25
Nov 14

GERI HALLIWELL – “Mi Chico Latino”

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#833, 28th August 1999

gerichico When Geri Halliwell quit the Spice Girls in 1998, pop fans were more than usually curious as to what her next move might be. She had muscled her way to the front of the group, then discarded them, deliberately giving the casual observer the impression that she had been their most important member all along. The obvious comparison point was Robbie Williams, a mercurial presence in a colossally popular band, who – hindsight and Robbie himself sagely agreed – had found his true talents as an entertainer stifled while part of them. On paper, Geri Halliwell could have been the biggest female star Britain had ever produced.

And on paper, in fact, she was – until a couple of weeks ago, when Cheryl overtook her as the British woman with the most solo Number Ones. But Geri’s four come in a burst at a point when the chart was notoriously easily gamed. She has never stopped being famous, but public interest in actually hearing music by her waned very rapidly. And the public are, in this case, no fools. Geri Halliwell’s solo career died away because Geri Halliwell’s solo records are, on the whole, quite bad. It’s the way they’re bad that’s more interesting.

To get a handle on Geri’s solo work, it’s worth going back to her most notorious interview – the “Thatcher was a Spice Girl” one – and consider the idea of Geri Halliwell as a Thatcherite. Not in the sense of being a Tory – like Rupert Murdoch, she was one of Tony Blair’s PR captures and endorsed Labour in 2001 – but in relation to that quintessential Thatcherite figure: the entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurialism and pop already have close links. There’s a line of argument which – partly for ironic effect – points out how post-punk and indie’s small labels and DIY principles were in closer alignment than they might have liked to the Thatcherite ideal of the small enterprise. The comparison seems even stronger when you look at Richard Branson, label boss turned business darling. Branson was the essence of entrepreneurialism, and the entrepreneur was the hero figure of the Thatcher years – buccaneering, driven, energetic, creative – the motor, so we were told, of Britain’s post-industrial economy.

This entrepreneur of heroic legend was, in theory, driven by their brilliant ideas and inventive mind – like the small label boss or indie musician, they chased their individual dream. But this idea of the business visionary was a fantasy. If Thatcherism saw virtue in entrepreneurialism it was nothing to do with its dreams and great ideas – if something made money, it didn’t matter if it was a great idea or not. In fact, if something didn’t make money, that proved it wasn’t a great idea.

When Thatcherites praised entrepreneurialism as an innate good, it was because it showcased hard work and drive. It was energy and competitiveness themselves that mattered, not what that energy was put towards. Their true hero figure isn’t the person who doggedly pursues a vision, it’s the serial entrepreneur – the Alan Sugar types who constantly cash in old visions and glom onto new ones, and do everything with a maximum of determination and a minimum of sleep. Look behind the big handshakes and smiles and you often found a mess of unpaid bills, ripped-off staff and cut corners everywhere.

And it seems to me this is a way to get a handle both on why Geri Halliwell succeeded so much and why she failed so quickly. She is an entrepreneurial star, with enormous energy, working extremely hard, impatiently picking up and discarding ideas at a one-per-single rate. But she seems completely uninterested in taking those ideas and building anything with them: everything sounds first-draft and slapdash. “Mi Chico Latino” is Geri Halliwell doing a Latin pop song, and it sounds like she imagines that’s enough. In the Spice Girls, the workrate and drive were a huge advantage, and any disadvantages could be covered up by the group. Solo, they are more exposed.

The exception to this is, of course, the song we don’t get to properly discuss: the ravenous “Look At Me”, Geri’s debut and her one really bold move – release a lightning-rod single for every bit of criticism and bitchiness she knows she’s going to get anyway. As an entertaining bit of pop music it’s not her best single – this one is, probably – but as a statement of defiant intent it’s exactly as brazen as it needs to be.

