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Feb 15

GERI HALLIWELL – “Bag It Up”

Popular48 comments • 2,961 views

#852, 25th March 2000

halliwellbag 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.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    23 Daves on 19 Feb 2015 #

    #25 (and others) – when I meet with my nephew, who is a drummer, he constantly tries to talk to me about Green Day and Blink as if they’re bands I’d have a nostalgic fondness for. I barely have the heart to tell him that they really didn’t (and don’t) figure in my life. Led Zeppelin too, who aren’t really connected to either, but seem to be a constant reference for “the kids” these days, whereas when I was a teenager Led Zep still seemed faintly whiffy and supergroupy. I think the issue of the “Past Masters” box set was a real turning point in how they were viewed, in my school and town at least.

    Anyway, Geri… This is the track I find her vocals most irritating on. For me, it suffers the most from her tendency to over-emphasise Every Single Word In An Attempt To Increase The Impact, Baby. It also sounds like the obligatory retro-disco entry at Eurovision – every year a country puts forward a slightly plastic sounding, over-enthusiastic party groove which usually crashes out at the semi final stage or finishes in the second half of the final scoreboard, which can’t have been the sound Geri was trying to emulate.

    I think her positive public image during this period is understandable, though. I even wanted to like her myself. Madonna may have dressed like an ordinary and sassy street girl during the earliest part of her career, but there was still something a bit slick, steely and untouchable about her. Geri, on the other hand, always seemed like the kind of moderately intelligent and ambitious suburban girl made good, the sort of person who exists in cul-de-sacs in Essex, Kent, and indeed Watford. What’s more surprising to me is that the kind of over-confidence, ambition and gobbiness she traded in wasn’t apparent (at least not to me) in a female pop star years before. It was a role that somebody clearly needed to fill.

  2. 27
    fivelongdays on 19 Feb 2015 #

    I know enough people in their late teens/early to mid twenties for whom Blink are untouchable, seminal and Up There. When they did their comeback show a few years back, people talked about it like someone my age might if (for instance) Nirvana somehow got back together. For me (and I would have been 17 when Blink broke through), they were daft and likeable, but for someone born 10-15 years after me they’re somehow more important than Green Day and Offspring.

    Green Day are a slightly odd case – they broke through massively with Dookie, then their appeal became more selective (in spite of which, Insomniac and Nimrod are both fantastic albums) and they were looking like yesterday’s men until American Idiot happened in 2004. At which point, they became bigger than they’d ever been, and suddenly contemporaries and near contemporaries of mine (who’d shown precisely no interest in the West Coast punk scene – well, ok, they might have bought Pretty Fly) suddenly decided Billie Joe Armstrong was their personal messiah. All a bit odd and strangely off putting, in a way.

  3. 28
    Cumbrian on 19 Feb 2015 #

    I don’t find it strange at all that 23 Daves drumming nephew is into Blink: young drummers seem to have a very high regard for Travis Barker, who is pretty good amongst rock drummers as far as I can tell.

    For a certain age and stripe of person, Green Day are The Beatles. This is obviously A Good Thing, in my view (not because The Beatles aren’t worthy or anything, more because it’s encouraging that people find their own path and key influences and not be totally indebted to that which is handed down on tablets of stone from the 60s).

  4. 29
    Tom on 19 Feb 2015 #

    Not that my opinions on pop punk are worth much, but I’m certainly fonder of “All The Small Things”, “Rock Show” and (a particular favourite) gloomy and uncharacteristic late hit “I Miss You” than anything by Green Day. I wonder if the change in reputation is an after effect of Green Day getting serious and credible – a band that appeals to (current) thirtysomethings rather than people a bit younger.

    I also wonder how much TV is a vector in all this – pop punk as a style seems to be the soundtrack lingua franca of American kids’ TV themes for the last 20 years or so. That might account for how it’s managed to stay so beloved among 90s and 00s kids.

  5. 30
    Ricardo on 19 Feb 2015 #

    #24 – Does it notice too much I’m not British? ;) Indeed, I wasn’t aware of “The F-Word”‘s usage as the theme tune to a Gordon Ramsay show, as I never even heard of it before. It might be available on some cable channel around here (here being Portugal), but not that I’m aware. My Chef Ramsay awareness comes from Hell’s Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares and Home Cooking.
    As for blink-182’s current stock among teens and young adults and Travis Barker’s stock among drummers, I also remember how, at one point, during blink’s hiatus, he regularly used to crank remixes of hip-hop tunes. I particularly recall one he did for Flo-Rida’s “Low” (it’s a #2 tune, so no bunny here!) which was quite appreciated at the time. He even did a full rap/rock album a few years ago, wherein people like Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, Rick Ross and Ludacris guested.

