31
Jan 14

SPICE GIRLS – “2 Become 1”

Popular64 comments • 9,688 views

#755, 28th December 1996

2b1 The last Number One about sex and its uses was “Fastlove”, and at first that record and this one seem very different creatures. “2 Become 1”, with its gentle singing and its Vaseline production, is about closeness, or at least an ideal of it – the very thing “Fastlove” flinched from. But the songs have more in common than it appears. Both are about sex as a repairing force. Where on “Fastlove” casual sex was a sticking plaster for some awful loss, in “2 Become 1” the promise is that sex won’t just mend a relationship, it’s a stepping stone to something more profound. “Set your spirit free / It’s the only way to be.”

It’s very vague and very Spice, a Girl Power mingling of sex-positivity and self-improvement. And “2 Becomes 1” ticks all the boxes their other singles have: a specific situation, an empowered protagonist, a bit of advice for the boys, and a useful knack for giving the key role in the song to the best singer for the job: Emma, in this case.

The situation, first – an encounter in which the guy is hesitant, maybe feels guilty, and certainly is in need of reassurance. (I’m assuming it’s a guy because of the “put it on” safe sex line, though the group sensibly dropped Geri’s clumsy “Boys and girls do good together” line from the LP mix.) This is an unusual setup for pop as we’ve encountered it: men present themselves as vulnerable, but its rarer to see that from a woman’s perspective. Refreshing, too: as with “Say You’ll Be There”, the Spice Girls have taken a classic pop premise and tweaked it to give themselves a lot more autonomy. The soft-focus strings and Tinkerbell keyboard twinkles code this firmly as “slushy romantic ballad” – and it is – but it’s one in which the woman is unwaveringly in control of the situation, and just trying to get her partner to come to the same conclusion she has about what’s going to happen next. It’s a ballad with no tension, just anticipation.

If the production makes it generic, and the songwriting makes that deceptive, it’s Emma Bunton who really makes “2 Beyond 1” live. The other Spice Girls can’t quite get the balance right between soothing and sexy, and end up landing on the former, Mel C sounding like she’s trying to calm a startled colt. Emma gets the toughest lines – the ones which have to sell the song as a seduction, not just a cuddle – and carries them off wickedly and playfully. Her “get it on” and “put it on” are the song’s most intimate moments, all the more so for being sung with a slight smile. It’s not difficult to make pop music about people who want each other – but often a harder trick to make you feel they like each other too.

“2 Become 1” is the Spice Girls’ third single, third Number One, and the first of three years at which they top the charts at Christmas. They don’t dominate pop music – for one thing, they still have no credible imitators at this point, and won’t through all of 1997. But they are the biggest game in a chaotic singles charts now, and this run of singles makes a good case they’re also the best.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    To Mewing! (@tomewing) on 31 Jan 2014 #

    The Spice Girls bring 1996 to a smoochy end on Popular. http://t.co/LisuRlhd6v

  2. 2
    flahr on 31 Jan 2014 #

    Love it. Catchy ballad, well sung, lovely bass in the prechorus (is it a prechorus?), exactly as good as “This Corrosion” by The Sisters of Mercy. I need some love: 8/10.

    Surprised that the “boys and girls…” wasn’t on the single version, because I’m pretty sure it’s there on the video – I shall check.

    EDIT: They do indeed change it. That’s good.

    Other thing I like: the way the chorus just sort of trails off dreamily and doesn’t quite resolve (it feels like it’s a line too short, but in a good way, if you see what I mean).

    Only Spice Girls #1 not to appear on a Now! album (although there’s a double-A side later which doesn’t appear in full); I presume this was an issue of timing more than anything else.

  3. 3
    Ed on 31 Jan 2014 #

    Their masterpiece. Irresistibly charming for all the reasons Tom mentions, so I was a bit surprised by the score. It has a gorgeous melody – the strongest of anything they did, I think – and the production is not *entirely* generic: the beat is lively enough to stop it dragging, and the string coda is lovely.