Even more grievous then, that after such a snarling arrival her other hits are so bland. Halliwell has Spanish roots, and the bit of “Mi Chico Latino” where I had the most fun is her playfully urgent spoken-word interlude, the kind of corn a record that’s trying to be a simulated holiday smash really needs. But the rest feels unimaginative – easy options, like the castanets and the lost love theme, ruthlessly taken – or just a bit sloppy. Dropping a bit of Italian – “my dolce vita” – into the chorus, for instance, when everything else is Spanish.

That’s not to say “Mi Chico Latino” is terrible – it hangs together, Geri grabs onto it with gusto, and even shoddy Latin pop has a novel appeal here. It is, you might say, the Minimum Viable Product of a Latin-flavoured pop single. But here’s the difference between Geri and Robbie, her regular point of comparison. Both are restless characters. Robbie is constantly in flight, itchy with every settled role he finds himself placed into – which makes, now and then, for intriguingly wonky records. Geri, on the other hand, comes over as hungry for stardom, but impatient with the detail. Like many an entrepreneur, she’s better at the pitch than the product.

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  1. 1
    JLucas on 25 Nov 2014 #

    Cheryl’s achievement in toppling Geri’s record for most number one hits by a solo female artist gave me pause to think about how the two operate as pop stars. Obviously there’s a lot of easy parallels to draw. Both emerged from great British girl groups, both to an extent willed themselves into pop stardom from unpromising beginnings, neither is a particularly talented singer but both are or were in possession of some ineffable star quality. And of course their paths directly crossed – Cheryl’s ascent on one side of the judging panel for Popstars: The Rivals meeting an already declining Geri on the other. But that’s for later.

    The main difference, as far as I can see, is that Geri grabbed hold of her pop stardom with both hands and rode it for absolutely everything it was worth. There’s a quote in Wannabe by David Sinclair – I think by Nicki Chapman – that says if Geri Halliwell had to choose between an audience and a million pounds, she’d take the audience every single time. We’ll get to Cheryl someday, but suffice to say I don’t think the same could be said for her. As integral as she was to Girls Aloud, she’s always come across as though she sees her solo career as a job she has to do as a trade-off for the perks of being rich and famous. She exudes no joy in what she does. You can love your job without necessarily being very good at it. On the technical elements of being a pop star, Geri inarguably fares poorly, and there’s no doubt that she made some very bad records, but by God didn’t she love every minute of it?

    As far as Mi Chico Latino, I don’t think it is a bad record. Geri’s magpie quality is much commented on and has often been used as a stick to beat her with. But latin pop was having a moment, and she was a woman of latin origin, so she had more right to jump on the bandwagon than many singers did around this time. She was also a huge Madonna fan, and this was obviously a very conscious attempt to have a La Isla Bonita moment. Obviously it’s about as subtle as a brick, but it’s unabashedly *fun*, and therein lies Geri’s charm.

    I too wish Look At Me had gone to #1, because it’s a much better encapsulation of everything that made Geri such a crass, infuriating, brilliant pop star. Literally no other pop star on the planet could or would have recorded that song. As we enter an era dominated by beigepop, we should be mindful of that before we get too sniffy about how rampantly self-absorbed it is, or the fact that perhaps she wasn’t quite up to the Bassey-apeing middle eight.

    Mi Chico Latino is less interesting, but it did what it needed to do, and it proved that Geri could sell a reasonably straightforward pop song on her own. Try to overlook the bum notes and just listen to the gusto. I understand why a lot of people will detest Geri and this record. Much like Geri herself, I acknowledge the flaws and thoroughly enjoy the ride anyway.

    8.

  2. 2
    mapman132 on 25 Nov 2014 #

    I remember when Geri quit the SG’s someone in the US press said that she “immediately becomes the most famous Spice Girl.” For some reason this amused me at the time. I really have nothing else to add here. 4/10.

  3. 3
    wichitalineman on 25 Nov 2014 #

    That clear desperation in her eyes, there when Wannabe first hit number one, is now doubly hard to understand. What more can she want? Geri, at this point, is the most famous female singer in the country. I’m trying to think of a comparison for the position she was in and can only think of Diana Ross, which really shows what a dismal affair Geri’s post-Spice career was. Maybe Look At Me was a fatal mis-step, because when we did it was a pretty frightening sight. So needy, so off-putting – what was in it for us?

