Slam It To The Left With These 10 Facts About the Spice Girls

BERTRAND GUAY // Getty
BERTRAND GUAY // Getty

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 musicaladorable 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.

THOMAS COEX// Getty

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.

Getty

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.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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10 Facts About Real Genius On Its 35th Anniversary

Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an era where nerd is a nickname given by and to people who have pretty much any passing interest in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine the way old-school nerds—people with serious and socially-debilitating obsessions—were once ostracized. Computers, progressive rock, and role-playing games (among a handful of other 1970s- early '80s developments) created a path from which far too many of the lonely, awkward, and conventionally undateable would never return. But in the 1980s, movies transformed these oddballs into underdogs and antiheroes, pitting them against attractive, moneyed, successful adversaries for the fate of handsome boys and pretty girls, cushy jobs, and first-place trophies.

The 1985 film Real Genius ranked first among equals from that decade for its stellar cast, sensitive direction, and genuine nerd bona fides. Perhaps fittingly, it sometimes feels overshadowed, and even forgotten, next to broader, bawdier (and certainly now, more problematic) films from the era like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. But director Martha Coolidge delivered a classic slobs-versus-snobs adventure that manages to view the academically gifted and socially maladjusted with a greater degree of understanding and compassion while still delivering plenty of good-natured humor.

As the movie commemorates its 35th anniversary, we're looking back at the little details and painstaking efforts that make it such an enduring portrait not just of ‘80s comedy, but of nerdom itself.

1. Producer Brian Grazer wanted Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge to direct Real Genius. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Following the commercial success of 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, there was an influx of bawdy scripts that played upon the same idea, and Real Genius was one of them. In 2011, Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School that the original script for Real Genius "had a lot of penis and scatological jokes," and she wasn't interested in directing a raunchy Nerds knock-off. So producer Brian Grazer enlisted PJ Torokvei (SCTV) and writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Splash, City Slickers) to refine the original screenplay, and then gave Coolidge herself an opportunity to polish it before production started. “Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes," Coolidge said. "It was ahead of its time."

2. Martha Coolidge’s priority was getting the science in Real Genius right—or at least as right as possible.

In the film, ambitious professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) recruits high-achieving students at the fictional Pacific Technical University (inspired by Caltech) to design and build a laser capable of hitting a human-sized target from space. Coolidge researched the subject thoroughly, working with academic, scientific, and military technicians to ensure that as many of the script and story's elements were correct. Moreover, she ensured that the dialogue would hold up to some scrutiny, even if building a laser of the film’s dimensions wasn’t realistic (and still isn’t today).

3. One element of Real Genius that Martha Coolidge didn’t base on real events turned out to be truer than expected.

From the beginning, the idea that students were actively being exploited by their teacher to develop government technology was always fictional. But Coolidge learned that art and life share more in common than she knew at the time. “I have had so many letters since I made Real Genius from people who said, 'Yes, I was involved in a program and I didn’t realize I was developing weapons,'" she told Uproxx in 2015. “So it was a good guess and turned out to be quite accurate.”

4. Val Kilmer walked into his Real Genius audition already in character—and it nearly cost him the role.

After playing the lead in Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was firmly on Hollywood’s radar. But when he met Grazer at his audition for Real Genius, Kilmer decided to have some fun at the expense of the guy who would decide whether or not he’d get the part. "The character wasn't polite," Kilmer recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 1995. "So when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"

5. The filmmakers briefly considered using an actual “real genius” to star in Real Genius.

Among the performers considered to play Mitch, the wunderkind student who sets the movie’s story in motion, was a true genius who graduated college at 14 and was starting law school. Late in the casting process, they found their Mitch in Gabriel Jarrett, who becomes the third generation of overachievers (after Kilmer’s Chris and Jon Gries’s Lazlo Hollyfeld) whose talent Hathaway uses to further his own professional goals.

6. Real Genius's female lead inadvertently created a legacy for her character that would continue in animated form.

Michelle Meyrink, Gabriel Jarret, Val Kilmer, and Mark Kamiyama in Real Genius (1985).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Michelle Meyrink was a staple of a number of ‘80s comedies, including Revenge of the Nerds. Playing Jordan in Real Genius, she claims to “never sleep” and offers a delightful portrait of high-functioning attention-deficit disorder with a chipper, erratic personality. Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers co-creator Tad Stones has confirmed that her character went on to inspire the character of Gadget Hackwrench.

7. A Real Genius subplot, where a computer programmer is gaming a Frito-Lay contest, was based on real events.

In the film, Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Lazlo Hollyfeld, a reclusive genius from before Chris and Mitch’s time who lives in a bunker beneath their dorm creating entries to a contest with no restrictions where he eventually wins more than 30 percent of the prizes. In 1969, students from Caltech tried a similar tactic with Frito-Lay to game the odds. But in 1975, three computer programmers used an IBM to generate 1.2 million entries in a contest for McDonald’s, where they received 20 percent of the prizes (and a lot of complaints from customers) for their effort.

8. One of Real Genius's cast members went on to write another tribute to nerds a decade later.

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate and Independence Day with Roland Emmerich, plays Milton, another student at Pacific Tech who experiences a memorable meltdown in the rush up to finals.

9. The popcorn gag that ends Real Genius isn’t really possible, but they used real popcorn to simulate it.

At the end of the film, Chris and Mitch build a giant Jiffy Pop pack that the laser unleashes after they redirect its targeting system. The resulting popcorn fills Professor Hathaway’s house as an act of revenge. MythBusters took pains to recreate this gag in a number of ways, but quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work; even at scale, the popcorn just burns in the heat of a laser.

To pull off the scene in the film, Coolidge said that the production had people popping corn for six weeks of filming in order to get enough for the finale. After that, they had to build a house that they could manipulate with hydraulics so that the popcorn would “explode” out of every doorway and window.

10. Real Genius was the first movie to be promoted on the internet.

A week before Real Genius opened, promoters set up a press conference at a computer store in Westwood, California. Coolidge and members of the cast appeared to field questions from press from across the country—connected via CompuServe. Though the experience was evidently marred by technical problems (this was the mid-1980s, after all), the event marked the debut of what became the online roundtable junket.