Old Friends

25 Years Ago, The Biggest Band In The World Made A Movie You Can’t Believe Exists

Let’s talk about Spice World.

The Spice Girls receiving one of their awards at The Brit Music Awards at Earls Court, 24th February...
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Twenty-five ago, the ‘90s version of A Hard Day’s Night featured Meat Loaf, Alan Cumming, and Roger Moore. On December 26, 1997, this improbable film is Spice World, a clear parody movie starring the Spice Girls themselves, arguably the biggest musical group in the world at the time, in a movie you barely remember. But, twenty-five years later, Spice World is both weirder and better than you might remember.

Spice World encapsulates the late ‘90s in a way that is both great and stranger than you remember. The movie follows Baby Spice (Emma), Scary Spice (Mel B), Sporty Spice (Mel C), Posh Spice (Victoria), and Ginger Spice (Geri) as they prepare for a huge concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall. The skirts are short, the platforms are high and the mischiefs are afoot in this mockumentary that unlike a lot of nostalgic films from that era actually holds up (paging Space Jam and Black Check). The Spice Girls are refreshingly self-aware and can carry a scene, bolstered by a who’s who of a supporting cast, including Richard E. Grant as their long-suffering manager, the aforementioned former 007 Sir Roger Moore as the head of their record label, Meat Loaf as their tour bus driver and Alan Cumming as the director of the documentary Spice World is spoofing.

But the Y2K fashion that’s currently having a resurgence isn’t the only thing that makes Spice World relevant today: it’s also the movie’s accidental brilliant commentary on burnout. During a tense point in the film, the Spice Girls finally have a day off when they get to leave their spectacularly outfitted tour bus where most of the hijinks take place and spend some time with their friends and family.

Manager Clifford (Grant), who’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown himself, reneges on their agreement, saying that there’s just too much work to be done in order to prepare for their concert. The Girls are fed up and walk out, only to return moments later saying that while they’re overworked, they’ll honor their obligations. If the Great Resignation that has transpired over the past two years is any indication, many people are similarly fed up with their work parameters: for those of us lucky enough to work from home during the pandemic, we’re also negotiating care work and homeschooling for other members of our household.

So, although it's utterly unrealistic, and totally manufactured, the scene in Spice World when the Girls are scrappy and broke, sitting around a cafe, writing songs, and hustling to make their dreams come true is relatable and weirdly affecting. This moment ignores, of course, the fact that the Spice Girls were mostly manufactured, but the scene still works. When they return to the cafe that they used to live above, it’s shuttered and covered in posters for their Albert Hall gig. “It just goes to show, you can never go back,” laments Mel C.

The Spice Girls aren’t the only ones baffled by how their lives turned out, for better or worse. “I’ve got a degree in politics, philosophy, and economics and I spend my entire life worrying about whether Mel C is wearing the right Nike Air Max,” bemoans their assistant Deborah (Claire Rushbrook). Today, the reference would likely be about TikTok views or something, but it’s still good stuff.

Under the hair extensions and fake lashes (which are notably absent from such relics as pre-mid-2000s pop culture), Spice World also smartly talks about beauty standards in the workplace, and how that pressure can lead to burnout. In one of the many montage scenes, the Girls decide to switch up their personas and therefore hair, makeup, and costumes for what was otherwise a boring photoshoot. They mock each other's catchphrases and outfits, each one complaining how uncomfortable they are in the others’ getups. “I think I sprained my ankle,” complains Posh of Baby’s platforms (a simple stiletto is much more her style!), while Scary feels strangled by Geri’s pleather fit, even though their trademark looks probably have the most overlap. “These are really comfy, actually!” Geri exclaims of Sporty’s sweats. After spending two years in sweatpants, we can all agree, Sporty was definitely onto something.

If you’re looking for ‘90s nostalgia, but a window into a version of the ‘90s that feels very much like today, what you’ll find is that Spice World is better than you remember. Our memories of the ‘90s tend to be both hazy and perfectly in focus, but what rewatching Spice World proves is that not everything that seemed shallow and popular was bad. Sometimes the most popular, absurd thing in the world is actually brilliant. Maybe we just didn’t notice it at the time.

How to watch Spice World

Interestingly, the 1997 film Spice World is not readily streaming online in the US anywhere. This means that to watch it, you’ll have to find a DVD on eBay or elsewhere. That’s right, this brand of ‘90s nostalgia also comes with a dose of analog ‘90s realism.