    On MCL, her flat voice, despite the double tracking, is badly exposed. The whole thing sounds like a miserable squelch of suntan oil; even La Isla Bonita is positively billowing by comparison. Rotten record.

    Re 1: I can think of some pretty “rampantly self-absorbed” entries coming up.

  4. 4
    AMZ1981 on 25 Nov 2014 #

    Look At Me was very much Geri Halliwell’s statement song so when it failed to beat a drab Boyzone ballad to the top it seemed to put the brakes on her solo career. It would be hard to for her build up such momentum and publicity second time round.

    Between her first two singles Spiceworld suffered an astonishing commercial blow when Mel B’s cover of Word Up could only manager number fourteen (for context this happened in ATB’s second week at top). I have to admit that I thought (ok I hoped) that Geri’s second song would go the same way. Of course I was wrong.

    Geri may have left the Spice Girls but for better or worse (probably the former) she was still very much part of the brand. By Autumn 1999 it was increasingly obvious that there wasn’t going to be a new Spice Girls record anytime soon and those who had hoped for a reunion decided to cut their losses and throw their lot in with Geri. I remember a review in Q (their hatchet job on the eventual third Spice album) noting that she’d taken a lot of the Spice with her and its hard to argue with that view. Mi Chico Latino may have been a not so good Viva Forever but at least it was pop music with a certain girl power sheen – unlike the Mels she wasn’t trying to court rock and RnB worlds who didn’t want her.

  5. 5
    Mark G on 25 Nov 2014 #

    I believe what Tom said is the point: The Spice girls had a hard work ethic, whereas each, when they went solo, didn’t have to work so hard anymore. Mel B’s “Word Up” had herself on a big chair and two other girls doing the dance-work. The sense of not having to work too hard..

    In fact, there was one thing the two ‘survivors’ had in common, they both made records that were better than people expected. And they kept doing that for a while, and kept having that success. Mel C and Robbie. And that’s as far as I can go before the bunny lurks.

    I would quickly add, mind, that Cheryl’s understanding of the music she makes and her contemporaries (past and present, I know that’s a misnomre), has been way underestimated. That is also why she’s winning and the ‘better’ girls aloud singers are not: They are happy to do the “take me I’m yours” songs and perform in the negligee, and make the records that are exactly as good as you would expect.

  6. 6
    chelovek na lune on 25 Nov 2014 #

    There’s a strong case to be made in defence of Nicola Roberts at some point; not quite yet, though…

    Now, this: at the very least, the immense chutzpah of such a blatant, erm tribute, to “La Isla Bonita” is, at least, noteworthy. The brashness and breeziness of this song also brings to mind another surprisingly successful combination of peak-Thatcher era business personalities, Samantha Fox and SAW’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now” (and most of her records were considerably more dreadful than even Geri’ s) : we are in the same realm of blatant, brightly coloured, aggressively commercial pop, where subtlety is alien and the technical shortcomings of the singer are besides the point. Apparently glorious go-getting narcissism also being very much in the frame.

    This is either a brilliantly dreadful record, or a dreadfully brilliant one: it is, at least, catchy, memorable, and has a distinct identity, however plastic (as we’ll see – and perhaps have already seen, it’s far from the worst ersatz-Latino or ersatz-Mediterranean track doing the rounds this year, either): so, hmm, full marks (though certainly not in a 10/10 sense) to Geri for tapping into the zeitgeist so successfully. (Pondering the complete commercial failure, despite loads of radio airplay – which may have been the following year – of Toni Braxton’ s “Spanish Guitar”, her follow-up to “He Wasn’t Man Enough”, both of which had disconcertingly similar instrumentation to this, but with a degree of “authenticity”, and a far better singer). This, though, is basically exuberant and insubstantial fun with all the nutritious value of a Mars bar, 6

  7. 7
    swanstep on 25 Nov 2014 #

    Relistening now, ‘Look at Me’ (which did make it to #1 in NZ) is as awful and warthog-vocal-ed as I remembered. I think MCL’s a little better than that, but still it’s not much cop for the reasons wichita@#3 outlines:
    3

  8. 8
    Steve Williams on 25 Nov 2014 #

    I mentioned this when we talked about Mel B but I think it’s more relevant here – Geri’s songs aren’t very good and don’t stick around for very long because Geri’s on them too much.

