The Vagenda

On Mel C and Rihanna: Why the Spice Girls Were More Girl Power Than G-strings


Mel C hit the newspapers lately by slating today’s generation of female pop stars as ‘vulgar and narcissistic’. Predictable media headlines ensued, replete with gratuitous arse shots of a pouting Rihanna twerking like some kind of demented booty-witch. Commentators were quick to point out that Mel C was known to favour and indeed rock a crop top on occasion, which, frankly, you would if you had the abs of The Chisholm.

Let’s be clear about this. Wearing no clothes or hardly any clothes – it’s no big deal. I’ve been known to rock a bit of under-bum out of my denim shorts on occasion. Female pop stars using their sexuality to sell records- well, hello respected musical artists Kate Bush, Stevie Nicks, Madonna (OK, semi-respected.)

But Mel C was always my favourite Spice Girl, the one who put up with having to wear shiny polyester throughout the nineties and had a nose ring and who could actually sing, and I’m inclined to listen to what she has to say and forgive her almost anything (apart from SpiceWorld The Movie. No one can forgive that.)

And slamming Rihanna for being ‘vulgar and narcissistic’ is fair. In one sense at least. See, the thing is, the Spice Girls were actually pretty fucking vulgar. So Mel’s a bit of a hypocrite there. Remember Geri’s outfit at the Brits ’97? Her sister sewed a Union Jack tea towel on a dress so short that there was literally a triangle of black cotton separating her vag from, well, the entire world. If that’s not vulgar than I’m not quite sure what is, really. Maybe when Posh went all ‘urban’ and started wearing slashed leather crop tops and see-through string vests and hanging out with Dane Bowers and True Steppers?

As an aside: let us never, ever forget that collaboration she did with Dane Bowers and True Steppers.

And in any case, criticising a pop star for being vulgar is like having a go at a rock star for being into drugs, or an EDM DJ for being a hollow-eyed money-grabbing whore who sold their musical credibility down the river for the promise of a Las Vegas residency and £££. Basically- what did you expect? Pop music has always been about vulgarity, and that is what makes it wonderful. Bjork as a swan. Elton John in a pink satin suit. All vulgar and all pretty fucking fabulous, actually.

The Spice Girls were these amazing, vulgar women that that showed young girls of my generation that it was okay to shout over men on morning chat shows. It was okay to be gobby, and go around pinching Prince Charles on the bum. That all good music videos should involve you doing a high-kick in the desert, and that it was okay to shout about Girl Power and how much you love your Mum.

Being vulgar is fucking great. Because what’s the opposite of vulgarity? Being demure. Proper. Dressing appropriately. Not speaking your mind. And who wants a generation of matchy-matchy pop princesses in twinsets and pearls? No one.

But, being narcissistic: well, actually, fair dos to Sporty for pointing that out. Because something has changed in our generation, and not in a good way. Rihanna and co. do embody narcissism, and it’s damaging our girls.

See, when me and my friends used to dress up as the Spice Girls and do the routine to Stop (which I still remember to this day): well, we were having a laugh with our mates. We were dressing up to be the Spice Girls, to embody their different personalities and personal styles, and I don’t remember ever looking in the mirror that much, really.

We weren’t taking selfies and putting Instagram filters on them and photoshopping out our teenage acne so we looked more attractive to older guys. We were just having fun. Online wasn’t even a place then. It was just Top of the Pops on a Friday night, and fighting with your sisters over which one got to be Baby (everyone wanted to be Baby). It was platform trainers and Union Jacks. Dare I say it? It was innocent.

Narcissism is a logical by-product of an age in which everything is instantly documented, manipulated and posted on social media. Under such intense scrutiny you can’t really fault young girls for becoming narcissistic. They take their cue from the role models that are available to them: women whose social media presences are massive, every IV drip or finger tattoo or fast food meal they’d never actually eat posted on the internet for mindless, instant click-likes and retweets.

When I look back at the Spice Girls now I’m struck by how – well, budget they look. They look like a bunch of girls who did their makeup themselves in the back of the tour bus on the way to their concert, all badly-blended eyeshadow and streaky highlights. Essentially none of them changed their (normal sized) outfits for the best part of a decade. And that’s their charm, and that’s why we loved them. They looked like your big sister’s mates would look like as they swigged white wine before a night out on the tiles. Compare that to Rihanna, who switches from dominatrix to stripper to Bajan princess faster than you can say ‘Beyoncé lift fight’).

