The Spice Girls are back—again—and no one knows exactly what that means. Last week, as confirmed by Victoria Beckham’s Instagram, the group reunited at Ginger Spice Geri Horner’s house, along with former manager Simon Fuller. There is “nothing set in stone,” Sporty Spice Mel C told BBC Radio 2, but media outlets are already speculating.
Perhaps it’s another tour (they already had one reunion tour in 2007), it’s their very own record label, it’s TV shows, it’s more endorsements, it’s more girl power. Since they last performed together at the 2012 London Olympics, the five members of Britain’s most iconic girl group have been off doing their own thing. You probably know about one of them: Victoria Beckham, aka Posh Spice, has since launched a fashion brand while becoming a household name alongside her husband, David Beckham. So why would they reunite, especially since the little girls who grew up listening to them are now grown women, too?
Maybe it’s because we’re in a pivotal moment in feminist history, of intersectionality and #TimesUp and Women’s Marches, that could benefit from a “girl power” pep rally. Or maybe it’s because Victoria Beckham’s fashion line recently suffered more than $25 million in profit losses, and she, the one member of the group that has held out in the past, needs something else to do.
The Spice Girls have been in on the jokes about them since the beginning: in the 1997 film, Spice World, in which they play exaggerated versions of themselves, we see Scary Spice, aka Mel B, waving a peace sign in front of the camera: “Girl power, blah blah blah, feminism, you know what I mean,” she said, clearly going through the motions of what you’re supposed to do and be as a Spice Girl.
It was a quick but radical scene: a mainstream pop star declaring herself a feminist was considered career suicide in the ‘90s, so Mel B played it off as no big deal, blah blah blah. For some six year olds like me watching in 1997, it was the first time we had ever heard of feminism. In fact, “girl squad” evangelist Taylor Swift was only in elementary school when Spice World came out.
In the 1990s, feminism was far from mainstream. I mean, not even Beyoncé admitted to being a feminist back in her Destiny’s Child days. As Susan Faludi noted in her 1991 text, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, it was a cynical time in which people thought they were in a “postfeminist” moment, “meaning not that women have arrived at equal justice and moved beyond it, but simply that they themselves are beyond even pretending to care.”
Being an outspoken feminist implied that you were involved in the underground punk “riot grrrl” movement—feminist anger was not cool, lacking in aesthetic appeal, neither marketable nor palatable. But along came the Spice Girls, with their self-deprecating humor and mini skirts, singing catchy tunes about sexual pleasure and, most radically, prioritizing your female friendships over worthless men. I sang along to the soft ballad “2 Become 1” for a decade before realizing that it was about safe sex. The comments below the music video on YouTube prove that I wasn’t the only one. I am still confused as to whether their debut single, “Wannabe,” which was the number one song in 37 countries, is about female friendship or group sex or both.
Many little girls in 2018 already know what feminism is—their mothers or sisters may have brought them to the Women’s March in 2017 or 2018. They are exposed to Teen Vogue, which has become well known for its political activism and coverage. Disney Channel celebrities aren’t afraid to declare themselves feminists—in fact, it’s a necessity for celebrities, male and female, to make public declarations of feminist identity. Not being a feminist in 2018 invites backlash. And that means that the Spice Girls’ flavor of politically neutral, camera-friendly “girl power” feminism almost feels retrograde.
But we need powerful pop feminist pioneers like the Spice Girls back on the main stage. Let’s say the rumors are true, and they start their own record label to promote and nurture the next generation of female pop stars. We could use these powerful women back in the industry. In 2016, Kesha’s legal dispute against her former producer Dr. Luke—which cited physical, sexual and emotional abuse—was dismissed by the New York Supreme Court.
During her lawsuit between 2013 and 2016, Kesha was only able to release one single. She could have used a support system like the Spice Girls have amongst themselves. The Spice Girls championed feminism and female friendships before it was cool—and they’re back at the perfect time.