The deep hum of the bass rumbles the pitch black arena, flooded with excitement and intense anticipation. The giggles and whispers soon transform to a sea of deafening screams, as scattered multicoloured light beams frantically run amongst the stage. The huge stage doors slowly slide open, intensifying the crowds roar as five statuesque figures are revealed, standing strong behind the curtain of smoke. The drums slam, the trumpets blare. As the fog clears, the moment the entire arena’s been waiting for arrives. The five figures are revealed.  Their idols: Ginger, Posh, Baby, Sporty, and Scary.

It’s been 20 years since the first phase of Spice Girl hysteria, and arguably the first phase of Girl Power. Girl Power entered the mainstream after their debut back in the 90’s. Although we might have entered a new millennium since then, the feminist messages of independence and confidence they portrayed through their music are still very much evident in music today.

The Spice Girls formed in 1994, after each auditioning separately for a place in the band. In an era where men controlled and dominated the music scene so much, the girls felt the need to take control. As Victoria Beckham said during an interview “we didn’t want to be told what to wear, what to eat, what to sing”.

The girls went onto defy other label’s negative opinion and release ‘Wannabe’ in 1996, as their first single. The record truly encompassed the meaning of friendship and women’s rights, suggesting “If you wannabe my lover, you gotta get with my friends”. Wannabe rocketed straight to Number one, and proved to be the first song in pop that truly introduced and defined Girl Power to the mainstream. As Emma Bunton and Melanie B described in an interview on US radio, “It’s all about spreading positive vibes, kickin’ it for the girls, and having a laugh”

The Spice Girls’ representation of independence, and the public’s massive appreciation for them only grew stronger. In the same year that Girl Power got added to the Oxford dictionary, Professor Susan Hopkins likened the band to 20th century female action heroes. After winning countless music awards, being the faces of numerous advertising campaigns, and having a film under their belts, all within six years, it’s hard to believe that the girls weren’t actually superheroes.

However, this begs the question, what really was so special about the Spice Girls? What rightly made Girl Power so popular? Emma Bunton advanced during an interview ‘people could relate to us because we were totally and honestly being outselves’. Super fan of the Spice Girls, Amelia Barnfield, 19, from Sedgley, agrees with former Baby Spice, discussing the diversity of the Spice Girls and how the variation of personalities inside the group allowed her to feel as if she could be the type of girl she wanted to be. “Because of Sporty Spice, I felt as if I could be a tom boy kind of girl, and that was acceptable.”

It’s not just fans supporting the girls though; academics support the bands effectiveness, such as gender in the media expert Dr Gemma Commane of Birmingham City University. She suggested that ‘the Spice Girls addressed young women in many ways, and were in fact a visual representation of neoliberal women’.

Although the Spice Girls appear to have had positive impact on females in society, both then and now, it seems that the representation of girl power they portrayed did have its downfalls, and could be seen as damaging. Commane adds that ‘the ‘cutesy’ appearance of the band shown to what extent they were manufactured, to make the idea of feminism much more palatable for the mass audience’. Even super fan Barnfield, highlighted some of the negatives of their representations of girl power stating: “Once the girls had their identities, they didn’t have much room to move. Sporty couldn’t be Baby, Baby couldn’t be Scary. It represented to me I kind of had to stay in my lane”.

Although the Spice Girls career sadly came to an end in 2000, their influence has continued to inspire popular female artists, who have taken the feminist seed the band planted, and helped to continue its growth. Commane supports this by using examples such as Missy Elliot, Beyonce, and Nicki Minaj, describing them as “women who are really taking the idea of girl power and reinventing it in ways that speaks to more women”. Victoria Beckham supported this progression in a post-Spice Girl interview suggesting: “We all stood for girl power, and now maybe its woman power.”

With this evolution from girl to woman power, and a now more accepting culture in which we live in, the limit of femininity in music has now massively been expanded. “Some women are more outspoken now, more than the Spice Girls were,” said Commane. Barnfield continued to justify and support the girl power that artists have continued to improve and encourage in mainstream music today, by saying “Now it’s all about being ballsy, less about being innocent, and about being equal, saying whatever you want to say”

Despite this, other media scholars are questioning how much we really have progressed, in regards to how artists represent their gender, through the sexualisation of the body. It’s a notion that the Spice Girls members themselves somewhat agree with.

Back in 2016, Mel C criticised the Spice Girl protégés, Little Mix, after their current rise in popularity saying “I love Little Mix. ‘But they are getting more provocative. To me, they were kind of the closest thing to the Spice Girls we’ve seen. They are all gorgeous and great singers. “But they weren’t sexy and it’s got more and more that way” However, could this swipe at the band by Mel C simply be down to jealousy of Little Mix’s Glory Days album achieving the longest running number one since the Spice Girls 20 years prior?

The Little Mix girls gracefully defended their success and pride regardless, with Perrie Edwards saying “We love the Spice Girls” “they’ve always stuck by us and supported us.” However, Jessy Nelson replied to Mel C’s comment saying “I find that very strange considering the Spice Girls wore a lot less”.

Commane picked up on this argument, by suggesting that ‘it’s the commerciality in twenty first century pop that encourages this sexualisation’. Fan’s agree with this, but reckon that revealing outfits aren’t so bad after all, as Barnfield sums up “You’ll get scrutinised whatever you wear, I think the girls saying ‘sod it’ and wearing what they want proves girl power and feminist power even more”

It’s clear to see that the Spice Girls inspired women, and put in the girl power groundwork, to create a pathway for the female artists of the future to build upon. The artists we have now certainly take inspiration from the girls first phase of music feminism all those twenty years ago, tweaking the idea of girl power, and allowing it to flourish in sophistication, and transform to woman power. However, just because the representation of girl power has progressed, doesn’t mean that the Spice Girls initial attempt is unworthy. We have to take into consideration that culture and ideals change every day as the world progresses, and the idea of music feminism progresses with that. Although their representation of girl power is now 20 years old, it should not go unrecognised. As Commane reinforces “the Spice Girls are important to look back on. They came at quite an important time in culture and British history”. Just as Geri Halliwell said during a post spice girls interview “girl power has longevity”, and the fact that Wannabe still has the power to get every woman at the party to rush to the dance floor, and release their inner Scary Spice, almost twenty years after its debut, certainly proves her right.

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