My most enduring memory of elementary school is not learning how to read or memorizing multiplication tables, but rather my complete infatuation with the Spice Girls. Their first album, Spice, was the first CD I ever owned. Along with my two best friends, I spent most of second and third grades obsessing over the group.
In our most intense display of commitment, Clare, Laura and I forbade our classmates from writing on one of the spreads in our third-grade yearbooks’ signature section, saying those pages were reserved for “our out-of-school friends.” After the end-of-the-year festivities, we took our yearbooks back to Clare’s house and converted those blank pages into testaments to the World of Spice, complete with printed-out pictures and vital facts about the girls.
We spent hours rewinding and fast-forwarding tapes in order to accurately transcribe lyrics. Between the three of us, we had an impressive collection of memorabilia, including dolls, T-shirts, necklaces, lip-glosses and even a very unfortunate pair of homemade overalls. Our preferred form of exercise was choreographing and dancing to Spice Girls songs.
My fondness for the Spice Girls even helped me embrace internationalism. My first trip abroad coincided with the peak of the Spice Girls’ popularity. After the 20-hour voyage to Italy, which included a seven-hour layover in a drab Berlin airport, I was dubious about the entire continent. My first morning in Rome, though, I was overjoyed to see the streets lined with merchants peddling Spice Girls paraphernalia.Retrospectively, I realize this was little more than self-interested capitalism, but it convinced me that Italians had impeccable taste and were not as inaccessibly foreign as their incomprehensible language and exaggerated gestures might suggest.
My parents, who had been trying to make me listen to the Beatles and Bob Dylan since my infancy, were confounded by my love of this pre-packaged pop group. Nonetheless, my mother was willing to manipulate my obsession in hopes of advancing her favorite pet cause: making me play the piano. Her gift of a book of Spice Girls sheet music accomplished her goal handily. I redoubled my musical efforts until I was able to play “The Lady is a Vamp” with some virtuosity.
Then, as suddenly as it had started, my fanaticism came to an end. One day, during morning recess at the beginning of fourth grade, Clare announced, “I don’t like the Spice Girls anymore.” After the initial shock wore off, Laura and I began to see the wisdom of Clare’s pronouncement. By lunchtime we were in agreement; the Spice Girls were totally lame.
When I got home from school that day, I shoved all my accumulated Spice Girls memorabilia to the back of my closet. Shortly after donating my Spice Girls’ CDs to my piano teacher’s daughter, I stopped taking lessons. Clare, Laura and I stayed close until middle school, when the friendship, without the shared passion for the Spice Girls to keep it strong, succumbed to run-of-the-mill pre-teen cattiness.
Like any fruitful relationship, I had learned something important about myself from the Spice Girls. Many soulful sing-a-longs had highlighted an unfortunate truth: I am an offensively bad singer. Out of respect for others’ eardrums, I learned to lip-sync and leave the crooning to my more vocally talented friends. That’s a doctrine I still live by.
The band had broken up and I assumed that chapter of my pre-pubescent life was completely over. This year, however, the Spice Girls announced a worldwide reunion tour and the release of a greatest hits album, attempting to reclaim some of their former cultural significance.
The combination of my mass of curly hair and my indeterminately ethnic look always led me to be assigned the role of Scary Spice when I was younger. My resemblance to Mel B. went uncommented on for many years until this Halloween, when someone once again suggested I dress up as her. Though I never figured out how to re-create those crazy hair buns, I decided a Scary Spice costume was as good an excuse as any to break out my fishnet stockings.
After a night of masquerading as my childhood idol, I wondered if I was in danger of falling back into the depths of Spice Girls obsession. Luckily, their horrifically bad new single is remarkably effective for preventing relapse. The video is tastelessly over-sexed and missing the cheekiness and the message of empowerment that originally drew me to the group. A re-examination of their older hits did rekindle some of my fondness, but the truth is that I don’t find the Spice Girls as musically interesting as I used to. It’s probably good that my tastes have matured a little over the past decade, but I’ll always remember the Spice Girls fondly as my first true musical love and a reliable source for last minute costumes.