Spice Up Your Life: The Olympics Closing Ceremonies Remind Us Girl Power Is Forever

feature image via The Fly

Sunday night was the closing ceremony for the 2012 Olympic Games, which meant a lot of things for a lot of people. For me personally, as someone who hasn’t followed any of the sporting excitement of the past two weeks, it meant that my ten year old self got to relive her glory days via the Spice Girls performance (which I watched online, not live, because I don’t have a teevee). Let’s use this opportunity to discuss the Spice Girls and What They Meant To The World, shall we? Crystal once referred to them as a “personal musical milestone,” and I believe she is correct. Here are five important memories I have about the Spice Girls, in no particular order.

The Spice Girls at the 2012 Closing Ceremony via US Magazine

1. In 1998 my parents decided to move from Canada to the United States and I was pretty sure my whole life was going to be ruined. In an attempt to make me feel less despairing, my mother somehow obtained tickets for me and a few friends to go see the Spice Girls. It was a Huge Deal because I’d never been to a concert before, and also we would be going alone, with no parental supervision. On the day of the concert I spray painted my hair pink and piled into a minivan with my friends and our parents. (We — the four girls — would watch the show while our moms hung out at a cafe nearby the venue.) However when we got to the venue, my friend’s mother decided there was no way she could let the four of us enter the stadium alone and make our way to our seats. Instead she grabbed the four tickets, ushered us toward one of the many entrance, and explained why she would be joining us inside “just to settle them in.” With charm, chutzpah, and pure determination, this woman got herself into a concert for which she had no ticket, just to be sure she could safely settle us into our seats before leaving, as promised, to hang with the other moms. I was in total awe. The concert was incredible, obviously, but what I really took away from that day was the knowledge that it is possible to politely assert oneself, and that you should always try to get what you want, even if it seems impossible. I try to remind myself of this when I am dealing with pushy sales people and apartment brokers.

This Vanessa is not me, actually, it’s a different Vanessa! But I asked if I could use this tweet — it’s just so true! Was anyone talking about anything else afterwards? No.

2. In 2008 the Spice Girls came together for a reunion tour, and it was the Biggest Deal. I went with my college roommate and it was exactly as amazing as you’d expect it to be, but nothing really crazy happened to us, we just wore gold sparkly clothing and a lot of glitter makeup. Riese, on the other hand, has an excellent Spice Girls Reunion Tour story. Once upon a time, Stef called Caitlin after the concert to see where everyone was, because Caitlin was driving everyone back to the city — which leads me to wonder if Riese and I went to the same show, seeing as I also had to drive back to the city — and when Stef called, Caitlin said, “Shit is crazy! Haviland is hooking up with Ginger in the back!” And then Stef thought she was serious for approximately 16 hours, until she asked again the next day. “And she was so mad when she found out it wasn’t true and is maybe even still mad,” said Riese. For a visual to go along with this anecdote, see below.

Circa 2008, Courtesy Stef

3. My favorite song off the first album was Last Time Lover. It was number five on the CD, and five happens to be my favorite number, but that was just a coincidence. The song was so catchy and had a great beat and felt really sexy and as a ten year old just starting to develop boobs I felt like that song was Really Important. But the Carpool Moms had other plans for my favorite song! Amongst themselves they had deemed it inappropriate, and every single one of them skipped it when the song came home while we were driving home from Jewish Day School. I complained to my mom, and she told me to listen to the song on my Discman. So I did. Incessantly. I honestly believe it made me more sex positive. I am the girl I am today because of song #5 on the first Spice Girls album.

Can we talk about Geri’s hair? via Coco’s Tea Party

4. About six months ago I discovered Sady Doyle’s Defense of the Spice Girls (she wrote it in November 2011 but I was late to the game) and it both asked and answered many questions about the Spice Girls that I hadn’t been able to articulate on my own and yet very desperately wanted to address. The Spice Girls, manufactured to look like best friends who just happened to become famous for singing and dancing and having fun, were actually carefully orchestrated by a group of men to exploit a DIY feminist message that was already being broadcast loud and clear. Everything down to their nicknames was a careful marketing choice, and to be honest their nicknames are one of the things that bother me most when I allow myself to become critical, because I hate the idea that all girls can be boiled down to one thing. But I still allow myself to wholeheartedly play along (wait for the end of this post when I reveal if I’m Scary or Baby). Why?