    When Another Point of View by DB Boulevard came out everyone said “Oh, is this Geri singing on this?” because the singer sounded so much like her. It would have been better for Geri if it was. Geri (or Mel B, or Posh) could never have made something like Can’t Get You Out Of My Head because they wouldn’t have been on it enough and it wouldn’t have been about them.

    The idea that Geri songs would be improved with less Geri seems a bit facetious but the thing about Geri’s songs is that they appeal only to Geri’s fans and nobody else. I know one’s a cover but Geri’s all over that as well. Obviously Can’t Get You Out Of My Head is an outstanding, once-in-a-career song but Geri was always going to have a short shelf-life – compared to Kylie or Robbie – because her songs are too wrapped up in her own persona so they sound like novelty records. The same happened with Mel B and Posh, whereas Mel C and Emma, if not always successful, were the two Spices that thrived solo because they chose better material with wider appeal.

  9. 9
    Tom on 25 Nov 2014 #

    I’m not sure that’s fair – Robbie absolutely drenches his solo material in Robbie-ness. (And Emma’s solo stuff always seemed very on-brand to me, for that matter, but more on that eventually.)

  10. 10
    Tom on 25 Nov 2014 #

    Also, I think “The public is fascinated by Geri Halliwell and wants to hear a lot more from her” is not a totally unreasonable position for Geri Halliwell to take in 1999, even if she would probably have taken it anyway. As it turns out, it was a bit misguided.

  11. 11
    swanstep on 25 Nov 2014 #

    It’s too bad the Spices weren’t a going concern in 1999, since it presented an opportunity for a retro, sci-fi Spice: 1999 vid.

  12. 12
    Tommy Mack on 25 Nov 2014 #

    That’s a totally Cilla face she’s pulling on the sleeve photo!

  13. 13
    JLucas on 25 Nov 2014 #

    #10 To be fair I don’t know that Geri could have taken her solo career in any other direction than the one she did. Her force of personality was the strongest card she had to play. She was never likely to be taken seriously as an artist, and if Geri-as-Madonna annoyed a lot of people, it proved to be a fair assessment of what her fans wanted from her at that time. I can’t imagine Geri pulling off anything like ‘Northern Star’. Vulnerability isn’t really her M.O.

    I have a lot of thoughts as to why it didn’t last, but I’ll save them for later.

  14. 14
    iconoclast on 25 Nov 2014 #

    A pleasant enough, if unremarkable, ersatz “Latin”-flavoured record; but why bother with this when the real thing is so much better? SIX.

  15. 15
    James BC on 25 Nov 2014 #

    Look At Me is the more obvious statement record, but the meta-narrative continues with Mi Chico Latino in that it was an obvious opportunity for Geri to wear a bikini and answer the constant (and very unjust) comments about her weight that she endured when she was in the Spice Girls. The pop equivalent of an “I’ve Got The Body I’ve Always Wanted” photo shoot in Grazia.

    Very dodgy Spanish. If Geri does have Spanish relatives, I doubt they were involved in writing these lyrics. “Dolce vita” is allowable as a set phrase, but (non-)rhyming ‘vita’ with the Spanish equivalent ‘vida’ is just terrible. And I’m pretty sure she says “es una sueño” in the spoken bit, which is simply ungrammatical.

  16. 16
    Rory on 25 Nov 2014 #

    “But this idea of the business visionary was a fantasy”: I totally read this in an Adam Curtis voice.

