper is a good release. Removed from that captive-audience context, however, SUYL has very limited appeal for me. Manic latin or whatever this style is just isn’t the sort of thing I choose to listen to (I find Ricky Martin’s bunny tolerable if I’m at a wedding, say, but I’ll never choose to listen to that either). And ultimately I don’t buy the girls as conversant with all the dance styles they mention so the whole thing ends up being a bit wince-worthy. Strange that the vid. for SUYL makes no use of movie visuals whatsoever. The metal-grey, Blade Runner/Metropolis iconography of the vid. feels weird and pasted on to me – a real mis-step:
    4

  44. 44
    Izzy on 31 Mar 2014 #

    Posters identifying a couple of what seem to me to be elementary mistakes in the development of The Spice Girls:

    24: My main problems with them at this point were Geri’s loud and undignified claims to be their frontwoman – this is so obviously a disaster that there must be a reason why it got run with. I can’t think of many other examples of the undercharming and undertalented taking over, but inevitably there must be some.

    41: this was when the rough edges started being knocked out of them, losing a lot of the appeal they had – this looks obviously in retrospect like a disastrous move, because we love our pop acts for their rough edges don’t we? But in actual fact maybe slicker -> bigger is more the rule? Take That got bigger as they got blander, and certainly George Michael never slowed down as he got more of a pro (until he started becoming less of a pro again).

  45. 45
    Tom on 31 Mar 2014 #

    Yeah the video – well, the fact of the video’s existence – is really odd. If you’re already in a nightmarish situation trying to make an LP and film simultaneously, to add bespoke videos onto that too just seems utterly stupid. I guess there wasn’t enough material from the film to just use footage (I’ve forgotten when SW actually came out, but it’s not contemporary with SUYL, it just seemed the relevant entry) (“Stop!” IIRC is stronger in the movie, and is a stronger song, but it didn’t get to #1)

  46. 46
    Tom on 31 Mar 2014 #

    #44 re Geri – if someone’s idea of “why did Spice happen?” is ‘because they were loud and IN YOUR FACE’ then Geri or Mel B taking the lead feels pretty natural. And I suspect it was a natural shift in terms of group dynamics: she probably was hungrier and more extrovert and confident.

    I should say I really liked Geri at this point – I only soured on her later. The other factor is Robbie Williams – Life Thru A Lens had got to #1 just before SUYL came out, finally resolving the question of whether there was life for him after breaking up the band. I definitely had conversations about who “the Robbie” in the Spice Girls would be – the rebellious breakout star. Geri seemed the very obvious candidate, not least in her own mind I’m sure.

  47. 47
    Steve Williams on 31 Mar 2014 #

    #44 Maybe, but then you could argue that Take That became huge, and other boybands didn’t, because they had the opportunity to develop a personality and they became big thanks to their huge personal popularity. I wouldn’t say they got blander, either, some of their early stuff which wasn’t a hit was incredibly generic fare. They got blander when Robbie left, but they would have because Robbie was the daft one.

    As for the video, it’s the next Spice Girls single that was released virtually simultaneously with the film, and the video will illustrate that.

  48. 48
    wichitalineman on 31 Mar 2014 #

    Re 44 & 46: I assumed, unfairly as it turned out, that Geri was a fair bit older than the others and therefore took it upon herself to be the leader, in a bossy, head prefect, matriarchal way. Nothing else especially natural about it. Also, Mel C’s vocal contributions made her seem the most obvious solo star to the press at this point (possible misremembrance here – maybe it was just to me and my friends).

    Truthfully, I’d been put off Geri by the union jack dress and Thatcher comments pretty much from the off, but I really disliked her by the time of Spiceworld and thought they were best shot of her (as Take That would be without Robbie, but not for several bunny years yet).

  49. 49
    MikeMCSG on 31 Mar 2014 #

    # 44 Roger Waters ?

  50. 50
    AMZ1981 on 31 Mar 2014 #

    I remember starting to watch Spiceworld when it came to TV and was forced to switch it off after ten minutes because it was so bad. This needs to be seen in the context that a) it was a few years after the fact so the film could already be seen as a dated period piece and b) I can cope with low brow slapstick comedies generally.

