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There comes a time for a woman to stand up for what she believes in, ridicule be damned. In the next 900 words, I’m going to argue that Spiceworld is one of the most underrated films of our time and, by extension, the Spice Girls are the icons we all need.
No, Spiceworld is not a ‘so bad it’s good’ movie. It is genuinely hilarious, occasionally smart and even a little empowering. Yes, the acting is wooden and there’s no real story to speak of, but if you approach it more as a surrealist, amateur production starring your best mates, you begin to appreciate the flashes of genius.
I first re-watched the movie one evening after a prosecco-filled barbeque with friends (and yes, it held up on a repeated, prosecco-less viewing). First on was Saved by the Bell: Hawaiian Style, a nostalgic trip that went terribly wrong. It’s a story for another time but needless to say the shoddy camera work and problematic relationships made me laugh, but my inner child died a little that day.
Afterwards came Spiceworld, a movie I never had any particular attachment to. If my beloved Saved by the Bell had proven so terrible in adulthood, what chance did this have? But I went boldly into the Netflix one-star category with no expectations and was rewarded by it. I soon realised the problem was never with Spiceworld, it was with me. At ten years old, I simply didn’t get most of the jokes.
The story, such as it is, centres around the pop stars trying to have a semi-normal life and support their pregnant friend (who, despite the famously manufactured origin story of the band, is apparently best friends with all of them), resist the pressures of celebrity, outsmart sinister media moguls and race to play a momentous gig in Albert Hall.
If it sounds stupid, it’s because it is. But at no point does Spiceworld take itself seriously. The Spices completely lampoon their own nicknames and public personalities. Each Spice has their own specially decorated corner of a Union Jack bus, they’re never seen in coordinated outfits and they tease each other mercilessly for their hobbies. They spend the whole movie completely self-aware and occasionally cleverly meta.
The perfect illustration of this is the famous bus chase to the Albert Hall gig where, in the movie’s undoubtedly best moment, a movie executive describes a bus chase they want in the upcoming Spice Girls movie, his conversation intersecting with the actual bus chase happening in the current Spice Girls movie (that was incredibly difficult to describe. Spiceworld may in fact be an 90 minute surrealist commentary on the parallel reality of art but that’s an essay for another day).
Movie exec 1: Hey, baby! These are the Spice Girls, of course they’re gonna go for it! Up it goes. A five ton London bus sailing through the air at seventy miles an hour! It’s incredible!
Movie exec 2: It’s expensive!
[Cut to a toy bus trundling over a miniature plastic bridge]
Movie exec 2: Um…not necessarily.
The celebrities who pop up every 15 minutes include Elton John, Elvis Costello, Jennifer Saunders, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. Quite frankly, if Fry & Laurie are wrong then I don’t want to be right.
Spiceworld is exceptional because these are five women who can’t act and – apart from Mel C – can’t sing very well either but briefly became the world’s most famous music icons and broke box office records. These women have ovaries of steel. They know they look silly, they just don’t care. Compared to the polished and fashionable pop stars of 2016, the pure, colourful trashiness of Spice Girls is hugely refreshing.
More importantly, they fight to get what they want (what they really, really want…sorry) and most of the time they win. In a scene set in Italy (why are they in Italy? Nobody knows or cares) they refuse to have scantily clad male backing dancers. When they become too stressed from work, they walk away. They’re able to attend the birth of their friend’s baby and still make it to Albert Hall, even inexplicably avoiding a bomb scare.
Yes, some of my love for the movie is pure nostalgia. I still remember every single lyric of those plastic ear worms and at this point I’m sure I always will. Like the Our Father and a high blood sugar level, this stuff is ingrained in childhood and, for all the Tom Waits I listen to now, if you cut my veins open they will bleed Spice.
But outside a permanent residency in my neural hardwiring, the Spice Girls really are an amazing cultural phenomenon. It’s hard to overstate how famous they were, which 20 years later is still really unusual for a girl band. The only thing they had in common was they were loud and ambitious and always seemed like they were having lots and lots of fun; a pretty powerful image for a ten year old girl. Spiceworld is a perfect encapsulation of that.
The Spice Girls shone bright and burned out quickly. Spiceworld was released after just one album and Ginger split to go solo shortly afterwards, leaving the remaining four to limp on to their third release before disbanding completely. In remembrance of that brief period of Girl Power, I urge any of you who ever had a Smash Hits poster or bought a Spice Girls chocolate bar to revisit the movie with an open mind. I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised and you’ll remember your favourite Spice fondly. Yes, I still love you and your platform shoes Geri Halliwell and I still occasionally recreate your white hair streak with dry shampoo. I’ve even forgiven that time you dyed your hair blonde. Now that’s real love.