How Does ‘Spice World’ Hold Up 20 Years Later?

spice world revisited

(Welcome to Nostalgia Bomb, a series where we take a look back on beloved childhood favorites and discern whether or not they’re actually any good. In this edition: Spice World turns 20 and we take a look back.)

When one looks over the things that share their birthday, it can be a mixed bag. For me, there’s a few standout moments that happened on the same date as my entrance into this world: the birth of Broadway legend Chita Rivera, the sad passing of Salvador Dali, Sweden becoming the first country to ban aerosol sprays, and…oh yeah, Spice World was released in the United States. And if you were a little kid in the ’90s (like yours truly), that was quite the monumental event, one filled with female empowerment from head to platform shoe.

Spice World turned 20 last month and it is indeed time to give it a proper re-examination. Did this glitter-filled bit of marketable feminism stand the test of time? Is the joke about the little Gucci dress just as funny as it was when you were 8 years old? Well, grab your Lip Smackers gloss, rainbow tank top, and inflatable chair: we have a Nostalgia Bomb case to solve.

SPICE WORLD, Emma Bunton as Baby Spice, Melanie Brown as Scary Spice, Geri Halliwell as Ginger Spice, Victoria Beckham as Posh Spice, Melanie Chisholm as Sporty Spice, 1997, (c) Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection

Remember the Spice Girls?

I’m sure that the majority of the pop culture-literate world remembers them just fine, but for the younger readers (or those who were living under a rock at any point) I feel it is my duty to pass on the legend that was this insane moment in pop culture. As trends are always in a cycle (seven years, specifically, it seems), it made sense that the rise of The Backstreet Boys and N’Sync would see a female version join their ranks. In the late ’80s, we were introduced to the immortal TLC and the late ’90s gave us Destiny’s Child, but smack dab in the middle were the Spice Girls.

Mel C. (Sporty), Geri (Ginger), Emma (Baby), Victoria (Posh), and Mel B. (Scary) made a name for themselves in 1996 with “Wannabe,” which eventually became the biggest selling single by a girl group of all time. This would lead this UK export to take the world by storm and (for the next year and a half) leave a mark on the ’90s that is hard to forget (unless you never were there in the first place.) With their focus on “Girl Power” and friendship, the Spice Girls wanted to empower their young fanbase to be strong and independent, all while rocking ridiculously tall shoes and too many crop top/miniskirt combos for the public to handle.

But what exactly made these girls such a force in the first place? For one, they were visually bold in their fashion and music videos, which granted them the ability to be marketable to multiple demographics and ages. They also had various personalities that let their fans connect to them. Were you a bit of Sporty mixed with Ginger? How about Baby and Posh, with a dash of Scary? Everyone had a Spice Girl to call their own. And though they represented the most one-dimensional stereotypes of female figures in pop culture, fans of all ages ate it up like crazy.

I considered myself to be a pretty big Spice Girls fan at the timeI pressured my family into collecting all of the dolls, figures, and tiny biography books, even if they were insanely overpriced. I would play as them with my friends at school and would always be pushed into being Posh (who no one wanted to be). My favorite was, and always will be, Scary Spice, because she seemed like the one who could kick the most butt, and she was my pick to play live action Storm in the X-Men movie (I was seven!).

The girls went on to release more chart topping singles and albums and got themselves a movie deal. But by the end of 1998, the sparkle and shine of the band couldn’t keep them together, and the Spice Girls lost Geri, ending their original line-up. This would lead them down a path of various solo and not-as-solo records, appearances on TV shows (like Mel B.’s judging gig on America’s Got Talent) and marrying other famous pretty people (I’m looking at you, Victoria!) While the group would reunite, they never seemed to capture the wacky spark of their past.

But what did such a moment in time look like exactly? Let me point you in the direction of Exhibit A….


Enter Spice World

I’m going get straight to the point: I’m not jealous of the people who had to develop a Spice Girls movie. Heck, there’s even two film industry-related characters in Spice World who can never seem to get a plot really going, and I’m sure their fictional frustrations mirror the film’s actual screenwriting process. Kim Fuller (brother to producer Simon Fuller) and the Spice Girls themselves are credited with coming up with the “idea” for the film, but what exactly was that to begin with? Much like a Tootsie Pop’s lick count, the world may never know.

The film opens on the Spice Girls performing “Too Much” on the series Top of the Pops, wearing their best white on white outfits. This leads up to an Elton John cameo and the introduction of two of our many subplots: the hijinks of their intense manager, Clifford (Richard E. Grant) and a documentary team following the group’s every move (including the director, played by one of my crushes, Mr. Alan Cumming). These characters give us cinematic access to the crazy life of the group on their Union Jack bus, which pretty much consists of poorly written jokes about their stage personas, ranging from kid-appropriate to barely appropriate for anyone. But with Meat Loaf as their bus driver, it can’t really be all that bad.

Then there are the villains of Spice World – the Paparazzi, played by Jason Flemyng, Barry Humphries and Richard O’Brien as the creepy photographer. Their mission is to find any dirt they can on the Spice Girls and break them up so they don’t have to write any more articles about them. And if seeing one of them crawl up a toilet to snap a photo doesn’t inspire true fear in you, then you don’t remember how intense the real life paparazzi were in the ’90s. A scene involving the late Princess Diana (who was killed during a car chase involving photographers) was deleted from the film. Truly scary (not Spice) kind of stuff.

The rest of the film attempts to cram whatever it can into its 93-minute run time, as if its life depended on it. The girl’s meet up with their best friend (who just happens to be full-term pregnant and single), their manager meets with film executives and is given film pitches (which is actually the movie you’re watching), Scary and Baby compare boys to ordering pizza, and they learn all about the wonders of dancing from a character named “Mr. Step.”

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