    This one of the songs where seeing the video makes a real difference, though, and I am not sure that I would feel quite so enthusiastic if I was hearing it cold for the first time on the radio.

    A minor work of genius, the video is worth a look, even if you think you remember it:
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xcu6o9_spice-girls-2-become-1_music

    The use of New York is inspired: it’s unfamiliar, exciting and potentially frightening, but the group are poised and calm and completely in control.

    And although the fawn at the end might be considered ever so slightly heavy-handed, it chokes me up every time.

    I like to think they got the idea from ‘Mad Dog and Glory’, which was out a few years earlier.

    De Niro: ” I don’t know where it came from. Maybe it swam over from Indiana, escaped from the zoo… but there it was, this, this deer. Me and this deer at 3:00 a.m. In the morning. Let me show you that photo of the deer.”

  4. 4
    Tom Lawrence on 31 Jan 2014 #

    I recall this song vividly because I was at primary school at the time, in my final year, aged ten. And at the time I was unusual among my classmates for having – shock – access to The Internet. And so a girl approached me to ask if I could get the lyrics of this song off the internet for her so her and her friends could perform it for the school.

    I don’t actually recall if I agreed (or if I actually carried it out if I did). I do recall being dimly aware that the song was probably inappropriate for a group of ten year olds to sing at a Church of England-sponsored primary school assembly, though.

  5. 5
    mapman132 on 31 Jan 2014 #

    I have to say this is my favorite Spice Girls song. I’m a sucker for a well-done ballad and the inherent gorgeousness of the video clinches it for me. This was a #4 hit in the US, although at the end of the summer of 1997 – we would finally catch up to the UK that fall after skipping the next bunny entirely. Notably this was also the last big mainstream hit the Girls would have in the US. While the record shows they have four US Top 40 hits to come, I’m only consciously familiar with one of them, although curiously I am familiar with two of their bunnies that didn’t make the Hot 100. Those stories will have to wait. For now, 8/10.

  6. 6
    Billy Hicks on 31 Jan 2014 #

    The second* song I remember thinking was a bit, erm, naughty. I was only eight years old but knew exactly what they meant with the whole two-becoming-one metaphor. Saying that this still seemed tame in comparison to songs which had the word ‘Sex’ in the title, which I’d be shocked to hear on the radio – none I remember in 1996, but the following year saw a certain 1975 hit re-issued which I remember being very embarrassed hearing, wondering if I’d get into trouble simply for my ears picking it up. Those were the days.

    I’m torn between this and a 1998 bunny as my favourite Spice song. I think the bunny just edges it but this, despite my continued irritation of them at the time as mentioned before (“they’re GIRLS! Ewww!”) is still really good, and takes me back to what I remember being a cold winter with lots of snowfall. My Christmas presents that year were dominated by both the film ‘Toy Story’ and its associated toy tie-ins that brilliantly worked *exactly* the same as their CGI counterparts, and most exciting of all, CD-ROMs for our recently bought Windows 95 computer. Music itself would remain strictly cassette tape only however in our household until I got my first CD player two years later.

    Apologies for the nostalgia ramble but it’s amazing how much one simple Spotify play can conjure up. 7 is about right.

    *The other, incidentally, was ‘Ooh Aah Just A Little Bit’. That and this were probably two of the ‘rudest’ songs I knew as of ’96, for now anyway.

  7. 7
    taDOW on 31 Jan 2014 #

    my fave spice girls as well and i would guess the hit of theirs you’re by far most likely to hear on the radio in america today. love love love that demi-coda where the strings (or ‘strings’) are permitted a touch of flourish. 8.