    To be fair I was hardly the target audience but the thing that put me off happened early on – the girls are rehearsing, a (male) member of their backing group (note – playing an instrument, something no Spice Girl could probably do) fluffs a note and Mel B (I think) makes a rude comment (`you wearing boxing gloves` from memory, definitely along those lines). If Take That (or another boy band) said something similarly rude to a female backing singer in a film they’d end up looking like right arrogant prigs.

    A discussion point (with some bunnying involved) was Spiceworld the worst late nineties movie starring a girl band I wonder …

  51. 51
    ciaran on 31 Mar 2014 #

    I think I preferred this to most of their other hits that came before it and anything was welcome from CITW but time hasn’t been particularly kind to it.Putting the word ‘Spice’ in the title shows that maybe the initial burst of magic had faded.

    Probably the oddest Spice Number 1.Slow singing/roaring against a sound that goes too fast for its own good. More than any spice girls record (post or pre-bunny) its the one that’s hardest to separate from its video. A tune forever in 90s radio retrospectives afterwards. Lively enough which is something in its favour so I’d give it a 5.

  52. 52
    Ed on 1 Apr 2014 #

    @44, @46, @48 – OK, so I was going to lay off the subject of Geri until the bunnies, but now I feel compelled to defend her.

    She may not be the world’s greatest singer or songwriter, I will grant you that. But the interviews make clear that she performed two vital functions for the Spice Girls: as conceptual architect, and as the incarnation of the group’s spirit. She was both their Johnny Rotten and their Bez, if you like. And her contribution to their chemistry was absolutely irreplaceable.

    I see they are talking about another reunion, but without Victoria this time, and that seems perfectly fine. A reunion without Geri would be unthinkable.

  53. 53
    punctum on 1 Apr 2014 #

    Have to say that, despite what she claimed in interviews, Geri wasn’t the “conceptual architect” of the Spice Girls. When TPL gets to the Spices you might be surprised to learn the people who were (and it wasn’t Simon Fuller either).

  54. 54
    byebyepride on 1 Apr 2014 #

    I love the Spice Girls, but I agree this is a little underwhelming as a single on its own. Relistening cold it sounds like mid-album filler, but also a track that the band and their production team would know might work really well as the opening number on a massive tour. It’s addressed to you the audience, right here, right now, in front of the band, and it assumes a stadium preloaded with excitement. I think with that in mind, it makes a bit more sense as the lead single from the album. Any spice single will be a huge news story at this point, and this is a kind of knowing non-delivery – a teaser for the stronger material that is waiting on the album. All this track has to do is stoke the anticipation further. So, yes, I think this needs to be seen in relation to the album not the film, which was released until January if the internet is to be trusted.

    Re: seeing Spice World in Leicester Square. This was an absolutely awesome experience, the high tide of my poptimist years. I’d forgotten the Rough Trade bag detail!

  55. 55
    Steve Williams on 1 Apr 2014 #

    For full-on pester power, the film was released on Boxing Day.

  56. 56
    Alan Connor on 3 Apr 2014 #

    Nobody seems to have highlighted SUYL’s great value if you have a Nissan Micra whose door-locks open in different directions. “Lock it to the left (on the passenger side now) / Unlock it to the right (on the passenger side now) / But on the driver’s side, then it’s re-ve-er-er-ersed.” Saved me literally minutes over the last ten years. (Or do all cars work like that?)

  57. 57
    weej on 3 Apr 2014 #

    A ridiculous mess of a song, but very enjoyable if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief for a few minutes. The “Yellow man in Timbuktu…” verse should’ve been left out or replaced though.

  58. 58
    Middlerabbit on 7 Apr 2014 #

    I’d enjoyed quite a few SG singles by this point. I was still an indie/60’s kid, but really a pop fan at heart.

