Living with my parents over summer ‘95 I read the Independent, cover to cover, largely as a way to delay writing job applications. I become a small-scale fan of Bridget Jones Diary: Helen Fielding’s columns, comically exaggerated snippets of semi-posh London life, were a minor weekly highlight. On first encounter the pieces felt like a sitcom, and in classic sitcom style they seemed to match a mildly awful (but sympathetic) lead character with several still more awful supports. Fielding had refused to write an autobiographical single-girl-about-town column, preferring to take a more satirical route, but Bridget grew into an icon, and her sitcom grew a storyline.
The gloss of satire, and the repetitive structure a serial column demands, turned out to be a winning combination: Bridget constantly declares that she wants to change, but never can. But because this is a comedy, and she’s its heroine, this flips into something positive. As Kelly Marsh points out in her essay ‘Contextualising Bridget Jones’, Bridget’s surface neurosis masks secret unrepentance: she lays out her consumption of booze, cigs and food, then tells the stories of how she missed her targets with relish. She deals with society’s expectations (and her own) by ironising them. Fielding knows perfectly well that “guilty pleasures” is an idea that polices pleasure, not celebrates it, and every week Bridget would start with that policing, and go on to comically defy it.
All this makes “It’s Raining Men” an ideal choice of song. It’s about defiant excess, a carnival spirit of release, where guilt is banished, the unnatural order of things is overturned and the world bends to the desires of those who enjoy men. The original Weather Girls video sees two big, wickedly joyful women and a gaggle of dancers go on an unrestrained rampage through a cheap, gaudy set. The heart of The Weather Girls’ song is the crescendo before the final chorus – “I feel stormy weather moving in!” – sung with delight as a claim on pleasure and a warning of its power.
Geri Halliwell doesn’t have the lungs to match that, but she obviously loves the idea of it as a moment. The pantomime emphasis she gives it sums up her whole approach, though – this is a cover of a song done in the foreknowledge that the song is “cheese”, which saps its power. There’s probably no way for a Weather Girls cover in 2001 to escape that fate, but I don’t think Geri’s trying very hard. “It’s Raining Men” is a good song, and a great choice for Bridget Jones, but I don’t get that from this record. And certainly not from the video, which contrasts Renee Zellweiger at her most flustered and farcical with long pans over Geri’s ultra-toned body. The animating spirit of the thing seems to be “Isn’t Geri great, and how on-brand this song is for her!”
It’s too on brand, is the thing. She does a better job with this song than with some of her own, because it’s a better song, and because she barely tries to actually sing it. (Not a complaint, given the options). But she’s not quite convincing singing a song about the breaking of the dams the world puts on desire, since she made clear from the first words of “Wannabe” that she acknowledged no such limits. Who would ever have held her back? So the part of the song that’s about justice, not only joy, backs off, and we’re left with a romp: “Bag It Up”, part 2. Geri doesn’t need it to rain men, and she can’t sing it like she does.