Because I was the exact demographic the media men were marketing to, and not yet well-versed in the terms and thought that one learns from majoring in women’s studies at a school like NYU and existing as a women in this world, I missed the part where the Spice Girls were a problem. To put it simply, I bought the kool-aid without even knowing it was being sold. But as Doyle argues in her brilliant essay, I don’t actually think the end result was a problem. Here I am today, writing and speaking my mind, a confident queer feminist raised on Spice Girl brand “Girl Power.” And I’m not sure I want to unpack the Spice Girls in the way I might if they hit the scene today. I like their message, but more than that, I like liking their message. Doyle writes:

There was lots of giggling, with the Spice Girls; there was lots of hugging; there were a lot of bright, colorful outfits; there was a lot of hyper, bubbly silliness, and sometimes it would just wear a cynical person right out. But the Spice Girls weren’t for cynical people. They were for very young girls— sometimes girls who were still in grade school. (Those Spice Girl dolls weren’t selling to 22-year-old gender-studies majors. At least not unironically.) And in the moment that those girls were starting to figure out what “girlhood” meant, to them, they were relying on an image of ladies having fun together and supporting one another.

The Spice Girls weren’t for cynical people. And maybe that’s what feels really good to hang on to: the recognition that at one point in time, I was less cynical — we all were — and the Spice Girls were for me.

My friend posted this on Facebook and wrote, “Best photo of the night.” He is right.

5. Last night the Spice Girls killed it during the 2012 Olympic Games Closing Ceremony, and it felt like they’d never left center stage. It has been almost 15 years since I first saw the Spice Girls in concert — I have known about them for more than half my life! — and I felt as giddy watching them perform yesterday as I did the first time it happened. Facebook blew up once the performance was over, and I have hardly seen any negative commentary. Twitter was much of the same. It seems that as a generation we have indeed decided that the Spice Girls deserve the pure pop happiness they exude returned to them, and somehow a generation raised on snark and critique is going to let these women off the hook. However they were formed, they got together and they had fun. They’re still having fun. And you know, that’s a good reminder for all of us.

via Lela London

I always said I was Baby with a side of Posh. I think I still am. Zig-a-zig-ahhhh.

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Vanessa is a queer feminist writer, NYU grad, crush monster, and Jewish Grandma In Training. She has a radical brain, a mushy heart, and a million floral print dresses. She's currently on a big adventure but she'll be back one day, pinky swear. In the meantime, she can sometimes be found on twitter and instagram.

Vanessa has written 198 articles for us.

61 Comments

  1. Thumb up 14

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    My grandparents used to do a lot of business operations in America in the 90’s, every Christmas she gathers us round and tells us how her and her bff Pat went too an all year round Christmas shop somewhere in Nevada, this was the point when my nan had curly black hair, and her best friend had red hair.
    So they’re standing in this shop looking over Christmas decorations in the middle of fucking July and this little girl came rolling down and was like “OH MY GOD MOM! MOM! ITS THE SPICE GIRLS! LOOK ITS SCARY AND GINGER!”
    Course my nan is never one to piss on my peoples hopes and dreams so her and the mother shared like a knowing look and decided to honor the cuteness and cultural profiling of this small innocent child and so my nan and her best friend (who are in their early sixties at this point) start just repeating the section “I TELL YOU WANT WHAT I REALLY, REALLY WANT” *insert crazy nan hand jive here*
    the little girl got so excited she nearly pissed herself, so the Mom started taking photos of her with my nan and pat, my nan started giving it the big licks like “everyone shout SPICE UP YOUR LIFE!” and then she got really caught up in the moment and decided to sign autographs for her.
    that little girl is probably around 18/19 now, imagine how distraught she’ll be when she finds those photos and realizes her childhood memory of meeting the spice girls in an all year round Christmas shop (srsly why the fuck do have them?!) was all a lie and a picture of her with two crazy old English ladies singing A-ZIGGA-ZIG-AH is all that remains, as well as an autographed signed “To our biggest fan, all our love and best wishes all the way from the UK! Dianne and Pat!
    …that ladies is how they used to troll ‘back in there day’

