When Spring Breakers came out, many (mostly male) film critics praised it as some kind of neon-coloured trash tribute to today’s pop culture. Scantily-clad Disney babes shooting guns! James Franco singing Britney Spears! Harmony Korine as a provocative auteur, a Godard of irony! A symbol of our fornicating, Snap-Chatty times! Let me disagree and boldly suggest that Spring Breakers had a rule-breaking precursor, a film made years earlier, in 1998, a cinematic oeuvre I’d much prefer leaving as a vestige of our boob-crazed, dementia-riddled society for aliens and mutants to discover eons from now when we’ve all gone to dust.
From its Bond-inspired opening credits to its ridiculous meta-ish plot, the film I’m referring to is, of course, Spice World.
The Spice Girls existed in a dreamy era before Beyoncé shimmied in front of a blazing FEMINIST sign, before TAY-TAY evoked #SquadGoals with her army of limber-legged model buds, before whoever-the-fuck-Ariana-Grande-is licked a donut and Miley Cyrus stuck her reptilian tongue out to the world in a symbol of women just not giving a fuck anymore. They ran around in mile-high space shoes, innocently yelling about Girl Power and “zig a zig aaah.” They existed in that utopic time when celebrities were still ethereal beings who couldn’t be Instagrammed smoking dope or turned into a dick-pic meme in one swift click. They were untouchable creatures, whose main purpose was to sell Chupa Chups and teach young girls that they could do and be anything, as long as they fit into 5 distinct categories: Sporty, Baby, Posh, Scary…or Ginger. If you believe in yourself, anything is possible.
While modern day films about pop stars aim to show us their ‘real’ side, dropping F-bombs and wearing jogging pants, Spice World strives to do the opposite, playing on each girl’s outlandish cartoon personality and magnifying the group’s bubble-gum brand of feminism, the type that made 10-year olds everywhere dress up in cooch-grazing dresses and raise peace signs in a symbol of baby lady empowerment. Its plot is a mishmash tale revolving around the girls getting into all types of shenanigans and driving their neurotic manager (Richard E. Grant, wearing many shiny purple suits) up the walls as they prep for a big gig at Albert Hall. Meanwhile, Alan Cummings is following the Spices around to film a documentary and an American producer (that fat guy from Cheers) wants to put them in a Hollywood blockbuster, which seemingly explains why there are paparazzi spies crawling out of toilets and pervy aliens that look like deformed rubber onions with tit-grabbing claws. Between nonsensical scenes, dream sequences and musical numbers, numerous desperate cameos from a wide range of British celebs are thrown in, including Sir Elton John getting his face kissed off, Hugh Laurie playing an old-timey detective, Bob Hoskins popping out of a phone booth, Elvis Costello serving a drink, Dominic “McNulty” West as a photographer, Roger Moore as some kind of proverb-loving mastermind with a pet piglet (?) and Meatloaf as a bus driver who, when asked to fix the bus’ toilets, responds “I love the girls, and I’ll do anything for them, but I won’t do that.” Oh-ho-ho! The Queen couldn’t make it, but she does get a cheeky shout out.
The bulk of the film happens in the Spice bus: a double decker wrapped in a Union Jack and somehow as wide as a football field inside. There, each girl’s characterizing traits are quickly defined thanks to their respective bus nooks. Posh has a mini catwalk and a lot of Gucci dresses. Baby has a fuzzy swing, fluffy toys and lollipops to suck on. Sporty has dumbbells and Ginger has Scary’s stolen boots, because they’re arguably a bit of the same, loud and leery, albeit Scary wears more animal prints and spaceman suits and Ginger prefers a bustier and panty combo. Geri “Ginger” Halliwell is portayed as the raging fem leader of the gang: she wears a dress with the word POWER scrawled prominently across her noteworthy bosom, weirdly dishes out science facts at inappropriate times and scares off boys with all that “feminism.” While Sporty Mel C is constantly performing some kind of athleticism, either on a treadmill or just by jumping around frantically, Vicky Posh spends the film bored in stiletto heels, rolling her eyes deep into her skull and pouting. Baby Emma is just a grown-up who wears babydolls and tiaras to parties and Scary mainly imitates a tiger a lot.
Sometime between the girls swinging by Italy for a gig with butt-naked Go Go boys and them clubbing at a gay bar with their boring preggo friend, they sigh in unison at being stereotyped all the time. What could possibly fix that? Why, a photo-shoot obviously! Scary dresses up as Bob Marley, Ginger as Marilyn Monroe and Sporty Spice is a dude copping a feel. There’s more than meets the eye, you see!
As a kid, I loved Spice World, because like any other mosquito-nipped pre-teen, I wanted to be them. I was a Baby by default, because I was blonde, but really, I wanted to be a Scary and once, I tried to imitate Posh Spice’s daring short do’ (scroll up for results). I was very complex at a very young age. My sister and I would imitate their choreographies and whine and whine until our parents relented and bought us the biggest and ugliest platform shoes out there.
As an adult, I think Spice World has aged beautifully, perhaps unlike a fine wine, but more like a bizarre concoction you find at the back of the fridge, one with a weird smell you deeply breathe in while trying to suss out if it’s still safe to eat. It’s so many things wrapped into one: it’s feminism for kids, with the paparazzi standing in as a symbol of “the patriarchy,” but it’s also sci-fi and a ghost story and a political thriller. It’s an extravagant musical, but also a statement on celebrity culture. One can’t imagine Taylor Swift, whose image is based on being our real-life best friend, participating in such a beautiful mess. The Spice Girls were never like us, they were colourful make-believe caricatures who played in Bob Geldof’s hair and wore outfits designed for Barbie dolls. They were all of us, but they were none of us. They were our pagan female warlords.
I hope they do find Spice World someday, it would confuse the fuck out of anyone or anything that would stumble upon it and create the illusion that humanity sure was a lot of fun for a brief moment in the 90s, before it all unraveled and even the Spice Girls retired their latex playsuits and platforms for respectable pant suits and a life of mothering and tweeting mundane things.
RIP Girl Power, Long Live Girl Power.