Somewhere between The Beatles, and the Biebs, the youth of the world were losing their minds for a pop sensation known as the Spice Girls. In the late 90’s, the Spice Girls were everywhere. I’m talking pencil cases, gum wrappers, yo-yos, magazines… They even had their own movie. Not just some documentary/concert film, like pretty much all pop acts are pumping out today. Spice World was a full-fledged narrative film along the lines of A Hard Day’s Night (and equally cheesy). Their catchy dance beats, with lyrics about the importance of Girl Power, friendship, and never giving up on the good times, really struck a chord with pretty much everybody.
As a young male approaching my teenage years, I wasn’t quite their target audience. That is to say, being a young male, and preferring “Spice Up Your Life” to anything by Marilyn Manson wasn’t really doing my image any favours with the elementary school crowd. Not that I had much of an image to worry about back then. I wasn’t a social outcast by any means, but I definitely didn’t count myself as part of the “cool” crowd. Falling somewhere between that, I was the shy kid with the questionable haircut, who spent all of his weekends with his great grandparents, out of town.
As far as we still have to go as a society, I’d have to say that attitudes towards sexual orientation have come a long way in the past 15 years. Back then, it seemed perfectly acceptable to refer to anything considered undesirable as “gay”. To the elementary school crowd, “gay” wasn’t so much of a sexual orientation, as it was a catch-all term for bad stuff. A throwaway insult or a go-to descriptor for something you didn’t like.
Following these rules, many kids considered the Spice Girls, and their fans as “gay”. This manages to hit both points of using the term as a general insult towards the Spice Girls, while also bringing the sexual orientation of their fans into question. Basically the grand slam of grade school teasing.
As a pre-teen boy, you hear this stuff enough, and an already confusing time of your life gets even more confusing. Did the fact that I enjoyed cranking up “Move Over” mean that I was gay? I didn’t have a girlfriend at the time (or any real experience with girls in general), and I didn’t really relate with “the guys” on most things. I wasn’t the most masculine kid on the school yard. I mean, I didn’t really care for sports and was pretty terrible at them to be honest. At a time and place that could be pretty obsessed with gender roles, any deviation from the set standards was seen as a pretty solid indication of homosexuality.
The more I thought about the subject, I came to realize a few things. The reason that I didn’t subscribe to most things masculine didn’t have anything to do with my sexual orientation. It probably had a lot more do with the fact that I was jointly raised by my single mother, single grandmother, and elderly great-grandparents. Macho wasn’t really on the menu. I was different, sure, but it wasn’t up to some ignorant grade-schooler, or a piece of music to define me. I could listen to whatever music I wanted, play it loud, and not give a damn about what anybody else might think (this same principal applies to a few Nickelback songs). The idea that being unique automatically dumped you into a set category seemed to fly in the face of the whole idea of uniqueness. I’m my own category, and I have no problem putting Lady Gaga and Low Profile on the same mix.
I’m lumping the two albums together here, because honestly, I never actually owned either of these albums (and I still don’t). Both albums were out at the time, and both albums were everywhere, so my association with either one blends together pretty seamlessly at this point.
MP3s weren’t quite a thing back then, so I was surfing Spice Girls fan-sites, and downloading MIDI versions of whatever songs weren’t on the radio. RealAudio streaming was the go-to for versions that actually had vocals, and the rest was up to MuchMusic, and 99.5 YesFM. I basically listened to both albums dozens of times, but in the most fragmented way possible.
These 20 songs really left a lasting impression on my unabashed enjoyment of upbeat, often over the top, dance-pop. Music doesn’t have to be high art to be fun, and if a song can make you smile and dance, sometimes that’s all you need.