    SYBT was my favourite single and I thought the ballads were alright, especially 2b1. Mama, I found a bit too much.

    This, I thought was the sound of them, or whoever it was who came up with the ideas, running out of ideas. Lyrically, I had been mildly, pleasantly surprised by the odd line in the previous singles (as well as disliking some lines enormously (far too much emotions at me.)).

    In interviews, tv appearances, they seemed politely and acceptably subversive. Sort of children’s television anarchy. Safe, really, but relatively fun. They obviously had nothing of substance to say and ‘girl power’ was just a meaningless, media friendly sound bite, in lieu of having any real stance on anything. Fair enough.

    This record was the point at which the lyrics became the same meaningless sound bites, merely shouted.

    To be fair, so was Wannabe, to a fair degree, but they had initial charm and now they needed to demonstrate some sort of progression and it appeared that they didn’t really have anything to show.

    They’d achieved success through being portrayed as two dimensional cartoon stereotypes in a BBC pop magazine (I think, it was all over the telly) and now it appeared that, actually, they were less substantial than even that had implied.

    I remember my Mum quite liking them for their irreverence and, more specifically, because none of them looked anorexic. That began to change by this point, too. Posh had shed her puppy fat and became a stick insect. The rest of them turned out to have some issues with weight, too. Which was a great shame, not only for the individuals themselves.

    A lot of little girls identified with the SGs and, in terms of looking like people who didn’t conform to media pressure as regards starving yourself, going out of your way to please men, they could have been a pretty good starter weapon.

    I don’t hold it against them, but it would have been good if they really didn’t give a crap what anyone thought about them. As regards weight, at least.

    Spice World was a strangely 1970s feeling film. It was very much like the tv spin offs of that time. And it didn’t work for the same sorts of reasons. The Spice Girls worked really well on television. Less so on the big screen. Perhaps they ought to have had a sit-com instead.

    3

  59. 59
    Tommy Mack on 8 Apr 2014 #

    I’m very late to the party on this one but sadly it’s a very busy time for me and I’m going to be playing catch up on the next few singles on which I’m dying to comment.

    Middlerabbit @ 58, back in the day I’d have totally agreed with you in a ‘huh, they can’t even spell feminism’ kind of way but, in the same way that britpop helped sell progressive politics to the suburbs by not taking it too seriously, SGs must have introduced plenty of girls and young women to at least a notion of female empowerment when a more rigorous version of feminism would have left them cold.

    As for female celebrities’ eating disorders, I’m troubled and saddened but I’m also loathe to criticise: I don’t think attacking women for being too thin is much better than attacking them for being too fat. If The Spice Girls developed eating disorders after telling girls to ‘be yourself’ then it probably says more about the destructive power of fame and the pressure on women than it does about their lack of commitment to the cause. It’s easy to not give a crap when you’re young and up and coming, it’s harder to maintain that sort of independence once you become a public commodity and everyone has an opinion on you and your output. Like Jarvis Cocker said, musicians want fame because they think it will give them confidence but then if they get it it often takes away the little confidence that they had.

  60. 60
    Tommy Mack on 8 Apr 2014 #

    I reckon, the second most famous SG song. Not much love for it on here though. I must say, I like the Spice branding in the title, like The Clash writing Clash City Rockers or George Clinton doing innumerable P Funk shout outs. Or Hey Hey, We’re The Monkees. Antmusic. Any I’ve missed?

    I’ve got a fairly high tolerance for well meaning brand bossiness in pop and virtually no tolerance for the same from actual brands. “Live your life like you’re an extension of The Spice Girls/Adam and the Ants/Goldblade” seems like quite a fun suggestion whereas “Live your life like Innocent Smoothies are your mates and we’re like a big quirky family” does not.

  61. 61
    swanstep on 8 Apr 2014 #

    @60, Tommy Mack. DEVO talked about themselves a lot and had an instrumental track called ‘DEVO Corporate Anthem’, although the ‘Are we not Men? D-E-V-O’ song is actually called ‘Jocko Homo’.
    Human League doing ‘Human’.
    ABC doing ‘A to Z’.

