This was the first article that caused my online editor to advertise “Dilettante” on our Bay Guardian website and in the physical paper too. He had a dark sense of humor so he loved this one disproportionately. I could never please him the same way again.
The Spice Girls were likable enough, and some of their songs were catchy, but the satire just poured forth from my cold heart nevertheless.
Juggernaut boy-bands and girl-bands are the cornerstone of the American recording industry, and it’s impressive to watch a fabricated musical phenomenon build and take off. And whew, also quite cute and deafening in real life concert with thousands of excited little girls and their vicariously joyous parents.
Victoria Beckham was named UK’s top entrepreneur in 2014, worth £210m (I had no idea she had a brand and a chain of fashion shops). The one-woman British Kardashian is called “living proof that celebrity may be the most marketable commodity of all.”
Director Bob Spiers recruited several British luminaries to cameo, with Roger Moore, Bob Hoskins, Elvis Costello, Jennifer Saunders, and Elton John among those who appeared in the film. The Spice Girls were so popular that Prince Charles and his sons, Princes William and Harry, attended the Spice World premiere.
The movie, budgeted at $25 million, grossed a robust $100 million worldwide, despite Roger Ebert giving it a half-star rating and writing that the Girls were “so detached they can’t even successfully lip-synch their own songs.”
Twenty years later, snark was ruined by fascists, but the Spice Girls remain the Sex Pistols of the pop machine. More girl power to them.
Spicecorp Inc: Hail to the Chief!
by Summer Burkes, 08.18.98
Hail to the chief!
FIRST OF ALL, I’d like to thank you again, sir, for bringing me on board as your new West Coast Spice Analyst, etc. It is truly an honor to work for you, as well as one of the most powerful cultural juggernauts of the 20th century. The following is a report from my first assignment, the Spice Girls’ Aug. 13 concert at the Shoreline Amphitheater, outside San Francisco, California. I think you will be more than pleased with the results.
The show was a tremendous financial success: with the booming “new media” industry out here in the South Bay, there was no shortage of upper-middle-class parents willing to kick down $65 a ticket for their families and — in the case of several little girls I interviewed in a random crowd sample — even rent a stretch limousine and buy a fancy dinner at Red Lobster for the occasion. And merchandise sales surpassed our initial projection.
We actually ran out of Spice Girls T-shirts by show’s end (stadium lackeys were even taking the display samples off the walls to sell to the throng!). Let me tell you, sir, the parking lot after the concert was a beautiful sight indeed — a sea of nine-year-olds with our oversized T’s hanging to their knees, clutching our posters, necklaces, and glossy programs in their tiny fists. Any staunch capitalist could smell the commodification a mile away.
Sir, I have a few concerns about the operation, if I may speak freely. Although it is quite cost-effective to keep Ginger in the background videos on the main screen of the Girls’ elaborate Spiceship stage set, I do feel that the overall effect is somewhat upsetting to our demographic. (“I didn’t like it when she left the group at all,” one little pumpkin who identified herself as Sassy Spice confided to me. “It just seemed sad when the machine said her lyrics for her in ‘If You Can’t Dance.’ I wished she could have been here to say them herself.”)
Also, we might consider taking more precautions in regards to the Girls’ hearing — I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a concert full of nothing but prepubescent girls, sir, but let me just say that it’s a wonder that the Beatles didn’t go deaf after their first year of stardom. Heh, heh.
Although the computer-animated graphics and the Spiceship set are clearly essential to the Girls’ flashy, superhero image, and the Girls insist that the scantily clad, ornamental male dancers are an integral part of the “girl power” message (feminists, housewives — who cares as long as they cough up the cash? Right, sir?), I question the cost-effectiveness of having a six-member live band. They’re dressed in black, you can hardly see them, we already dub various instruments and half the backing vocals, and the demographic couldn’t give a toss about authenticity anyway. Let’s get rid of them.
On a more positive note, we effectively handled a rather costly example of the Girls’ notorious “spontaneity” when, after Scary impetuously threw her $1,200 animal-print-and-feather coat out into the throng, we combated the incurred expenditure by forcing the Girls to perform their next song in the nude.
Granted, to keep the parents of our conservative demographic happy, we seated them in backward-turned, strategically shaped chairs, and although the crowd seemed a bit dumbstruck, I think they actually loved it in the end. (You don’t mind if we raise a generation of bisexuals, do you, sir? I do think that’s what the Girls are shooting for.)
Our cross-sponsorship program has also been implemented and seems to be going off without a hitch. Whereas at other concerts the demographic would presumably be angered at having to sit through a 30-minute intermission with commercials for makeup, skin products, movies, and Italian motorbikes blaring from the oversize screens, the Spice Girls’ fans know that marketing and music go hand in hand, and nobody seems to mind.
I asked the child of one woman who appeared to be a bleeding-heart activist (this is the hippie-friendly Bay Area, after all) why she thought the Girls performed a song especially for Pepsi with the soda’s logo behind them. “Maybe they did a commercial [for Pepsi] because they just wanted everyone to know about it,” she innocently surmised. It’s working, sir.
And finally, in developing (and rather exciting) news, I think you should know, sir, that the Silicon Valley Spice Labs are seriously looking into the field of opaque, 3-D holographic images for use in future performances. Since ultimate control rests in your capable hands and the Spice Corporation owns the rights in perpetuity to Emma, Victoria, Mel B., Mel C., and even Ginger, we could feasibly fabricate a peace-making press conference and stage a reunion tour long after the Girls have aged, burned out, and been ruined by drugs and scandal. We would save a fortune on costume changes, and the Girls wouldn’t even have to leave the house. We’ll let you know as the technology becomes available to us.
Again, sir, I thank you for your confidence in me. I feel entirely sure that, as our operation grows over the next few years we will indeed have an iron grip on the memories, musical tastes, and consumer habits of every girl between the ages of 6 and 14 on planet Earth.
Yours until the antitrust suit,
West Coast Spice Analyst, Marketing Coordinator, Efficiency Expert, and Image Technician
This is the 21st entry in my “twenty years ago this week” project from when I was a nightlife columnist at the Bay Guardian, once the country’s largest family-owned weekly newspaper. These “Dilettante” clips, compiled on my portfolio page, create a serial portrait of San Francisco culture at the turn of the century (1997-2001).
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