    I hope one day that someone in a small town all year round christmas shop confuses me for Adele because of my accent. god I love my nan.

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    I was beyond obsessed with the Spice Girls back when they first came out. I never really understood why until I grew older; they represented what pure fun was.

    For those few minutes during the Olympics performance, we were all kids/teenagers again.

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    I’m still very emotional over this reunion, can they have another world tour please? my heart belonged to sporty back in the day but I always identified with sexy scary whom btw I met once!!!!!!!! outside of the nederlander theatre it was glorious.

    Tho I wish they could’ve played more songs (like Stop, best song ever) I’m still grateful that we got to see them rocking their outfits and looking damn foooine, baby spice.. whoa! when did you get prettier?

    I honestly live by the words Girl Power! when I was 11 and knew nothing of life this phrase defined a little bit how the ride was gonna be haha, girl power in-deed

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    I think we all need to take a moment here to remember which spice girl action figure [that's right, don't dare suggest I owned a doll] we had/wanted. I had a gold-toothed Mel C/Sporty as I’m sure many of you ladylovas also cherished.

    I also want to point out how much I thoroughly enjoyed Pand’s grannyspice story. I had a similar experience with a talking motorcycle. When I was 5 I [along with my rents] stumbled upon a motorcyle in Dublin that had a speaker attached (for what reason I don’t know). The bike spoke to me when I approached it and we had a fantastic conversation. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I looked back on this experience and realised that talking motorcyles actually don’t exist…and when you think about it the whole thing was actually pretty sketchy.

    But like my sporty spice action figure I will continue to cherish this memory forever more.

  5. Thumb up 3

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    I watched Spice World randomly on tv the other day and I was blown away by the brilliance of that film and the number of lesbian references

    I was/am totally Baby… except now Baby with a mohawk

  6. Thumb up 12

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    The Spice Girls weren’t allowed in my house growing up. My parents thought their skirts were too short. I learned what “lover” meant because of the talk my parents had with me about the song. Apparently there’s no reason to say “lover” if you’re married, so they were talking about the *premarital sex*.

    Still, I was obsessed with them. I’d listen to their music at school and play with their barbies at my friend’s house. I formed an all girl band in my elementary school and wore platform shoes and my hair in the Baby Spice pigtails. I thought they were beautiful (even in those short skirts my parents hated so much) and risque and I liked that I could “rebel” in pastel blues and pinks and a smile. It’s the first time I remember really going out of my way to question and oppose some of the rules I was brought up with, and that little inner, thinking-person’s rebellion became crucial to my independence and existance later.

    It’s funny to me today that the Spice Girls were so influential on my life in such a drastically different way than they were for other people, but they did change me for the better. I’m glad they’re still around.

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    I was only 6 when the Spice Girls released Wannabe and almost all my childhood memories are related to the Spice Girls. I remember really random stuff like when my sister was a baby and she chewed the Spiceworld booklet and I cried. I used to watch this tape called One Hour With Girl Power almost every single day, I knew all the dancing moves to a T and my friends and I would imitate their most iconic performance (this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_PM2QCyzyI) over and over again.

    And I really agree with the fact that they were not for cynical people, they still are not now. I just love that on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook most people forgot all about what is ‘cool’ to like and whatnot and just raved about them during the Olympics ceremony like old times. And all the pictures together they’ve posted after the performance are love.

    I met Baby Spice a couple of years ago, and she was genuinely SO sweet and nice, the 6 year old in me DIED and went to heaven.

