Join the Movement...... Please!
by dj spunky
Take a brief tour of my room and you'll find Rage Against the Machine on the wall, and above the bed, Queen. Since I'm an avid tech-head, two Prodigy posters hang on the other wall. And one day soon, I'll add the Spice Girls. Curse me in your dreams if you must, but I love the Spice Girls. Sporty Spice is a girl after my own heart and no one can beat Posh Spice's finger-pointing coolness. I'm so unashamedly proud to like them, I even saved my Spice World ticket stub. But it's not enough to profess my love for the fab five. I've been given the daring challenge of defending the girls and giving you all the reasons why they don't suck. At least, not as much as you think.
Reason #1. Don't tread on sacred territory. Let's face it. White singers who swim the testy waters of pop, R&B and soul don't exactly receive a gracious welcome in this country. Their talents are either ignored or blasted for trying to sound like all those who came before them. With already two albums to their credit, Jamiroquai was only able to break into the U.S. charts with its third album last year. Even after winning a handful of MTV Awards and a Grammy, they're still referred to as a Stevie Wonder-tribute band. Noel Gallagher openly admitting to stealing snippets of a Beatles song is one thing. But since when is it a crime to sound like someone else?
The Spices came along when radio stations conditioned listeners to Mariah and Whitney. Even though the lyrical contents were the same, this four white and one black girl group hit it big with songs catchier than those of Brandi and Aaliyah. Naturally, there was a skepticism and an unacceptance that usually follows when foreigners outdo their American competitors. This would explain Beth Gibbons and Tracey Thorne. Don't ring a bell? The reason why you're not too familiar with Portishead and Everything But the Girl is because British trip-hoppers are the most underrated artists. Gibbons and Thorne do more for soul and R&B than the artificiality of Carey, but you can't tell with the airtime they're allotted. They've broken new ground with music that has no identifiable influences, but the closest deejays will let Americans get to electronica is through the likes of Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers.
MTV has definitely made audiences a little jaded when it comes to new talent, especially when we'd rather watch a video first before listening to the song. The Backstreet Boys wouldn't get so panned if listeners didn't know they were good looking white guys. If Dru Hill, Immature or Boys II Men sang the same lyrics and did the same slick choreography, I doubt there would be a lack of girls fainting at their feet.
Reason #2. We can't measure talent. If you hiss or laugh at the mention of a Hanson song, your ears aren't tuned in properly. They can sing, harmonize and play instruments, and the eldest Hanson isn't even of legal age yet. So what's with all the bashing? Watching the brothers with their golden locks having too much fun in their videos is a bit annoying. But don't confuse being uncool with being talentless. Did anyone laugh at A.B.C. when the little tykes sang "Iesha" or at New Edition when they sang about the telephone man? I admit, however, that proving the talent of even one Spice isn't as easy. They were less than impressive on last year's MTV Awards. Posh hit a few bum notes, Sporty sounded more like a screamer than a singer, and Baby pulled a Janet Jackson with her almost untraceable voice. But don't let one bad performance ruin it. All but Ginger attended performing art schools and auditioned among 300 other hopefuls for a spot in the group. And thanks to Jay Leno, David Letterman, Saturday Night Live and MTV, there are plenty of impromptu jam sessions, audition tapes and acappella recordings that easily prove all five can really sing.
It's not easy, though, when there's such a strong insistence that what you see is all gimmick and not talent. With the Village People as their predecessors, audiences don't go beyond the tomboy, rich girl, baby blonde, loudmouth black girl and glamour puss characters they've taken on. They were brought together by a man who had an idea. And whether that idea was more marketing and less music is irrelevant. The more than 20 million records sold worldwide and the millions who rush to hear them won't get anything other than five ladies singing. And singing well. I swear!
Reason #3. We're not lyrically inclined either. Interpreting great lyrics is arbitrary because what may sound like lazy writing to you is hum-along, got-that-damn-song-stuck-in-my-head material to another. Pop songs aren't weighted down with the complexity of Fionna Apple's "The blue of my oblivion" or the slang of Brandi's "I wanna be down." They don't depend on the much overused playa' hater or throw your hands in the air and wave 'em.... you know the rest. So if the song you're listening to right now doesn't include Lil' Kim's one hundred and one ways of rhyming Gucci with Versace or some chic on KROQ making an issue of her gender, you might feel as if you're not getting any content.