  6. 31
    23 Daves on 19 Feb 2015 #

    #28 I’m sure I’ve raised this point on “Popular” before – probably on The Wonder Stuff’s solitary thread, I expect – but when I heard Green Day for the first time, my internal response was “Wow! Grebo’s back!” Not so much Ned’s Atomic Dustbin or Gaye Bykers on Acid, obviously, more The Stuffies and PWEI.

    Obviously, I’m not accusing Green Day of being influenced by either, clearly all bands were drawing from the same seventies pop-punk source – but the goofy, moody yet effervescent, lager-dribbling three-minute tunes I heard rang serious bells for me. Having been through that phase once in my life already with my obsessive playing of “Eight Legged Groove Machine” at an impressionable age, I felt no real desire to revisit those kinds of noises again.

    I’m not disputing that Green Day’s musicianship was a bit of an improvement on Stourbridge’s finest at the point of their debut album, though.

    Later, on a long three month visit to Canada in early 2005, Green Day’s “American Idiot” album was inescapable on FM radio. It grew on me a bit, but not enough that I felt the urge to buy an actual copy, though I downloaded that “American Edit” bootleg that did the rounds.

  7. 32
    fivelongdays on 19 Feb 2015 #

    Tom – today’s 30 somethings are, of course, the people who would have been teens (or almost teens) when Dookie came out. I think the main thing missing from GD post-American Idiot is (A) a sense of quality control and (b) Mike Dirnt’s frenetic, melodic, exciting basslines. He started following the guitars from AI onwards, which was a bit of a shame, because his bass carried the melody in pretty much all the hits from Dookie.

    Travis Barker is a very, very talented drummer – all the drummers I know rate him extremely highly. The story is that Blink’s original drummer quit halfway through a Warped tour, they needed a drummer very quickly, and Barker (who was in a forgotten ska band) filled in having learned Blink’s entire set beat for beat in 45 minutes.

  8. 33
    weej on 20 Feb 2015 #

    I was all cued up to hate this, only to find that it’s pretty ok – it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Geri Halliwell single, plays exactly to her meagre strengths and doesn’t allow her to try anything too ambitious. In that sense it’s a complete success, though I also have no great desire to play it again.

  9. 34
    weej on 20 Feb 2015 #

    Oh, and re: Blink 182, Sum 41 et al, they were a joke to everyone I knew in 2000, can someone explain to me why their stock has risen so much in the last 15 years? I can understand enjoying their music, but they didn’t even seem to take *themselves* seriously, so why should anyone else?

  10. 35
    JLucas on 20 Feb 2015 #

    Blink 182 were never to my tastes, but I can appreciate they were probably great fun if you like that sort of thing.

    I Miss You was almost a genuinely great song, spoiled for me by Tom Delonge’s awful honking vocals on the chorus (I appreciate the irony of making that complaint after my defence of Geri, but Bag It Up isn’t aiming for any emotional gravitas).

  11. 36
    Cumbrian on 20 Feb 2015 #

    #34: I’ll stick my neck out on that question. I think Tom is right that there’s an influence from US TV shows and films that are in heavy rotation, so that this music never really went away. I’d also say that the fact that they didn’t take themselves too seriously was a real boon for them; in the UK guitar scene at least they were up against boring, mewling non-entities, strumming their acoustic guitars in tedious fashion with no tunes and no clue. At least these guys could turn a chorus out and lived in technicolour a bit – it’s why we ultimately fell for The White Stripes, The Hives and The Darkness over here, getting away from the likes of Starsailor. I’m not a huge fan of many if any of the US pop punkers but I would definitely buy a US pop-punk Nuggets comprising the best and biggest of the hits – the stuff that hit big is pretty good I would say.

  12. 37
    Tommy Mack on 20 Feb 2015 #

    While we’re on the subject of Blink, What’s My Age Again is genuinely quite touching in its belief that 23 is too old to be acting ‘like you’re in freshman year’. It’s the one where they run around naked through LA in the video.

    Transplants, Travis Barker’s collaboration with Tim Armstrong and Rob Aston produced at least one killer single in the piano-loop driven Diamonds and Guns and at least one decent album though enjoying it does hinge on how much you can stomach Armstrong’s voice.

  13. 38
    DanH on 21 Feb 2015 #

    Green Day is an odd one to me. I first was aware of them at age 10, when my brother was all over the just released Dookie, so I knew that album very well. I only knew of the radio singles from Insomniac (“Brain Stew/Jaded” being my favorite) and Nimrod, and I’m probably the only person who really liked Warning, as I was a proper teenager when it came out. Nowadays the whole album has been written out of the history books. However, when American Idiot came out, I heard the title track, found it OK, but reasoned that at age 20 I was too old for that thing anymore. Little did I realize how much of a touchstone it became with my age group, and only listened to all of it years after the fact.

