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Jun 14

SPICE GIRLS – “Viva Forever”

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#797, 1st August 1998

spiceviva A single overtaken by events, “Viva Forever” found its modest theme – the embers of holiday romance – completely sidelined when it turned out to be the Final Spice Girls Single, meaning the last single by the founding quintet. Suddenly the pressure of attention warped just another enjoyable Spice ballad into a grand valedictory statement. “Viva Forever” still just about bears that weight, though “fleeting, doomed and bittersweet” wasn’t quite the emotional note the band would have picked for a send-off. And sure enough the remaining four members decided to take a second shot at mythologising the Geri Era (and the band), which we’ll get to in time, and means I can take this track at face value.

And it’s good – very good, their best ballad since “2 Become 1”. Like that song, “Viva Forever” takes a specific but common romantic situation and treats it simply and sincerely. This is a song for a particular moment – back at dreary home, sand at the bottom of your suitcase, precious memories of summer love fading at the edges. It’s wallowing, wistful music, with its Spanish guitar phrases vanishing back into mists of regretful backing vox. “Viva Forever” is only good, though: it does nothing unexpected, and it never makes a move when there’s a cheesier one available – castanets, “hasta manana”, the sands of time, it’s all here. But its straightforward seriousness is exactly right for its subject – it’s the song you might turn to when you want to be reassured that what you felt meant something, even as it admits it might not have.

And some would say that would have been an apt end for the group after all. Their own commercial grip had begun to slacken even as the UK charts were being remade in their image: what better time for an exit, before the spotlight moved on? When the time came to name the band’s short-lived jukebox musical, they went for “Viva Forever” – the Spice Girls as the persistent memory of a wonderful but brief affair. But at the time, as we’ll see, they had rather different ideas.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    mapman132 on 4 Jun 2014 #

    Never charted in America but I do remember the surreal and somewhat uncanny video. I think it was played on MuchMusic, the Canadian video channel that was part of my cable package at the time. A rather odd feel to this one, maybe because I associate it with the video. 6/10.

  2. 2
    lonepilgrim on 4 Jun 2014 #

    I’d not seen the video until recently and was beguiled by the imagery of the Spice Girls as faeries seducing a young lad – it ties them into English culture far more deeply than a Union Jack dress. I think the song is better than the rather average production and would be open to a variety of different interpretations

  3. 3
    Tamara on 4 Jun 2014 #

    I remember this completely tied together with the video. I don’t think I even owned any records (cassettes, whatever) then – music meant MTV. Watching it now, I am struck by how creepy it is, how alien and rather vicious (and self-parodic, on a more meta level) the little Spice Fairy dolls look, how befuddled the boy (or girl? I was never sure) is, the imagery of the toys, etc.

  4. 4
    swanstep on 4 Jun 2014 #

    New to me…and, on first few listens, it’s sort of a poor cousin to both Madonna’s ‘Power of Goodbye’ and the SG’s own ‘Mama’. VF’s sort of abstractly pleasant and inoffensive rather than beautiful or sparkling or moving I find. That video, however, is the opposite of the song’s blandness – it’s aggressively weird, and there are lots of comments on youtube from people who were scarred by it as kids!
    4

  5. 5
    Seb Patrick on 4 Jun 2014 #

    Christ, I hope whoever designed those quite frankly terrifying fairy animated doll things never worked again.

  6. 6
    wichitalineman on 4 Jun 2014 #

    “It does nothing unexpected, and it never makes a move when there’s a cheesier one available”. I’m not sure. The Spanish cliches tie in with the brevity of contact with foreign culture you’d experience on your first holiday abroad, so that’s forgivable. Beyond that: Mel C’s harmony on “always be mine” is gorgeous; the very low vocal on the last chorus sounds like a ghost; the strings are subtle and could easily have been over-employed, but they’re not. All good, unexpected touches.

    This also feels like a farewell to the infantilism/70s retro aspect of the 90s, which (again) died with Britpop. Fleeting and doomed – you can’t keep looking back. That reference to Live Forever is no accident.

    Re 2: Great point.

