The Real Live Girls
Today, the Spice Girls relish their status as legacy artists. In Dublin in May, as the Croke Park soccer stadium filled, a preshow playlist administered shocks of nostalgia to the audience as relentlessly as a Milgram study participant. (The crowd applauded “C’est La Vie” by the Irish girl group B*witched as thunderously as if it had not been an audio recording.) The entrance of the band themselves was presaged by the appearance onstage of four groups of backup dancers, each representing a Spice Girl (or, at least, one of the four on tour). Baby’s dancers wore bubble gum pink and lavender fuzzy jackets. Sporty’s dancers warmed up in blue Lycra athletic gear. Scary’s prowled menacingly in leopard print, leather, and chains. Ginger’s, clad red in British military-themed outfits, strutted around the stage vogueing, which is not a dance move particularly associated with Ginger Spice and therefore adroitly embodied the nebulosity of “Ginger” as an archetypal persona.
While the slightness of the Spice Girls discography revealed itself over the course of the two-and-a-half hour show, it’s difficult to imagine the hits could have been received with greater enthusiasm 20 years earlier. As big a draw as the songs, for the crowd, was the chance to watch the Spice Girls interact with each other in person, and here especially they delivered: They hugged, adjusted one another’s costumes, and teased each other mercilessly — after Melanie Chisolm (Sporty) described an attempt at an Irish accent by Melanie Brown (Scary) as “a bit racist,” an insouciant Ms. Brown immediately quipped: “I’m allowed to be racist; I’m black.” When, in a final costume change, the members revealed themselves to be wearing glammed up versions of their outfits from the 1997 “Wannabe” music video, it was as predictable and joyful as a victory lap.
Many boys who privately loved the Spice Girls have grown into men who openly love the Spice Girls — a sizable fan base minority duly acknowledged in the Spice Girls’ new inter-song banter and merchandise — but the crowd at the show looked to consist mostly of women in their late twenties and early thirties. Or, rather, they were in their late twenties and early thirties, and looked to be younger, dressed, as they were, in the distinctive raiments of the Spice Girls. The spring air was temperate enough that jackets need not intrude on ensembles of the truly committed, and so out of the stadium poured a stream of adult women in pink mini skirts, leopard print crop tops, and body-scale Union Jacks.
That exuberant mania of a 1997 childhood still propelled the tide of concertgoers, striding boisterously through business district of North Dublin. At 11 p.m. on that May evening, after the concert let out, they floated by darkened alleyways, uncowed by the prospective dangers that, were they not traveling en masse, would have forced them onto less direct, better-lit routes. There was not just safety, but joie de vivre in numbers. Marketing ploy or not, “Girl power” had become a self-fulfilling prophecy.