If it weren’t for boys, the Spice Girls, arguably the most iconic girl group of the nineties, would never have existed. Recruited by a male music producer to be the female version of the successful boy bands of the time, the Spice Girls rose to fame on an insanely catchy song and the platform of 'Girl Power', a fun, accessible message of female empowerment and solidarity that excited their tween market. The genuineness of their message has been questioned but, regardless of whether they were driven more by gender equality or commercialism, the Spice Girls went on to become the most successful British bands since The Beatles, the best-selling female group of all time and were called “heroes” by Nelson Mandela.
Twenty years later, their breakout song Wannabe has resurfaced in a video for the UN ‘Global Goals’ campaign, fiercely advocating gender equality, education and the ending of child marriage and violence against girls. It illustrates not only how timelessly catchy the song is, but also how 'Girl Power' has evolved. The song is being put to use for issues of distinctly more substance than its original, a clear reflection of today’s cultural climate, where purpose and change for the better is being built into much of what we do.
Which led us to ask, if the Spice Girls existed today, how else would they reflect today’s cultural currents?
We can start right back with their birth as today, their manufactured creation and subsequent lives would most likely be the basis of a reality show. They’d be a mix of ethnicities and religions. A transgender member would be no surprise and their sexualities would be non-binary. They would live the social and environmental issues they addressed, rather than tacking them on after commercial success. And they would love travelling and experiencing different cultures, so it’s a dream come true that they get to travel for their job.
The Spice Girls’ authenticity has always been and remains one of their attractions. From working class families and each with a beauty that is different and unconventional, there was someone to whome every tween could relate. However, they were also trapped in the identities assigned them, something that would not fly today. Millennials like to have a few layers to their selves, often describing themselves with slashes, like model/foodie/videographer. Beyonce’s visual albums, in which she transforms into different roles and identities, are a good example of this multiplicity.
With this cultural context in mind, we took a stab at what the Spice Girls would be called, had they emerged in today’s climate.
Audacious Spice: The change-agent and activist, challenging the status quo and established systems that govern us and creating solutions for a more peaceful, equal, environmentally sound world. She’s created an organisation to empower and educate young women all over the world and often turns up at rallies and protests. Also known as Purpose Spice, Occupy Spice, Social Entrepreneur Spice. Think Kate Shepard, Tania Tapsell (At 21, NZ’s youngest councillor), Lisa King (Co-founder of Eat my Lunch), Malala, Pussy Riot, Emma Watson.
Alpha Spice: Giving license to women in any organization to be kick ass, Alpha Spice is smart in business, savvy in the boardroom and stands up for herself and those around her. She knowlingly leverages a female management style to bring a more humanistic focus to business. She’s a massive fan of Helen Clark and Amy Schumer. Also known as Mumpreneur Spice, Start-up Spice, Boss Spice, Strong Spice. TRA millennials saw her as the evolution of Ginger Spice - she isn’t just married to a F11 boss, she is an F11 boss. Think Claudia Batten, Nadia Lim, Mimi Gilmour-Buckley.
Freedom Spice: Free from traditional expectations and notions of gender, which are being blurred, merged, ignored and neutralized, Freedom Spice is unconstrained in her own ambitions, gender and sexual orientation. Freedom Spice frequently models both male and female clothing and make-up and advocates for LGBTQ rights. Also know as Androgynous Spice, Fluid Spice, Liberation Spice, Glam Spice. Think Anna Paquin, LadyHawke, Syd tha Kid from The Internet, Ruby Rose.
Spice the Creator: A creative talent and prolific producer, Spice the Creator codes the Spice Girl apps, oversees the group’s creative content and YouTube channel, has a store on Etsy selling printed leather clutches and, when at home, spends whole mornings in the farmers market picking out ingredients for the dinner party she’ll cook for later that night. When on tour, she details her travels on her hugely popular travel blog.
Think Paris Goebell, Michelle Dickinson, Lorde, Jamie Curry, Jordan Rondel (The Caker). Also known as Etsy Spice, Maker Spice, Coder Spice, Crafty Spice, STEMSpice.
Om Spice: An urban yogi and holistic lifestyle guru, Om Spice is vegan, brews her own kombucha and uses only bio-dynamically grown ingredients in her skin care. She’s a surfer and an eco-warrior, turning up to Wanderlust and Burning Man in her super-cute festival threads while saving animals in Instagram worthy spots in Costa Rica. Also known as Yogi Spice, Boho Spice, Clean Spice, Moon Spice, Kale Spice. Think Julia and Libby Matthews, Megan May (of Little Bird Unbakery), Sunniva Holt.
Snap Spice: A social butterfly and uncontrollable selfie taker, Snap Spice savvily lives and manipulates the online world. She has a huge following on social media, lashings of social clout and lots of sway in terms of fashion and trends, often found sitting in the front row of fashion shows and the Met Gala. Highly likely to be part of Taylor Swift’s girl squad. Aka K Spice (K for Kardashian), Selfie Spice, Insta Spice. Think Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian, and NZ Beauty blogger Shannon Harris and Auckland stylist Jaime Ridge.
Spice Girls in today’s context would actually never pigeon-hole themselves into one identity, however. 'Girl Power' and 'Girls Can Do Anything' has never been more tangible and believable and girls are, in fact, doing many things.
However, people might question their musical talent and the sincerity of their platform, perhaps the Spice Girls’ message of 'Girl Power' did not go unheeded. After all, today’s millennials are exactly those to whom the Spice Girls were singing and dancing twenty years ago.
- Antonia Mann is a strategist at the TRA.
- Contributors: Danica Atkins, Amber Coulter, Lindsey Horne, Antonia Mann, Dawn Munro, Vanisha Narsey, Colleen Ryan, Claire Tutill, Gar Yin Wong.