  8. 8
    swanstep on 31 Jan 2014 #

    I was hardly listening to pop music at all in 1996/1997 so barely remember this one from the time, but listening to (and watching the vid. for) 2B1 over the past few months it’s quickly become a favorite. At any rate, my sense is that 2B1 must have been the ‘resistance is futile’ moment for those who were paying attention (maybe functioning a little like ‘Time (Clock Of The Heart)’ did for Culture Club) – anyone with ears and eyes can agree that this is come-hither pop of a very high order, and if you’d scorned or otherwise been immune to ‘Wannabe’ well it was time to relent, get a little wiser baby, and long live love:
    9

  9. 9
    Lee Ward (@mrleeward) on 31 Jan 2014 #

    Powerful nostalgia for the recent past: @tomewing The Spice Girls bring 1996 to a smoochy end on Popular. http://t.co/ynYSIpducd

  10. 10
    Martin on 31 Jan 2014 #

    As a slightly older (b.1970) American male who never habitually followed the pop charts, I have 2 questions about the whole SG phenomenon. The first is whether it seemed that the group had passionate female admirers of their own age, grown women who identified with the group? Like women once did here with Mary Tyler Moore? Or would that have seemed a bit much, that is, like it, sure but maybe not outright identification.

    The second question is how the romance of Posh and Beckham was perceived amongst discerning Britons at the time. Was it any kind of betrayal or merely a patently corporate move or on the contrary, a brilliantly seamless extension of her superstardom? Was there resentment or admiration or ennui?

    For the record I’d give the three singles a 9/7/7 in chronological order.

  11. 11
    Will on 31 Jan 2014 #

    Hi Mapman, obviously I can’t speak for all discerning Britons but initially I thought ‘good on ’em’. It was only as it became gradually obvious that both were more interested in celebrity for its own sake above all else that I slowly grew sick of the sight of them.

  12. 12
    Tom on 31 Jan 2014 #

    #10 I never minded them as a thing, though I won’t pretend I ever found them fascinating. The golden thrones/Beckingham Palace stuff did their rep no good – they became the poster couple for expensive celebrity footballer kitsch. Then Beckham’s reputation recovered somewhat – thanks to the tabloids crowning him the man Upon Whose Shoulders The Hopes Of A Nation etc etc. But Victoria’s never really did.

    Someone gave me as a birthday present Victoria Beckham’s autobiography, Expecting To Fly! I should dig it up and annotate these entries – as I remember there’s precious little about the actual records: the Morrissey autobiography is bad for this too.

  13. 13
    Tom on 31 Jan 2014 #

    #3 yes, the video is great!

    #8 I dunno about the “resistance is useless” moment – certainly among a lot of my friends there was a sense of, it’s the compulsory ballad *shrug*. That said, most of my friends were 20something male indie or art-rock fans, among whom balladophobia is a virulent infection, so our opinion should count for zero here (and I had to listen a lot to get past that archived sense of ‘skip this one’).

  14. 14
    Chelovek na lune on 31 Jan 2014 #

    It strikes me that, as well as Emma (obviously, and excellently), Mel B is on notably good form here. (and Geri almost absent?)

    This is sufficiently well done (touching, even) to let the ‘third single as ballad’ ploy seem…warranted, even.

    7

  15. 15
    Cumbrian on 31 Jan 2014 #

    I think the “Posh and Becks” thing went through a number of phases with what I would term, the Daily Mail Middle Classes, to be honest. Initially, I suspect that it was “good for them”, swiftly followed by “how vulgar” as it seemed that both were simply in it for fame amplification. Opinion swung heavily on Beckham after the 2001 World Cup Qualifier in Greece, where by sheer force of will, he singlehandedly qualified England for the World Cup (probably one of the best performances by an England International midfielder I can remember, capped by a crucial last minute free kick to get England through). OK, he then went off to Real Madrid after a run in with Alex Ferguson but, by then, he was known as Goldenballs for a reason, as he was recognised as primarily a good footballer, rather than in it for the fame. At this point, Victoria was still seen as the one riding on his coat-tails but opinion started to swing on her, once it became clear that Beckham was cheating on her when in Madrid and she started to get a bit of sympathy. Since then, from my limited understanding of fashion, her clothes seem to be well received and she has come into her own a bit. Now that Beckham is no longer really in the public eye and Victoria is getting on with her own thing, they seem like part of the cultural furniture, without giving us endless photo shoots and drama and seem to be left to get on with their lives. This scrutiny will all, doubtless, start up again though if one of their boys turns out to be a more than decent professional footballer though, I would imagine. And that, I think, is the ballad of Posh and Becks, as I remember it.

