No one does super-fandom like the Brits, and back in late '90s, it looked as though Beatlemania might finally be outdone by a fivesome of feminism. Today you might remember them for their failed musical, adorable children, or amazing appearance at the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics, but not that long ago, the Spice Girls were a global phenomenon, influencing everything from fashion to British elections with girl power, platforms, and leopard-print body suits. In a decade-long deluge of boy bands, here were five spunky women ready to put ladies back on the map, not to mention on charts across the globe. But were they the big-dreaming friends portrayed in Spice World, or just a manufactured entity, a la Backstreet Boys? Below, 10 things you might not know about the most outspoken women to hit mainstream pop since Madonna.
1. THEY DIDN'T CHOOSE THEIR NAMES—AND NEITHER DID THEIR MANAGEMENT.
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Writer Peter Lorraine and his editors at Top of the Pops magazine had a clever idea to illustrate his story about the group with a spice rack—one that doled out the instantly iconic labels of Scary, Sporty, Ginger, Posh, and Baby. (Luckily they scrapped an idea to call one of them “Old Spice,” which would have given the teen-mag story some mean-spirited bite. And, though they cheekily declined to say who that moniker might have gone to, we'll just say it's a good thing Geri Halliwell had dyed her "mousy brown" hair red during that timeframe.) As David Sinclair wrote in his biography of the band, “If either the girls or the record company had tried to foist such an idea on the public, let alone the media, it would have seemed cheesy beyond belief.” Instead, “they became an instantly recognizable part of British pop’s royal family.”
2. GINGER SPICE CHOSE THE PHRASE "GIRL POWER" BECAUSE SHE DIDN'T LIKE THE WORD "FEMINISM."
Though “Girl Power” had been used for a few years by the Riot Grrrl movement in the Northwest, Geri Halliwell, a.k.a. Ginger Spice, came at it from a somewhat different angle: while she liked the idea of women’s autonomy, she was turned off by the F word. “For me feminism is bra-burning lesbianism. It's very unglamorous,” she told The Guardian in 2007. “I'd like to see it rebranded.” But that’s exactly what she had done a decade before, bringing “Wannabe”—an anthem that celebrated female friendship over dudes—to the top of the global charts, and landing “Girl Power” in the Oxford English Dictionary.
3. THEY CREDIT MARGARET THATCHER AS BEING THE ORIGINAL PROPONENT OF GIRL POWER.
In a very surprising profile—one that compares the group to Descartes, Voltaire, and a burgeoning political party—the girls reveal their true admiration for the Iron Lady. “We Spice Girls are true Thatcherites,” Ginger declared in 1996. “Thatcher was the first Spice Girl, the pioneer of our ideology—Girl Power.”
4. WHEN A MAGAZINE REVEALED THEIR CONSERVATIVE TENDENCIES, THE LIBERALS FREAKED OUT.
Tony Blair and the Labour Party won the May 1997 election by a landslide, but there was a moment where they thought the Spice Girls might derail them. In December 1996, the girls all sat down with the British political magazine the Spectator and were quizzed on their thoughts on the upcoming election. Blair, the liberal, was seen as the young people’s candidate, and when the article made the girls out to be conservatives—“Indeed a Spice Girl may have the thighs and hot pants of a feeble hussy, but she possesses the heart and soul of a Tory country squire”—some worried the massive Spice Girl bloc might toss Blair aside. (It didn’t help that, at a press conference, he could only name three out of five Spices.) Turns out it was just Ginger and Posh—Halliwell and Victoria then-Adams—who were the Tories, though: Emma Bunton (Baby) said she didn’t know anything about politics, and Mel B. (Melanie Brown, Scary) came out as an anarchist. Mel C. (Melanie Chisholm, Sporty), from working-class Liverpool, didn’t agree either, and called Margaret Thatcher, the woman Halliwell had called the “first Spice Girl,” a “complete prick.”
5. THE TEAM THAT BROUGHT THEM TOGETHER WASN'T THE TEAM THAT MADE THEM STARS.
When father-son team Bob and Chris Herbert put an ad in the The Stage trade-paper in March 1994—which called for “streetwise, ambitious, outgoing, and dedicated” 18-23 year olds—they brought together four of the five future Spices (Emma Bunton was rounded up later) and named the group Touch. But the Herberts had a very different image in mind—they moved the girls in together and allegedly asked them to all dress the same. The girls, obviously, would not stand for this. After being offered what they saw as an unreasonable contract, they ditched their management and were scooped up by Simon Fuller in March 1995, who changed their name, embraced their differences, and let their personalities seep into the music—which all the girls helped write.
6. GINGER'S ICONIC UNION JACK DRESS WAS ACTUALLY JUST A DISH TOWEL.
The first time the Spice Girls had gone to the Brit Awards, Ginger had made her own outfit, a green sparkly dress—but by the next year they had a number one hit, and she knew she needed something to top it. She told Piers Morgan in 2010 that when she was sent a little black Gucci dress for the 1997 awards, the patriotic Brit had her sister sew the towel on the front. The look landed her plenty of front pages, and the dress sold at auction in 1998 for almost $70,000.
7. SPICE WORLD REFERENCES PULP FICTION.
The girls are pitched a show, Spice Force Five, a reference to the Fox Force Five, a fictional pilot in the Quentin Tarantino classic—with similarities down to "the black girl [being] a demolition expert." Ginger was particularly good as the master of disguise—she goes into a phone booth in a silver bodysuit and emerges as Bob Hoskins.
8. THEY HAD SOME DELICIOUS MERCHANDISE.
You know how Baby Spice was always carrying around a lollipop? Not only could you pick up some Spice-branded Chupa Chups at the Limited Too, or some Cadbury chocolate bars if you were lucky enough to live near a Tesco, but—as Posh’s mom rediscovered in her freezer last year—there was also… Spice Pizza?
9. VICTORIA BECKHAM HAS ONLY BEEN ON THE COVER OF AMERICAN VOGUE ONCE—AND IT WAS WITH THE SPICE GIRLS.
Posh rose to independent fame as a model, designer, and world’s most visible footballer’s wife, and it got her three turns on the cover of UK Vogue and a recent one in Australia. But since the whole group landed on the seminal mag’s cover in January 1998—a decision Anna Wintour recently said she’s “not terribly proud of”— Posh shockingly hasn’t been asked back. She did, however, do a hilarious 73 Questions interview for Vogue.com earlier this year, throwing in sly references to her younger years (Favorite spice? "Posh") and other pop culture jokes (Diamonds or pearls? "Both. We love Prince").
10. NELSON MANDELA WAS A TOTAL FANGIRL.
ODD ANDERSEN// Getty
When the Spice Girls first met the South African President in 1997, he called them “my heroines.” "I don't want to be emotional,” he said, “but this is one of the greatest moments of my life." Ten years later he invited the five-some to perform at his 89th—and 90th—birthday parties, but it never came together.