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    I had so many Spicy Feelings that night. I remember when they first went on tour when I was 13/14 and I couldn’t go because the tickets had sold out and my mom couldn’t afford for me and my 2 sisters to go. The night the show was in town I felt so sad and that I was missing an important part of my young adult life.
    It wasn’t until their reunion tour in 07 that I got to have that moment and felt that 13 year old me felt complete. Then sporty went on her solo tour in canada and I took the opportunity to do something 100% by myself and traveled across the west cost of canada to see 3 of her shows. You guys, I was within INCHES of a spice girl! At one point she looked right into my eyes and everyone around me saw it too. It was the most amazing thing!

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    Hah, so I read the Rookie article and this is the best comment ever:

    “I was 14 in 1994 so I was kind of old for the Spice Girls but God what I wouldn’t give for them to be around now rather than Ke$ha and her ilk. My sisters are seven, I would much prefer them to be going around yelling ‘girl power’ than ‘brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack’.”

  10. Thumb up 3

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    Around 1998, my dad and his male friend won 2 tickets to the Spice Girls. My dark and stormy older sister, who had a hatred of all things popular, said she refused to go. I wanted to go, but more than anything I wanted to be like my older sister. So my dad and his friend went. Alone. 2 straight guys at a Spice Girls concert. He came home singing the song “Stop” while I cried. For me, the Spice Girls represent nothing but regret and embarrassment.

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    Also, I just wanted to add, I think it’s important to note that even though the 5 of them met through a casting, rehearsed and had training together, they left that management and went on their own, paying producers from their pockets for studio time to be able to get a few tracks together. Then with those tracks they searched for a manager by going in to the suits’ office, singing ‘Wannabe’ while jumping on their tables and making a mess! So while the marketing strategy behind them was very clever, the way it was born was sort of accidental and came from their personalities, even the nicknames were given to them by a very popular music magazine at the time, not their own PR team.

    Obviously they knew how to turn them into a money making machine, but I think that the widely extended theory is that they were puppets who had no personality or control, but the essence of ‘Spice’ and Girl Power was very much present in the way they got themselves started.

    Okay, now I promise I’m done.

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      This.

      Also, before their first world tour they fired Simon Fuller and basically managed themselves (until Geri called it quits before the US leg of the tour).

      That last bit was heart breaking, but I was glad that the four of them still went on so that they wouldn’t disappoint alot of really young fans

  12. Thumb up 2

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    Back in the day, all my friends wanted to be Baby or Posh. When I got the obligatory “Which Spice Girl do you like best, Kali?” question, my reply was always “Sporty, she’s got a really lovely smile and I’d like to stroke her hair and I think she’s so pretty”. Cue years and years of bullying.

    I watched Mel C during the opening ceremony, and you know what? My pre-teen crush is still alive and well, and I still want to stroke her hair :)

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      Sporty! Well I was 7 when Wannabe came out and was a tomboy until 11th grade. But Sporty & Posh were my favorite. I was playful and loved track pants on the outside and hella goofy but I always thought I had this reserve cool inside of me (also explains why I loved Aaliyah and still get teary-eyed.)

      Highlight: Played Sporty during a 4th grade talent show to Stop.

      But now I’m the opposite. Or so I’m told. Now only my friends know I’m goofy and whimsical and like to play with my XBox. But strangers think I come off like Anna Wintour lite… Sadface.

      Same with Girls. My friends describe me as Hannah/Jessa. But my co-workers swore by Marnie (whyyyy!!!??). And then I sat in a corner and reflected on life.

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      Ginger, always. Especially now as we have acquired a Geri Halliwell Yoga DVD as a white elephant gift from friends recently, and girlfriend is FINE in that DVD. Cute as a damned button. And very limber.

      Also the DVD is very fun to do, hot spice girl aside.

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    This makes me kind of sad I didn’t like the Spice Girls when I was a kid, but my younger sister and her friends were totally obsessed with them and it got so annoying that I really couldn’t stand it. I do like them now that I can listen to them on my own terms, though.