  7. 7
    James BC on 4 Jun 2014 #

    Spice fans really rate this – I’ve seen it voted their best single. Which means it must have something that completely escapes me.

  8. 8
    JLucas on 4 Jun 2014 #

    My favourite song by my all-time favourite pop group.

    Some songs define the group and the period of time that produced them. Other transcend it. The classic Spice hits – Wannabe, Spice Up Your Life, 2 Become 1 – are all in the former category. This is the latter. If it ranks among the less remembered Spice Girls #1s, it’s because it doesn’t really sit in their narrative. People remember the Spiceworld period as the moment the machine went into hyperdrive – releasing colossal, garish event singles like Spice Up Your Life, touring the world, endorsing pretty much anything that was thrust into their hands. Viva Forever doesn’t really follow that through though, being by far the most tender and contemplative song they’ve ever released. It’s seriously high-end, adult pop music, an awkward proposition for critics who always have and probably always will struggle to take them seriously. (Not a dig at you Tom, though you have broken my heart a bit with that six).

    One day, I hope this song will get the recognition it deserves. I’m not sure it ever will though. With ABBA’s greatest moments, the realisation of their value to popular music may have been delayed, but there was an easy through-line from their early awkwardness through to the achievement of songwriting greatness, with the irresistible context of two marriages falling apart. I genuinely believe Viva Forever to be a perfect song, but it’s a bit of a black sheep in their catalogue. Stately ballads were as much their thing as big pop songs, but this one strikes at an emotional chord that 2 Become 1 and Too Much don’t really reach for. Goodbye, as mentioned, is very much a sister to this song, but it doesn’t quite reach the same heights, and in any case it’s the early brace of hits and the mania surrounding them that I think they’ll always be defined by, not surprising moments like this.

    Why do I love it so much? To be honest it’s something I find difficult to put into words. It is my very favourite song, and it touches me in a way no other song does. Although the song preceded Geri’s departure, it went on to have a very specific resonance in that at the time of its release it obviously marked the end of something. But more importantly, for a group that defined a moment in the lives of so many children, it is as perfect a description of growing up as I can imagine. It’s a song about holding on to something while also letting it go. It’s about knowing, or wanting to know, that something mattered, even if it’s over. It’s about hope, uncertainty and reassurance. Like all the best songs, it feels both universal and specific.

    It’s also the best any of them have ever sung. The interplay between Emma Bunton and Mel B was a staple of their ballads, but it was never more effectively employed than here, harnessing the contrast between their voices for maximum emotional impact. “Do you still remember? / Yes, I still remember…”

    Victoria also gets a lovely little moment to shine, and Mel C’s ad-libs were never better or more tastefully employed. The lack of Geri is quite interesting considering the timing. I’ve never really understood why even on the album she doesn’t get a line, but it wound up being entirely fitting and, to be honest, emotional resonance never exactly being her strong suit, probably for the best.

    Goodbye was a more than worthy sequel which we’ll get to in time, but for me this works far better as an elegy for the group. Mixed solo careers, disappointing reunions and that bloody musical might tarnish their memory a bit, but this song rises above it all. The easiest ten I’ll ever give on this countdown.

  9. 9
    anto on 4 Jun 2014 #

    One of the Spice’s finest singles, all the better for staying close to the mystery and melancholy in the verse melody. It actually sounds a bit like one of the songs on the second side of My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’ but I can’t remember the title.

  10. 10
    Rory on 4 Jun 2014 #

    This was a welcome encounter in my first journey through the Spice Girls’ songs. I’ve found Spiceworld a strong album altogether, more than I had expected it to be, and this is certainly one of the stronger tracks; a more appealing ballad for me than some of the others we’ve heard so far. My own mark isn’t that far off Tom’s, but I can see where JLucas is coming from. 7.

    (“Move Over” was the other surprise from the album; it deserved to be more than a forgotten promotional single for Pepsi.)

  11. 11
    Phil on 4 Jun 2014 #

    Avoiding work this morning, I started following “Related posts” links to see if I could make it back to the start of the series. I couldn’t – the earliest post I could get to was “Hello Goodbye” (25th May 2006). Apparently everything changed around the time of the Beatles’ last couple of singles – either that, or May 2006 was when you started populating the ‘related posts’ field!