    Is the title of Victoria’s autobiography an admission of a love of the works of Neil Young? Or The Bluetones?

    Oh yeah, there’s a record to discuss. The best bits, as far as I am concerned, have been correctly identified elsewhere. The string coda is great, reminds me a bit of Massive Attack or some of William Orbit’s production work for Madonna – which we will get to eventually – and Emma’s vocal is very good. Geri and Victoria still the weak links vocally but correctly minimised. The chorus is memorable and good for a sing-a-long. Not earth shattering for me but decent enough.

  16. 16
    Brendan F on 31 Jan 2014 #

    I don’t think Emma’s vocals lent themselves well to the group and she didn’t come into her own till after the split. Having to compete with the more forceful vocals of the Mels and Geri always seemed like a losing battle, so this one only really works for me when the interjections and harmonies of the other girls embellish her performance otherwise she tends to sound a little lost.

  17. 17
    Tom on 31 Jan 2014 #

    #15 To add, the early part of the romance coincides with David B’s all time reputational low after France 98.

    #14 Mel B gets the spiritual bits (this song divides singers by theme more than either of the others) and does very well with them, yes. Geri sung the “girls and boys” bit, was replaced by Victoria for the single (with a different lyric) and so is hardly on it. According to Wikipedia this was Geri’s idea as she realised the line was out of her range/key (the LP mix suggests she’s right)

  18. 18
    James BC on 31 Jan 2014 #

    The B side to this is great – a charming cover of Sleigh Ride complete with spoken bits where the girls chat about Christmas. At one point someone (Mel B?) shouts “FATHER CHRISTMAS DOESN’T EXIST!” and the others have to shush her.

  19. 19
    Cumbrian on 31 Jan 2014 #

    #17: Yes, the effigies being burned of him following him being sent off v Argentina in France 98 and the opulence of the opening part of their relationship probably didn’t help initial public reception.

    Nitpick on myself, shouldn’t have been in Greece – it was against Greece at Old Trafford.

    You can probably trace the DMMC perception of Posh and Becks via Alistair McGowan and Ronni Ancona’s comedy sketches. Initially, they were both portrayed as very thick and living a ridiculous lifestyle. Post the Greece game, there’s a sketch where Victoria is still pretty clueless and upset with the positive attention he is getting but when she leaves the room, it transpires that David is capable of playing Beethoven at the grand piano in their room. I think I am right in saying that they gave Victoria’s image a bit more of a polish as time wore on too (though I could be mis-remembering that).

  20. 20
    lonepilgrim on 31 Jan 2014 #

    I enjoyed the video a lot and the song is finely crafted, even if it’s a little too polished for my taste. Geri being sidelined from the video is what caught my attention. Claims that it was her idea to cut her contribution sound like PR speak. In light of her subsequent defection I wonder whether she had already begun to question her place in the group.

  21. 21
    Erithian on 31 Jan 2014 #

    See also the Ali G interview where they showed a healthy capacity to laugh at themselves despite some pretty near-the-knuckle stuff. “Do you want Brooklyn to grow up to be a footballer like his dad, or a singer – like Mariah Carey?” wasn’t the half of it.

  22. 22
    Izzy on 31 Jan 2014 #

    As I mentioned before, I basically missed the Girls-as-phenomenon, so I only really know them for the records. Hence I’m perplexed at the emerging theme of Geri being the Alpha of the group. How can this be, how did it manifest itself?

    From my perspective she seems to have brought relatively little to the group, other than ambition (which shouldn’t be downplayed too much, especially in the early stages). I find it hard to imagine her being many people’s real favourite.
    Her solo career doesn’t shed much light either, she was no Robbie Williams.