Music critics don't write about pop lyrics because there isn't a lot to explain. Consider Celine Dion, the female Michael Bolton. Her latest album is titled Let's Talk About Love, and, well, that's what she does. She sings about togetherness, the painful pangs of breakups and spends a lot of time reassuring you that things will be OK. She's domestic, excessively romantic and uncomplicated. And to some kid out there who doesn't pledge allegiance to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that actually matters.
The Spices do femininity the hyperfeminine, unironic way. They flaunt their boobs and big hairdos, and it's not a statement. They're in the same league and sappy department as their R&B counterparts Mariah and Whitney. They sing about love lost and found; an overused theme but one that certainly isn't foreign to most people. And after listening to the material, I mean ethereal, girl's latest album, I'm convinced. The non sense of "Zig ah zig ah" and "MMBop" has more sense than the genius of "Love is a bird, she needs to fly."
Reason #4. Kurt Loder. You can argue against it. You may not even be aware of it. But Kurt Loder rules your life. Loder, whose real occupation is Madonna ass-kisser extraordinare, and other editors of MTV, Rolling Stone, Vogue, Time, and even Newsweek are self-proclaimed arbiters of pop culture who swear they're not telling how to think but what to think about. They're willing to, however, serve as your eyes and ear when you don't have the time or the inclination to distinguish between frivolous pop and what Loder calls "art pop."
Consider Dion again. She's one of the biggest female stars of the 90s. Falling Into You has sold 9 million copies and is still in the charts after a year and a half. Let's Talk About Love is #3 and her single on the Titanic soundtrack is #1.But you won't find her in Rolling Stone's unimpressive lineup of the "Women Of Rock" issue. Instead, Madonna, Tina Turner and Courtney Love graced the cover. There's a reason why Turner's last few albums only sold well in Europe. And as for the widow Love, well, it's obvious she's made a career off of hitting bum notes. During its many pre-Grammy shows, MTV obnoxiously thanked Dion for not showing up. Just because she'll be forever linked to the unsinkable big boat movie doesn't make her less talented.
Rolling Stone has made dissing 90s female pop its sole effort. We look back at the Ronettes, the Go-Gos and the Bangles with fond nostalgia. But to like a commercial phenomenon like the Spices isn't hip. And of course, someone had to fit Madonna into all this. According to the January issue of Vogue, "all roads absurdly, eventually lead to Madonna." Writer Jonathan Van Meter insists that there was a point and sincerity behind Madonna's message of love, sex, money, power blah blah blah. The only difference between the two is that Madonna appeals to older men while the Spices appeal to young girls. These days, the tastes and wishes of preteens don't count for much because if you're really young, who and what you like are irrelevant.
If all this non-threatening, kid-infested pop is so maddeningly frivolous, why continue the press coverage? Newsweek, which has run three Spice articles this year, has made covering "Girl Power" a national interest. MTV has produced a handful of Spice documentaries, interviews, year-in-rock retrospectives and movie previews. When they collide with paparazzi, hang out with heads of state or pat the bum of a future king, MTV is there. It's as if they're subliminally begging you not to forget about them. So it's not enough to keep up the bashing. There is a massive interest somewhere someone isn't telling you about.
When you mention their name some people groan, others swoon. But love them or hate them, the Spices are no different, worse or better than what both mainstream pop and rock have given you in the last couple of years. We know they're catchy, fun, empowering and are striking some sort of nerve. But there's more to it than this kind of condescending and patronizing affection. It's all straightforward music that has no standards to be measured by. If you're still demanding more and think that their 15 minutes was over a long time ago, think again. Their first single "Wannabe" was #1 in 21 countries and with the last single, "Too Much," the Spices became the first act ever to have six consecutive #1 songs. Spice World is in the top 20 and their first album is still in the top 40 after two years. They won't remain Britain's reigning pop divas for another five or ten years; their kind of success wouldn't endure that long. But for now, just enjoy all the wonderfully tacky art and talent the Spices are so unapologetically offering.