    I happened on my second favourite single of all time on the way, and I was genuinely surprised (as well as disappointed) to see you’d given it a 6. Glad you acknowledged the scariness of the singer, though. (Singers were *bigger* in those days – we all avert our eyes from Gary Glitter these days, for obvious reasons, but I think he was a typical as well as an extreme example.)

  12. 12
    Tom on 4 Jun 2014 #

    Lovely comment at #8 – the kind of thing that makes me feel guilty!

  13. 13

    “related posts” probably can’t get back to the start of popular as the comments app was changed at some point (when it was realised that haloscan wasn’t archiving forever and all the early funny comments were lost to the ages)

  14. 14
    iconoclast on 4 Jun 2014 #

    This is quite pretty and understated, and the Spanish touches are nice; with a bit more care it could have been really good. It falls down on two counts, however: it glides pleasantly but doesn’t really take off; and it’s subjected to the curse of many songs which deserve better, viz. the Unchanging, Unimaginative, and Unexciting Programmed Drum Track. SIX.

  15. 15
    thefatgit on 4 Jun 2014 #

    Have to agree, a great comment by JLucas @8. I suspect my enthusiasm for VF won’t match. I can only call to mind the chorus, and that’s about it. So I’ll hang fire for now, and comment further after YouTube-embargoed work.

  16. 16
    Cumbrian on 4 Jun 2014 #

    We love a bit of Latin influence in our pop music in the UK don’t we? Just scrolling through a few old number 1s, you’ve got bossa nova on “Jesus To A Child”, Latin beats (lifted) on “Fairground”, Spanish shouting by The Clash, “La Isla Bonita” and plenty more besides. Indeed, if memory serves were going to get more references to Spain pretty shortly – and in the future, we’ve got bunnies from across the Spanish speaking world to look forward to.

    Reductively, I assume it must be something to do with it being a common holiday destination for a large number of UK holidaymakers, so there is more exposure to Latin influences, in an environment when a lot of people are relaxed and predisposed to associating those elements with pleasant memories. That said, if there’s any other ideas as to why we seem to like this stuff, I am all ears. One imagines that there must be more to it than it just being where we go on hols. Especially as I never went to Spain on holiday, we always went to France, so I could just be pulling this out of thin air.

    I’ve said it on previous SG threads that relistening to them well after the fact has hugely opened my ears up to Emma Bunton. She’s great on this and kudos to JLucas for pointing out the interplay with Mel B, which to my mind is what makes this record. Also, any SG record minimising Geri is, as ever, going to win points with me. Not having the associations with Spain though, I’m a bit more cynical about those influences being present – let’s have a record that we can play throughout the Spanish speaking world, keep hitting the relevant markets – my fault obviously, not the record’s. Still, I can’t shake it, so whilst it’s pleasant, I’m not going much, if anything, beyond Tom’s mark, I think.

  17. 17
    admin on 4 Jun 2014 #

    boring admin comment… There IS a related comments cut off (3000 days — which is going to be ~May 2006) just to try and limit some of the more excessive database overhead we get here at FT towers. Given the site sluggishness of late I’m going to err on the side of keeping it :-(

  18. 18
    Tom on 4 Jun 2014 #

    #17 that’s interesting – I think as we get to the stage where I’m writing about songs I wrote about on FT or NYLPM I’ll be quite glad of my old opinions not coming back to haunt me..!

  19. 19
    alexcornetto on 4 Jun 2014 #

    I’d completely forgotten about this song generally for a while until I heard Jim O’Rourke’s cover of it from a few years back. As far as straight-faced covers of pop songs go, it’s one of the most heartfelt I can think of

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v48twM_f0Xs

    As far as the original, my main thought was to do with the chronology of events. According to Wiki, this was due out two months beforehand, as a double a-side with ‘Never Give Up on the Good Times’ (on which Geri had a more prominent role). Geri left on 31st May, which led to the single getting pushed back and ‘Good Times’ being dropped from the tracklist.