    Four or five sounds about right to me.

  17. 17
    AMZ1981 on 25 Nov 2014 #

    It’s hard to comment without bunnying but there are collectively another seven Spice related chart toppers to come, the last of them in 2001. After that are are a few isolated hits, the more successful ones generally landing in the middle of the top ten and the last coming in 2006. The point here is that I’d dispute with #5 about Mel C having the more successful solo career. We’ll get to her in due course of course and to be fair she did win more credibility than her former bandmates, however in chart terms it’s hard to argue that Geri Halliwell wasn’t (narrowly) the most successful solo Spice.

    I think it’s also fair to say that none of the Spices did a Robbie and even Ronan Keating proved more endurable as a solo artist. I’d hasten to add here that a) I’m talking strictly in chart terms with no comment on quality and b) this takes seven years to play out so we’ll have plenty of time to consider the individual records as they come.

  18. 18
    Tommy Mack on 25 Nov 2014 #

    I am registered. On my day off I have set myself a mission of madness. Work my way back, rating and sporadically commenting. Let’s see how far I get before my wife gets home and asks if I made productive use of my time…

  19. 19
    Alan on 25 Nov 2014 #

    Basically: what JLucas said. I have an odd affection for Geri’s solo stuff. Somehow the ropiness of it is endearing. And yet I don’t think I liked either her or what she did in the Spices. I blame being a regular at the Retro Bar at the time.

  20. 20
    punctum on 25 Nov 2014 #

    From the available evidence of Popular one would be hard put to deny that the most influential Madonna record was “La Isla Bonita.” The second solo Spice chart topper yet again finds a lovelorn lady at the end of a packaged siesta, farewelling her summer love, and although superficially energetic the descending semitones of the third and fourth bars of each verse and also the chorus suggest the subtle onset of sunset, the beginning of a darkness. Geri is game for it up to a point – her voice is almost defiantly free of vibrato, if not quite in the Judee Sill sense – but the “whisper of a distant memory” suggests that she has found herself in a strange and slightly alienating world, wondering what she might have lost. “Take me back to the place I’d rather be” – but then she was the one who first walked away. Sad and disturbing, and the cod-Spanish rap and assorted “ey yi”s don’t fool us for a second. 4 for the ones left behind

  21. 21
    lockedintheattic on 25 Nov 2014 #

    According to the Wikipedia entry for Look at me, it’s failure to beat Boyzone to number one was a tactical mistake by Geri’s label – it was only released on 1 CD single compared to their 2 (pretty standard at the time) and she only fell short by 700 copies, which was a bit of a blow.

    Look at me is even better as a statement launch single when viewed alongside its fantastic video, which starts off asking ‘Who is Geri Halliwell?’, Virgin? Sister? Vamp? Bitch?, then continues with her literally burying Ginger Spice and ends up with her reborn as a shiny new solo Geri, all shot in a beautiful-looking Prague (I think it’s prague anyway).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31mlEEs9_Vk

  22. 22
    lonepilgrim on 25 Nov 2014 #

    What strikes me watching the videos for MCL and LAM is that Geri is not entirely sure who her audience(s) are. Should she try to be the big sister for her pre-teen fans or has she outgrown them (or them, her)? Should she flash the flesh and attract an older crowd? Or should she camp it up for her gay fans? She tries to be all things to all audiences and the perpetual focus on her image (too much Geri, as mentioned above) means that the music is bland and anonymous.

  23. 23
    AMZ1981 on 25 Nov 2014 #

    I heard that a group of Geri’s fans were clustered around waiting for the first play of Look At Me (the distance of time means I’ve forgotten the exact details). When it came on they listened in baffled silence until the chorus, at which point they burst out laughing.

  24. 24
    James BC on 25 Nov 2014 #

    Look At Me’s chorus sign-off line – “I can even do reality” – would be much more impactful today now that reality TV is the phenomenon it is, than it was in ’99 when it wasn’t.