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    i have a lot of clarifying statements to make about that anecdote thankyouverymuch, but i think a frowny face will suffice. you CANNOT FUCK with my spice girls dreams! :( those guys got to be on the floor!!! they were so close!!

    i went to two (the one at nassau coliseum and the one at the rock in newark), both in ginger spice costume, both on the first level off the floor, both blew my mind. i think i spent easily a thousand dollars on the spice girls reunion, zero regrets.

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    I was 26 in 1994, so normally I would have been well out of Spice Girls range except that I have a ton of gay guy friends, and they loved the hell out of the Spice Girls, so I was all in on that noise. I never got to see them in concert as I was poor as a church mouse back then, but I did dance my ass off in the clubs to them.

    My favorite Spice Girls memory was picking up a double-CD anthology of “Girl Power” songs put together and marketed by the Spice Girls while I was in Germany visiting my friend Cate in 1997. It didn’t have many songs by the Spice Girls themselves, but it was a nice compilation of women-friendly music that wasn’t available in the US at the time, and it had the awesome “Skank Heads” song by Skunk Anansie which is still one of my favorite songs today…

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    I completely love the Spice Girls, the only way the Closing Ceremonies could have been better is if they were a three hour Spice Girls concert. I even admit, with no shame, to seeing Spice World in the theater when it came out. They were fun and about friendship and that’s awesome (and the music is super catchy)!

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    Ugh, in ’97 & ’98 the Spice Girls were my LIFE. I had everything – postcards, bubblegum wrappers, trading cards, stationary, any Spice Girls-themed thing I could get my hands on. I distinctly remember that special poster on my wall of them and gorgeous Geri in a boob-popping dress. I was so gay and had no idea.

    When the ticket lottery for their 2008 Reunion Tour was available, I could only get access to expensive nose-bleed seats and decided not to buy them. Regretted ever since. So when I heard rumours for their Olympic Reunion I was seriously over the moon. My heart was beating with excitement when they made their way on stage, and seeing them side-by-side, all 5, fuck it was awesome. Surprisingly I think part of me thought they would wear variations of their old outfits and was a tad disappointed because they were so toned down. But it’s 2012, and my vision of the Spice Girls still exists in 1998. I think Geri should have brought out that Union Jack dress one last time… ;)

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    LOVE the Spice Girls. Only two weeks ago, I karaoke’d the shit out of “2 Become 1.” When I was in elementary school, I would make the long walk out to the ice cream truck just so I could buy a Spice Girls lollipop. Each time, I would hope and pray to God that the sticker inside would be a picture of Ginger. I once participated in a Spice Girls parody skit with my girl scout troop. I love-love-loved the Olympics reunion. I think part of the reason why I’m a happy queer feminist today is because of their girl power message!

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    I think also the spice girls didn’t really do or say anything intensely problematic, their lyrics were pretty low-key and straightforward, they werent grossly hypocritical or anything. It was really what you see is what you get. Re: in defense of spice girls. I’m typing this on a phone and it’s hard so, in summary I really like this!! Thank you for including our sweet story. Spice girls forever

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    I always forget that the Spice Girls went international. They were everything to me in my childhood, but living in the North of England now and having some pretty obsessive gayboys as BFFs, seeing Scary or Sporty at the opening of something or in a small venue isn’t that big a deal. I guess it’s when they all come together that the magic happens.

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    OK TRUE STORY. When I was about 10 or 11 I was too young to understand My Feelings and I kept saying I hated girl pop stars and my mom once asked me why I didn’t like the Spice Girls and I said it was because they were a bunch of lesbians and that was gross. Oohhh, little Tarzan.

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    I like the Spice Girls too and all, but since this is in the context of the Olympics, I had to point this out:

    “as someone who hasn’t followed any of the sporting excitement of the past two weeks”

    You didn’t just miss the sporting excitement, you missed the cornucopia of gorgeously sculpted women. Lady abs. So many lady abs.

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