    I spent a lot more time thinking about that than the song itself. 5

  20. 20
    chelovek na lune on 4 Jun 2014 #

    Certainly their best single since “2 Become 1”, the multiplicity of interpretations that Lonepilgrim mentions above is one of the song’s greatest strengths. Although the “forced” reinterpretation that Geri’s exit placed upon the public interpretation of the song…works well, to be point of not actually feeling, or perhaps even being, forced at all. I think of this song as even more than “Wannabe” (let alone the atrocious come-back single, year later, that broke their record of all singles reaching the top 2 in the charts…), being a celebration of female friendship and solidarity – a little more mature that that expressed in “Wannabe”, less cheeky, more sincere, but dreamy, none the less, perhaps. I like it, quite a lot, actually. And frankly when it comes to Spice-related records with Spanish touches, there are far worse…

  21. 21
    thefatgit on 4 Jun 2014 #

    OK, so the post-Geri/not quite post-Geri VF must carry an almighty weight for the die-hard SG fanbase, but that weight does not bear down on me at all. Those responsible for the ill-fated jukebox musical, named it after this song. How in the hell could that particular project fail, when Mamma Mia still goes from strength to strength? Well, of course ABBA are still very much revered even after their lengthy cultural exile. I believe Spice Girls’ cultural exile is still very much in effect and when the musical went down the pan, it was largely agreed that the Spice phenomenon was still cultural kryptonite.

    The thing with Popular is that we can look at their #1 singles in isolation and judge them on their own merits or place them on a figurative Usual Suspects style pinboard and look at the bigger picture, like we have done with Oasis and Blur re: Britpop. And we can look in detail at reasons why our attitudes have changed. But we can’t speak for the millions of punters out there and the choices they make. Just why did Viva Forever the musical tank so badly, when We Will Rock You (itself an absolute car crash of a musical, but the songs are great) succeeded?

    Something about the song itself, although there’s lovely little latin touches and an understated arrangement, it’s not a song that lingers in the memory. Having reminded myself of the song via YouTube, I realised I must have forgotten at least 70% of VF. So why choose this song as the title of a Spice Girls jukebox musical, when an average punter like me can only hum part of the chorus and not have the first clue about the verses? Seems like the producers sabotaged themselves from the start using VF as their all encompassing Spice signifier.

    Having said all that, it’s a pleasant enough song and like I said, the touches of spanish guitar elevate this beyond the ordinary. I marked “2 Become 1” an 8 and my instincts would go 6 for this, but Emma, Mel B and even Victoria’s vocal performances come out of this positively so…(7).

  22. 22
    Kinitawowi on 4 Jun 2014 #

    Call it serendipity, call it dumb fucking luck, but it couldn’t have been a better requiem if it had been planned. Lost holiday loves, lost friends (the video, all about slowly growing apart from one another), and ultimately lost colleagues. Geri’s Spanish heritage comes through again, as with Spice Up Your Life; her voice may not be here any more, but the heart and the spirit – the Spice, perhaps – remains.

    And as with their best ballads, this is one of those that plays to everybody’s vocal strengths. Emma retelling the sweet and flirty first verse, while Mel B responds; but again, Mel C’s wistful heartbreak – better in the verse than the chorus, but awesome in both – takes the song to a whole new level. Even Posh’s contribution doesn’t damage the song in any way at all. It’s perfection.

    AND it stopped Puff Daddy and Jimmy Page getting to Number 1. (And Will Smith, but Just The Two Of Us wasn’t total dogshit.)

    #8 was bang on, on so many levels.

    10.

  23. 23
    weej on 5 Jun 2014 #

    A first re-watch of the (freaky) video had me filing this as “pleasant but slight” but a couple of comments above led me to listen to the track through decent earphones, and I have to say I’m slightly turned around on it. There’s a subtle sweeping grandness (if that’s a thing) which is easy to miss, and (as noted) the interplay between Emma and Mel C is very well-executed. I still think it could’ve done with a little less spanish guitar, though it doesn’t ruin the song. I might stretch to a 7, 8 seems a bit much.