  25. 25
    lockedintheattic on 25 Nov 2014 #

    #22 the all things to all audiences is obviously something that was very conscious – the album was called Schizophonic.

    Not that she was alone in this of course – one of her bandmates was even more musically schizophrenic on her debut. But I shall say no more for fear of the bunny.

  26. 26
    JLucas on 25 Nov 2014 #

    Ironically, Schizophonic is easily Geri’s most focused album. She wisely took the Spice Girls principle songwriters with her and turned in an album of likeable pop music not a million miles away from what Kylie was doing on her comeback album ‘Light Years’ the following year.

  27. 27
    weej on 25 Nov 2014 #

    The comparison with Robbie Williams is indeed apt – both sprang from their groups more as stars than as singers, both pedalled material they ultimately knew was hokey, but the difference was that Robbie actually seemed to care. Geri’s output never seemed to reach beyond tailoring songs to disparate imagined target audiences, a game which can play well for a while, but history doesn’t tend to look back on it with a friendly eye. A couple of years and it’s destined for the next National Express to Rhyl, or whatever the 21st century equivalent is. It’s a shame we’re talking about this fairly pleasant 5/10 pastiche instead of ‘Look At Me’, which has to be one of the best ever examples of getting-it-but-not-getting-it, especially the “I can even do reality” punchline – what if your “reality” is that you ultimately have nothing to say?

  28. 28
    Steve Williams on 25 Nov 2014 #

    #9 Well, I know it sounds a bit odd to be criticising Geri for having a big ego and then compare her unfavourably to the man who did Let Me Entertain You, but I would suggest that Robbie succeeded because the songs are better, and people bought Angels, No Regrets, Feel and so on because they were good pop songs, not because they were Robbie Williams songs. You didn’t have to be a big Robbie fan to find at least some of his songs appealing (“this is a nice song – and it happens to be by Robbie Williams”), musically they were doing quite interesting things, whereas with loads of Geri’s stuff it was of interest to Geri fans and nobody else. I’m not saying that Mel C’s stuff is wall to wall hits but she was prepared to try new things, some of which caught on to a wider public than Geri’s stuff.

    I would imagine that what would have worked for Geri better would be something like what Dannii Minogue did, some dance-orientated songs where she wouldn’t have to carry the whole thing. She could still have shown off in the video and on telly, which clearly she liked doing, but it might have had some appeal if you didn’t like her personally.

    That said, she did really want to do Some Girls, didn’t she, but Rachel Stevens ended up doing it? That kind of thing she should have been doing from the start.

  29. 29
    anto on 25 Nov 2014 #

    Rather a generous score for such a wicker duck of a single. Geri’s Watford monotone sounding about as transported by love in exotic lands as it would in responding to a two-for-one deal on Angel Delight. This number 1 business was becoming way too easy.

  30. 30
    thefatgit on 25 Nov 2014 #

    “Mi Chico Latino” taps into the Iberian vibe well enough, much like “La Isla Bonita” before it. I like the spoken word bit. I’m not feeling antagonistic towards this in the same way Wichita Lineman is, but I totally get where he’s coming from.

    For Popular purposes, I’m even carrying over some post-Spice goodwill, and willing Geri to be more than simply Ginger Spice, without her former buddies. Of course, it was LAM’s startling video that killed off Ginger in a flurry of “National Anthem” horns, and a clumsily placed cackle. She was always Geri after all. But I couldn’t buy into the triple-persona she was replacing Ginger with.

    Thankfully, Geri seems more honest here. Unfortunately, her shortcomings dominate MCL in such a way that even an unashamed honesty can’t detract from. I’m not entirely against a flat vocal. Pop can unify all voices, if the song is right. No one could argue that a flat voice does not belong in pop after The Shangri-Las or Bananarama. However, as a solo artist Geri is frightfully exposed and charisma can only carry Geri along as long as one is willing believe in her. I fear that belief and goodwill will be in short supply when we meet her again. (5)

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