Go back to 1998, ask people to predict what a Geri Halliwell solo record would be like, and I’d say they’d have landed somewhere close to “Bag It Up”. It’s brash, plasticky disco, noisy and cheeky: if the role-switching promo clip didn’t get people talking, her BRIT Awards emergence from between a giant pair of inflatable legs would. It’s also the closest her solo hits come to a ‘girl power’ statement (something the video directly references). But where “Wannabe” offered its tween and teen fans a vision of girls-together cameraderie, making romance an explicit second to friendship, “Bag It Up” is a bit more forthright in its demands for autonomy. “Bag it up…boot him out…wind him up… do your thing”. Throw in the reference to smash-hit 90s relationship guru John Gray (the former Maharishi disciple who cranked out fifteen Men Are From Mars… books, as psychologists despaired) and the message is clear. Relationships, in this song, really are a battle of the sexes, and Geri is determined her side are going to win.
So far, so good, so Geri. It’s not as if rock music isn’t full of swaggering celebrations of male sexual freedom and disdain – why not write a woman’s equivalent? And once you’ve written it, why not double down on the concept and perform it like you’re MCing the world’s biggest hen party? “Bag It Up” is as nuanced in its pitch as a pink election battlebus (and as easy a target). It’s also Halliwell’s least subtle lead vocal, which is some feat. She growls, cajoles, and shouts, and by the spoken end, on “look who’s wearing the trousers now”, she’s attacking the song with a gusto she barely even showed on the Spice Girls’ records.
Geri’s obviously loving every moment of this, and “Bag It Up” succeeds as ribald panto – an awards ceremony is the ideal home for it. As a pop single I might want to play more than twice, it falls short. Going full throttle at this song is certainly her best tactic, but a Geri Halliwell record still inescapably involves listening to four minutes of Geri Halliwell singing. It’s fun to hear her unleashed, chewing the scenery on the verses here, but it’s exhausting too, and she oversells the bridge: her stress on “a bad case of opposite sex” and the Mars/Venus swap feel like someone chuckling at their own jokes.
It’s a problem with the whole record: “Bag It Up” is overstuffed – nothing in the 80s funk production gets any breathing space, and Geri has no intention of letting up either. “Come on lady!” she roars. Geri is having fun, and if she’s having fun, well, everyone else must be too, right? But again, this is all exactly what you’d have expected from a Geri Halliwell solo single: “Bag It Up” is her “Let Me Entertain You”, a performer playing themselves, but louder. It’s a strong, fan-pleasing card to play, but with one problem: the weaknesses get dialled up as well as the strengths.