    Blink 182, on the other hand, never had any time for them. Got a few grins out of the “All the Small Things” video that nicked all the teen pop videos of 1999, but that was it.

  14. 39
    wichitalineman on 22 Feb 2015 #

    Why is it called Bag It Up?

  15. 40
    Tommy Mack on 22 Feb 2015 #

    Dunno, just makes me think of No Diggity.

  16. 41
    Inanimate Carbon God on 2 Mar 2015 #

    It took a fortnight for me to drum up the courage to listen to this again. As a sour 14-year-old I saw it as the definition of “lowest common denominator”, “manufactured pop”, “cheese”, all those earthy, real ale-supping uncle, David Lloyd/Geoffrey Boycott descriptions. In 2015, that doesn’t bother me much as I’ve learnt dadrock is an even bigger enemy of great pop. The problem comes from running the Doors’ “Changeling” into the ground (BEFORE Boogie Nights, fact fans!) and moreover that getting someone of Geri Halliwell’s subtlety to write something satirical and situationist about gender roles is like eating Sunday tea five minutes before you go swimming.

    2.

    At least she’s trying, more than can be said for Madonna’s American soggy cheese pasty in the rain. Sorry I keep going on about that. There must be some suppressed teenage memory from that song involving baked goods.

  17. 42
    Fivelongdays on 4 Mar 2015 #

    So-called Dad’rock’ is far more anti-rock’n’roll than this and its ilk could ever be.

  18. 43
    flahr on 4 Mar 2015 #

    ‘so-called’ ”Dad”rock”

  19. 44
    Inanimate Carbon God on 4 Mar 2015 #

    But which dads do truly rock? I don’t mean just any actual father, but someone who has the demeanour of a stereotypical dad. Springsteen?

  20. 45
    Cumbrian on 4 Mar 2015 #

    Springsteen hasn’t really rocked since he became a father though. All his rockingest stuff is from before fatherhood and now he’s peddling that on tour but none of the stuff post becoming a father really rocks in the same way as something like Ramrod or Because The Night or whatever.

    Neil Young, on the other hand, looks like a certain type of Dad and has definitely rocked since becoming one – Re-Ac-Tor, Freedom, Ragged Glory, Le Noise, Psychedelic Pill et al being the proof points I think.

  21. 46
    wichitalineman on 4 Mar 2015 #

    “So-called” “self-styled” “dad rock”.

    Listening to PM tonight I heard the capital of Islamic State described as “so-called self-styled”. Does my head in.

  22. 47
    punctum on 5 Mar 2015 #

    In the right, or even the wrong, hands “Bag It Up” could have been the mother of all subversive post-New Pop/Riot Grrl manifestos. Its video, too, errs one crucial point short of fantastic; if “Girl Powder” is supposed to be a barbed comment about Halliwell’s previous life, what does that say about the notion a united front of feminists, or indeed the need for truth above the craving for personal gain? Nearly all of the necessary elements are intact; chunky production, opulent Britfunk horn sections (practically a big band), even the unquestionably authentic Pepsi and Shirlie on backing vocals. But Geri continues to be the orange, if not a black, hole; the chorus itself relies on the assumption that not many people will be familiar with Barry Blue’s Rod Temperton-penned 1987 single “Change It Up” (the similarity is more than marked) and despite the supposedly bold role reversal at the climax of both song and video (“Treat him like a lady”) the appeal seems to be directed towards impressionable young men with their boxes of Kleenex tissues and video remote pause buttons. The line “Wind him up and make him crazy” gives it away; there is merely some ticklish pseudo-dominatrix winking (not a misprint) at work here, besides which Halliwell herself can’t resist the provincial rep musical approach with her nose-licking growls of “Who’s wearing the trousers now?” In addition, the men/girls Venus/Mars meme – a tired device even in 2000 – indicates that Geri is merely having a laugh; men, can’t live with/without ’em, and thusly thus. As for “bag it up” and “don’t drop the baby” I can only assume that the role reversal involves the man being assigned Hoover and childcare duties. A dividing line short of radical; quite a chocolatey record but not a determinedly controversial one.

  23. 48
    ciaran on 8 Mar 2015 #

    WDYTYA is the obvious comaprison here as mentioned but whilst thats quite charming ‘Bag It Up’ just seems totally derivative.

    Nothing wrong with the female perspective on these things at all but it’s like a ploy to extend the shelf life of Geri above all else.You need someone stronger than GH to make this convincing.

    Her not terribly good records to start with just got worse with each release and this is a real low point. 2

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