In 'We Need To Talk About...', the new weekly column from NME's Jordan Bassett, J-to-the-B vents his spleen on the topical issues that matter the most (or the least, if it happens to be a slow news day). This week: why the Spice Girls' record-breaking, sort-of reunion tour is a nostalgic zig-a-zig-ah that will leave you short of breath but ultimately unsatisfied
There is, online, a toe-curling clip of showbiz journalist Dan Wootton asking the newly reformed Spice Girls for their views on Brexit. Like many pop stars grilled on politics, the interviewees squirmed as if caught in a fishing net. To her eternal credit, Geri took the lead, steering the chat to a soundbite that emphasised the fact that they’re pals despite their political differences: “The most important thing is, let’s stop the divisiveness. Come together.”
It was a deft sleight of hand that indicates two things. One: the Spice Girls remain slick operators after all these years. Two: they’re a deceptively frivolous pop group whose careers have always been curiously entwined with the zeitgeist. Even without Victoria Beckham, who has shunned this reunion to focus on her career as a fashion designer, now celebrating its first decade, the band have already broken records with their newly minted reunion stadium tour. Over the weekend, sales opened for a six-date stint that stretched from Sunderland to London. Demand was, of course, wild, with 700,000 in the queue to drop up to £270 each on girl power.
Six further dates have now been added, with Ticketmaster boss Andrew Parsons chortling, “They have smashed through Ticketmaster UK’s records, becoming the busiest ever sale… From what we saw, they could have played nearly every night for a year”. It’s 11 years since The Spice Girls last released original material, the listless ‘Headlines (Friendship Never Ends)’, which tied in with their previous smash-hit reunion tour and became the band’s first single not to crack the UK top 10.
This time around, there is no new material, meaning the Spice Girls haven’t had a hit in 18 years (the double A-side ‘Holler’/’Let love Lead The Way’, taken from their disappointing final album ‘Forever’, recorded without Geri). It has been 22 years since they announced their extraordinary arrival with the epochal ‘Wannabe’, a stunning pop-rap masterpiece ushered in with Mel B’s unforgettable cackle, signalling that she and the Girls were here to make the good times roll. It was the candied sound of Britpop’s hedonism, the feel of New Labour’s 1996 manifesto, the sound of optimism and positivity and a certainty that things could only get better.
It is now, certifiably, an echo of the past.
In the bleak winter of 2018, the sound of the zeitgeist is a nurse on a zero-hour contract stockpiling blood products as another UK government minister announces their resignation over Brexit on a broken telly in the background. Toxic nationalism, Trump, the economy on a cliff-edge, a useless opposition party, your childhood hero outed as a wrong’un – take your pick of reasons that optimism and positivity aren’t currently in vogue.
Obviously, pop music is often not political. Sometimes it’s just great pop music, and that’s fine and dandy. But most pop bands are not the Spice Girls – their enduring icon lies in the fact that they first encapsulated their time and place, the distinctly upwardly mobile mid-’90s, and latterly remind us of an era when the Union Jack had – let’s say – (slightly) less negative connotations.
No new tunes, not even a full line-up; this second reunion can only be a cash-in for the remaining band members, and nostalgia for the fans heading to see them play the hits in 2019. This was a remarkable pop group, one whose brightest moments – the fantastically camp Spanish guitar on ‘2 Become 1’, the raunchy synth line that swaggers through ‘Say You’ll Be There’ – are still unparalleled. But it’s not 1996 any more, and a night at Sunderland’s Stadium Of Light can’t turn back time. It’s a ride on the Spice Bus that leads back where you started, a zig-a-zig-ah that’ll leave you short of breath but ultimately unsatisfied.
Busted are promoting their own comeback arena tour with a nostalgic video for the backward-looking track ‘The ‘90s’. The chorus: “God, I miss the ‘90s”. It’s tempting, yet pointless, to long for the past. Mel B, who now resides in Los Angeles, answered Wootton’s Brexit question with a shrug and said, “I don’t live here”. They say the past is a foreign country, and if these reunion tours show us anything, it’s that many people want to emigrate there.