It’s been 25 years since the Spice Girls’ debut album, Spice, topped the charts in numerous countries, including America, a territory countless male bands from the UK tried and failed to crack.
One of those bands happened to be Oasis. Perhaps that’s why Noel Gallagher looked so ticked off in an old interview clip that turned up in Spice Girls: How Girl Power Changed Britain (Channel 4), a clear-eyed and wonderfully revealing three-part documentary from directors Vari Innes and Alice McMahon-Major.
“They’re just a big money-making corporate machine,” Gallagher whinged over footage of the Spice Girls holding a US press conference against a backdrop plastered with the Pepsi logo.
By then, they were globally famous, calling the shots on their career — something other women in the lad culture-dominated Britain of the 1990s weren’t doing — and encouraging young girls all over the world to use their “Girl Power” (a term borrowed from the Riot Grrrl movement and given an infusion of Spice).
Gallagher wasn’t the only ticked off middle-aged bloke here. Matthew Wright, who was The Sun’s showbusiness editor when the Spice Girls exploded onto the scene, still seemed narked, a quarter-of-a-century on, that young girls embraced the Spice Girls as feminist role models, even though they were a group manufactured by men.
Nobody is arguing with that last bit. It’s an undeniable fact. One of the contributors in this first episode (shown on Tuesday and available to stream free on All 4) was Chris Herbert, the man who came up with the idea of creating “a girl version of Take That”, only sassier and more streetwise than the boys.
Terrific footage from the open auditions that Herbert and his father Bob organised in London in 1994 showed three of the five future Spice Girls — Mel B, Mel C and the then Victoria Adams — being put through their paces.
Geri Halliwell, knowing her singing voice wasn’t the strongest, managed to skip the auditions and fast-track her way to the front of the queue on charm. Emma Bunton was added to the line-up later.
The producers persuaded the woman who should have been a Spice Girl to speak on camera. Lianne Morgan was picked to be one of the five and then abruptly dropped. Herbert told her she looked “significantly older” than the others in photographs. She was 23. Bunton was her replacement.
Morgan, who had a terrific singing voice, was left bruised by the crushing experience, yet said she’s glad she didn’t have to live her life in the spotlight.
This was an early indication of the toxic, sexist environment controlled by creepy older men (and quite a few creepy younger men) that the Spice Girls were plunged into.
But if Herbert thought he’d found five young women willing to be moulded into whatever he wanted them to be, he was wrong. He arranged for the Spice Girls to meet a group of top songwriters — all men, of course — who’d decide what kind of songs they needed.
Rather than the soon to be famous five docilely listening to whatever wisdom this lot had to dispense, they took over. More great footage showed the songwriters sitting in a semi-circle as the girls hold court and tell them what
Shortly after, they fled (literally “did a bunk”, as someone here described it, in Geri’s car), found themselves a new manager, Simon Fuller, and signed a contract with Virgin that allowed them to write songs.
The first fruit was the single Wannabe, released — or rather unleashed — in 1996 and immediately zooming to number one in 37 countries.
Featuring excellent contributions by Jayne Middlemiss and Miranda Sawyer, who’s exceptionally good on putting the group’s brand of feminism into the context of the 1990s, and a wealth of marvellous footage, this was a densely-packed episode that took the story up to the point where they decided to drop Fuller and go it alone — a step too far for the sexist tabloids, which branded them “the Spite Girls”.
“It was really foolish that they dropped Simon,” said Herbert. “They believed their own hype.”
As opposed, presumably, to the hype of a man like him?