  62. 62
    Chelovek na lune on 8 Apr 2014 #

    #60 (performer of much parodied 2000 bunny), and also (the performer of another much more recent bunny)

  63. 63
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 8 Apr 2014 #

    the all-time sensei of this has to be bo “bo diddley” diddley

  64. 64
    Izzy on 8 Apr 2014 #

    Living In “Living In A Box” A Box might take issue with that

  65. 65
    Rory on 8 Apr 2014 #

    #60: The Venga bunny’s coming, and everybody’s jumping…

  66. 66
    Tommy Mack on 8 Apr 2014 #

    #63. Does it count as it’s just his name and not a phrase based around it?

    Did Public Enemy do a track called Public Enemy #1?

    Also the woeful This Is Radio Clash.

  67. 67
    James BC on 8 Apr 2014 #

    Wham Rap
    Snoop’s Upside Your Head
    My Name Is Prince
    Cleopatra’s Theme
    Fu-Gee-La

  68. 68
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 8 Apr 2014 #

    At least a dozen of his songs contain some element of his name, if not the whole of it. So it counts :)

  69. 69
    Steve Mannion on 8 Apr 2014 #

    Given he was hailed as The Groover From Vancouver it’s too bad Bryan never hit us with his very own ‘Adams Groove’.

  70. 70
    Kat but logged out innit on 8 Apr 2014 #

    S Club Party! Amazingly, un-bunnied…

  71. 71
    lonepilgrim on 8 Apr 2014 #

    My Name is Prince
    Bob Dylan’s Dream
    Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream

  72. 72
    Ed on 8 Apr 2014 #

    Metal has made some excellent contributions here:

    ‘Black Sabbath’, by Black Sabbath, from the album Black Sabbath.
    ‘Motorhead’, by Motorhead, from the album Motorhead.
    ‘Iron Maiden’ by Iron Maiden, from the album Iron Maiden.

    Also hip-hop:

    ‘Eric B is President’
    ‘Spoonin’ Rap’
    ‘Doggy Dog World’
    And, yes, as Tommy Mack says @66, ‘Public Enemy #1’, featuring that fantastic Fred Wesley and the JBs sample.

  73. 73
    Izzy on 8 Apr 2014 #

    Hip Hop is a rich field for the self-aggrandising: What’s My Name? or My Name Is (with a further layer in the latter case by the name in question being oddly neither the artist’s actual name, nor his actual stage name).

  74. 74
    Middlerabbit on 8 Apr 2014 #

    The Stone Roses with both Elephant Stone and Made of Stone? Also, on I Am The Resurrection, ‘stone me, why can’t you see?

  75. 75
    Rory on 9 Apr 2014 #

    We seem to be forgetting ’90s Popular: Ice Ice Baby. Doop. Mr Blobby. Teletubbies Say “Eh-oh!”…

    Oh, and the KLF on “3AM Eternal” (the lyrical hook, if not the title).

  76. 76
    Kinitawowi on 9 Apr 2014 #

    Eurovision failures Love City Groove.

    Bentley’s Gonna Sort You Out!, by Bentley Rhythm Ace, from every single Channel 4 100 Hundred Greatest List Shows.

    Surprisingly few, but a couple, from the Simpsons albums.

  77. 77
    swanstep on 9 Apr 2014 #

    Korn’s ‘Children of the Korn’ (their best track by a country mile IMHO) combines branding with ‘shaping the artist-audience relationship’ which SUYL also has.

    Q. Gaga talks both about herself and to her fans a lot in her songs, but I’m not aware of any (partly) self-titled songs: Can anyone confirm this? And if so, what are the odds of an eventual, e.g., ‘Gaga’s ode to the Little Monsters’?

  78. 78
    lartsaegis on 9 Apr 2014 #

    All I can think of right now is Royksopp’s Royksopp Forever and Jamie Lidell’s You Know My Name. And on the note of the latter, any artist with a “self-titled” album comes into play. Oh, and Daft Punk’s Daftendirekt and WDPK 83.7 FM.