    Listened to as #1s alone, this is the second in a trilogy of downbeat ballads from the girls, and it’s a shame we don’t have ‘Stop’ or ‘Move Over’ to break things up a bit. The giddy excitement of their first few singles already seems like ancient history – not really a good sign for a group supposedly aimed at the pre-teen market – though we’ll soon be encountering a group who manage to attain huge commercial success with an almost-all-sappy-ballad repertoire and a fanbase of mostly young girls, so perhaps this is the way to go after all.

  24. 24
    Izzy on 5 Jun 2014 #

    16: I’m surprised there isn’t more Latin influence, personally – it’s where I’d look if I wanted to make a tune more rhythmically-complicated, but there aren’t many spring to mind. Roxanne is another. I can’t think of a big flamenco track.

    21: I suspect the right answer is the simple one – the Spice Girls’ songs weren’t actually that good. The best Abba and Queen tunes are exquisitely-crafted, verses building up to unfolding resolutive choruses and all that; Spice tunes largely are not, they’re a bunch of hooks which sometimes make for a great song and sometimes don’t. And because they had fewer hits, in their musical they can’t edit out the chaff so easily. Including the verses on Stop or Spice Up Your Life would make for quite a lot of dead time, and it’s not like they could strip those out and replace with an album cut like e.g. The Day Before You Came.

  25. 25
    James BC on 5 Jun 2014 #

    Kinder reasons why Viva Forever the musical might have struggled:

    1. The Spice Girls didn’t have all that many songs: the ten singles from the first two albums are all most people would know.

    2. Abba songs have a timeless quality, whereas the Spice Girls were all about a particular moment in time. While some people feel a strong nostalgia for that time, that’s quite a narrow demographic.

    3. The Spice Girls’ songs were far more dependent on the personality of the singers than Abba’s were.

    4. The Spice Girls had a lot of pastiche, with almost every song in a different style, so it’d be harder to get a coherent show out of them than with Abba.

    5. Bad luck! The Madness musical wasn’t a big hit either so it’s no disgrace.

  26. 26
    JLucas on 5 Jun 2014 #

    An interesting point about the song (I don’t like all the discussion coming back to the dreadful musical that shares its name) is that it sold almost double what the preceding ‘Stop’ did. Obviously Geri’s exit gave the song massive publicity, but even so for the fourth single from a big-selling album it did exceptionally well.

    UK Sales figures for the Spiceworld singles (as of September 2007)

    Spice Up Your Life: 800,000
    Too Much: 657,000
    Stop: 331,000
    Viva Forever: 623,000

    Obviously those figures suggest Stop may just have been an aberration and Viva Forever returned them to the figures they’d come to expect (The four singles from the debut all cleared 600,000 too). Goodbye did even better – 853,000; but then that like Too Much was a Christmas #1, and a brand new track.

  27. 27
    thefatgit on 5 Jun 2014 #

    Thanks for the responses re: the musical. I have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to musicals and I was really trying to figure out if it was the artists or the songs that determines whether they sink or swim.

  28. 28
    Mark G on 5 Jun 2014 #

    Well, I never went but I got the impression it was the actual story that was the ‘problem’, and it was more that ‘Mamma Mia’ got it very right than the others ‘failed’ as such.

  29. 29
    Alex on 5 Jun 2014 #

    “Everlasting. Like the surn“. Christ.

  30. 30
    AMZ1981 on 5 Jun 2014 #

    Rather late in the day – this is the only Spice Girls song I’ll actually admit to liking; it has a beguiling melody and Mel C’s voice (not something I’m particularly keen on) is used to good effect on the chorus. It also gets a brownie point for blocking an absolute stinker from the top; Will Smith’s Just The Two Of Us (the tribute to his son where the advice includes holding open doors).

    I’d never actually seen the video until a few nights ago when I watched it on YouTube. What I found interesting is a curious lack of girl power – the Spice Girls always had a `girls night out with no boys` feel about them and the childhood friendship fading theme would have worked with two female protaganists. As with C’est La Vie a few entries ago I’m curious as to where the child actors are now.

    Finally, although Geri’s departure did gain the song more publicity than it might otherwise have got, credit has to go to the Spice Girls for taking and holding number one despite a six month old parent album being available – compare this to the trio of here today gone tomorrow chart toppers that preceded it.

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