  23. 23
    Tom on 31 Jan 2014 #

    #20 There’s at least one song we’ll be covering which feels VERY Geri – and there’s no sign of any marginalisation in the Spiceworld movie IIRC. She is hardly in the video either, though – maybe she was just having a bad day.

  24. 24
    Tom on 31 Jan 2014 #

    #22 the interviews linked on the Wannabe thread suggest it’s simply that she was louder and more forceful in interviews than any of the others, bar Mel B. The Union Jack dress probably helped too.

  25. 25
    thefatgit on 31 Jan 2014 #

    The ultimate Spice-ballad, although I’d pin my allegiance to their livelier songs, I think this suits them perfectly. Emma is the glue that holds it all together, of course. Mel C tones it down to something velvety. I’m willing to concur with Chelovek @14, Victoria and Mel B provide texture and Geri is barely there, mixed down but not quite out, as far as I remember it.

    “2 Become 1” sorta reminds of a #2 from 1983, by Roberta Flack & Peabo Bryson. “Tonight I Celebrate My Love” comes from the same place; the anticipation of some fine lovemaking. And it’s all good. Worthy of an 8 I reckon.

  26. 26
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 31 Jan 2014 #

    The role Geri plays in the film is (un)surprisingly subtle and complex:
    i: she’s one the who reads book and uses long words (some of which don’t really exist) and always has an opinion
    ii: the others affectionately tease her about this, bcz she kind of assumes she is better informed and capable then she mostly is (the scene i remember encapsulating this is when their friend — who had to not be a spicer bcz she was pregnant — goes into labour, geri is the one giving instructions, as she reads from a thick hardback book)
    iii: she is kind of the mumsy one (role shared with mel b, who approaches it very differently)
    iv: she is basically ALWAYS gung-ho — the others manifest reserve or reservations, tho in very different ways

    So Geri kind of becomes the designated spokesperson, if only bcz she jumps in with both feet (often into her own mouth).

    I ***love*** the film, if this isn’t obvious: and gave it a thumbs-up review in UK cinema’s journal of record Sight and Sound. I won’t say more as it’s presumably semi-bunnied.

  27. 27
    James BC on 31 Jan 2014 #

    I agree that this song is a good showcase for the softer side of Mel C’s voice. She’s best known as the belter of the group, but she does coy and playfully romantic very well here. Maybe not quite as well as Emma, though.

  28. 28
    ciaran on 31 Jan 2014 #

    My favourite Spice Girls single.Similar to Billy Hicks above it’s a close call between this and the 1998 bunny (if we’re thinking of the same one!)

    I liked this the most of the 3 Spice Girls Number 1’s by a distance when it was released as unlike the first 2 it wasnt as brash and loud and was easy to enjoy. A less is more approach working well.

    Sneaked into the end of the ‘Heroes and Villains’ episode of Only Fools And Horses late that year aswell.

    This is the girls at the very top of their game for me.8

    There’s a few nods to christmas with the ice rick and that but done differently it could have been the Spice Girls own ‘Stay Another Day’. Given the marketing and promotion behind it it seems like they missed a trick in not making a more festive video. Maybe they should have went all out videowise like S Club 7’s ‘Never Had A Dream Come True’ from 2000.

  29. 29
    anto on 31 Jan 2014 #

    Because of it’s time of release this song is often heard again around Christmas time despite having no real festive connection. It’s one song I always like to be re-aquainted with simply because I’m very keen on it – It’s a pretty song with a light production and attractive vocals. Well done to all involved.

    – The front cover – by the looks of things the two Mels and Victoria used up all the eye make-up at this photshoot.

    – The fourth act to go to number 1 with their first three singles. All four acts have had a connection with either Merseyside or Yorkshire and in this case both. We’re a determined lot up North ya know.

  30. 30
    thefatgit on 31 Jan 2014 #

    Re: the cover photo, is Victoria rocking the proto-Winehouse look here?

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