When sustaining the momentum in your career basically means keeping the entire internet entertained, every day, changing your look almost daily becomes a pre-requisite if you’re going to keep people entertained. You can try to sepia-tint it all you want: making yourself click bait for the masses essentially turns you into a narcissistic, pouting moron. If the Spice Girls started today, everything we love about them: their wobbly bits and dodgy tracksuits and bad hair and manic energy, would have been worn away and made smooth, corroded by the internet until all that was left was gloss and polish.

And this is why Mel C was right on one count: being narcissistic isn’t okay, and it definitely isn’t Girl Power. Unless you’re Instagramming yourself high-kicking Richard E.Grant in the desert. In which case, I’ll make an exception.

- The Dalston Years

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11 thoughts on “On Mel C and Rihanna: Why the Spice Girls Were More Girl Power Than G-strings

  1. Excuse me! SpiceWorld The Movie is one of the most underrated cinematic works of our time and I won’t hear a thing said about it.

    Aside from that I agree with everything you said.

  2. Popstars have not turned a generation of young girls into narcissistic beings. We can thank social media and lax parenting for that.

    And with regards to the so called over sexualization of female Popstars, I guess we are all going to forget Madonna ever existed. So when hear about these older female artists putting down these current ones, I laugh at how pathetic they are being. Mel C, Marrianne Faithful (Who rather helpfully called Rihanna and Cyrus sluts). And Annie Lennox, who patronisingly questioned which brand of feminism Beyonce belonged to. As if, there can ONLY be one right way to class one’s self as a feminist.

    Bit sad that these women have to resort to dragging younger women to get themselves in the papers.

  3. “Being vulgar is fucking great. Because what’s the opposite of vulgarity? Being demure. Proper. Dressing appropriately. Not speaking your mind. And who wants a generation of matchy-matchy pop princesses in twinsets and pearls? No one.”

    Sorry, but I disagree. Dressing appropriately, having conservative morals and wearing twinsets and pearls doesn’t automatically make you demure, nor does it limit your ability to speak your mind. There will be just as many girls/women with crop tops and tattoos who don’t feel confident enough to raise their voice, as there are cookie cutter princesses.

    If anything, the Spice Girls championed all women and their diversity (look at the differences between Scary and Baby). Being vulgar doesn’t mean you’re any more likely to have anything of substance to say.

  4. Can I just point out that although it may seem like ‘none of them changed their outfit for the best part of a decade’ the spice girls were actually only performing together as a 5 piece for 2 years. I think we just feel like they were around much longer cos of the many MANY times their look has been imitated and reproduced (you still see it on stag party nights out even now). I totally get the point of the article though. I’m all for a bit of vulgarity where necessary (and/or fun) and could never quite put my finger on why Rihanna rubbed me up the wrong way so much, but I think the narcissism may be it.

  5. You get it right when you say “what’s the opposite of vulgar? Demurity.” but then you fail so hard when you come to narcissism.
    What’s the opposite of narcissism? Humility? Is that really something positive?

    I feel like you’ve mixed up multiple forces at work here.
    1. The increasing power of image media scrutiny, forcing more sexual and more unrealistic/extreme looks upon celebrities of all kinds (actors, everyone). It’s a different time.
    2. Sexuality: over time as capitalistic power increases, so the limits are pushed further, and that influence on women can’t be sniffed at.

    However, the instagram culture that you condemn as part of the disease, is actually more like a backlash and part of a cure.

    You weren’t faced with impossible women in the 90′s. This generation are. You didn’t have the internet or personal camera’s on the scale we do now. This generation does, and in a way, narcissism about the self in the face of such impossible role models isn’t the worst result that could happen. Self confidence now just looks a little different, cos it’s got different technology and different pressures to you.

    This attitude to technology makes you look vair vair old.

  6. it’s an exagerration using symbolisim: Vulgar the word comes from a time where repression was key. It’s about an attitude, not a look, but the look might reflect an attitude.

  7. The Spicegirls are set for life financially thanks to millions of teenieboppers saving their lunch money and dads hard earned cash to go see em lipsynch together in harmony. Reminds me depeche mode grabbing hands song