  79. 79
    nixon on 9 Apr 2014 #

    It’s A Fast Driving Rave Up With The Dandy Warhols Sixteen Minutes

    Are You Jimmy Ray?

    Louis XIV

    It probably shouldn’t count, but the ultimate effort might be the PSB cover of We’re The Pet Shop Boys.

  80. 80
    Kinitawowi on 9 Apr 2014 #

    Still waiting for Coldplay to do their own cover of Everything Sounds Like Coldplay Now.

  81. 81
    Chelovek na lune on 9 Apr 2014 #

    House of Love – Shine On, if we’re referencing lyrics. “In a garden in the house of love, sitting lonely on a plastic chair”, and all that.

  82. 82
    Mark M on 9 Apr 2014 #

    Lots more hip-hop, as assorted people have said – just to pick a few: the excellent Still D.R.E. (although of course Snoop walks off with the glory), the Jungle Brothers’ Jungle Brother (True Blue) and Biz Markie’s Nobody Beats The Biz. Plus ‘check out my DJ’ tracks like Go Cut Creator Go, bringing us to The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel.

    Back in the world of guitars, the by-then-imploding Clash also did We Are The Clash. The Cramps weighed in with I’m Cramped…

  83. 83
    Cumbrian on 9 Apr 2014 #

    Uh-huh, it was the Manfreds – from a track later covered by Spice Girls.

  84. 84
    Izzy on 9 Apr 2014 #

    St Etienne kicked off with my favourite tune of theirs, the manifestoesque ‘This Is Radio Etienne’. Then a little later there was the Cola Boy classic ‘He Is Cola’.

  85. 85
    Tommy Mack on 9 Apr 2014 #

    Beastie Boys (before rap and before they were famous and indeed before they were all boys)
    Joboxers – The Boxer Beat
    Brassy BRASSY
    Chemical Bros Chemical Beats
    That Fatboy Slim track that goes ‘what we’re doing when the fat boy’s trippin'”

  86. 86
    Chelovek na lune on 9 Apr 2014 #

    #85 Derek B’s a bad young brother (oh yeah, Derek B)

  87. 87

    some notes on why the spice-h8az are MISTAKEN — about this song and the film and EVERYTHING ELSE NATURALLY :)

  88. 88
    wichitalineman on 16 Apr 2014 #

    NOW! watch:

    Surprisingly relegated to Track 2 on the first disc of Now 38. A very upbeat summery disc, with much in-vogue Euro flavouring, and arguably Boyzone’s best single (granted, the competition is thin). Disc 2, as mentioned on the Verve thread, was an incredibly dour affair.

    Chumbawamba : “Tubthumping”
    Spice Girls : “Spice Up Your Life”
    Hanson : “Where’s the Love”
    Boyzone : “Picture of You”
    Backstreet Boys : “As Long As You Love Me”
    Eternal : “Angel of Mine”
    Lighthouse Family : “Raincloud”
    Janet Jackson : “Got ‘Til It’s Gone”
    The Brand New Heavies : “You’ve Got A Friend”
    All Saints : “I Know Where It’s At”
    Louise : “Arms Around the World”
    Gala : “Freed from Desire”
    Sash! featuring La Trec : “Stay”
    Dario G : “Sunchyme”
    Tina Moore : “Never Gonna Let You Go”
    Hot Chocolate : “You Sexy Thing”
    N-Trance featuring Rod Stewart : “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”
    LL Cool J : “Phenomenon”
    911 : “Party People…Friday Night”
    Ricky Martin : “Maria”
    Bellini : “Samba De Janeiro”
    DJ Quicksilver : “Free”

  89. 89
    Trialia on 25 Feb 2016 #

    Just so you’re aware, that “nonsensical” lyric at the end of the chorus is only unintelligible to the monolingual: it’s “Hai, si, ja!” which means “Yes, yes, yes!” in, respectively, Japanese, Spanish and German. So it fits the general theme of the track.

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