There’s no doubt that the Spice Girls are one of the biggest bands of all time. But how have they fared in the 20 odd years since? Sam Brooks ruthlessly ranks their solo careers.
The footsteps and cackle at the start of ‘Wannabe’ are as era-defining as pop music gets. Hell, that entire song is one of the most perfect three minutes of pop that exists, sounding both timeless and very much of its time.
But we’re not here to discuss the virtues of ‘Wannabe’.
The Spice Girls were one of the biggest bands of all time, and for a band that had two albums (I don’t count the third, because you don’t) that’s pretty incredible. There’s no point ranking their music from that era – you’ve heard it all, and you either love it beyond all logic or reason or are indifferent to it (once more, beyond all logic or reason)
We’re not here to discuss the virtues of The Spice Girls collectively. They are beyond judgment.
We’re here to discuss the virtues of their solo careers, which are as varied as you can get from people who all came from the same band, genre of music, and general geographic location. Who made a good go of it and didn’t quite pass the finish line? Who is still making a good go of it? Who sat comfortably within her limits and made quietly amazing pop music? And what’s Geri Halliwell doing today?
Now, just so we’re clear: this is a ruthless, incredibly timely, ranking of the Spice Girls’ solo music. I’ve left out discussion of other careers, such as acting or whatever shadow empire Victoria Beckham is using to rule over the world with an iron fist. This ranking is a pure, completely biased, assessment of their music.
Let us continue.
5. Victoria Beckham
Look. This is the easy one to rank. If you know a Victoria Beckham solo song at all, and we’re counting you in the extreme minority here, then it’ll be the one above.
It’s not even a bad song – it’s fine in the way that most club music from the late 90s or early 00s is fine. It wouldn’t get you on the dancefloor but it wouldn’t get you off the dancefloor.
Beckham’s lack of a solo career appears to be more out of disinterest in music than in any lack of talent. When you have two full-time jobs, are running an Illuminati-esque fashion empire and busy making sure David Beckham doesn’t say stupid things in public, why would you be making a go at a solo music career?
Victoria Beckham is so disinterested in music that she isn’t even joining the 2019 reunion tour. I, for one, respect that. No need to drag up a horse skeleton and kick it a few times. Just let dead horses lie, and bask in the fact that you’re now worth over a billion dollars.
4. Melanie B
Did you know that Mel B is short for Melanie Belanie? The wonders of the world!
Talking real for a moment: ‘I Want You Back’ is a top-tier, underrated 90s classic, and Mel B is the only Spice Girl to have collaborated with Missy Elliot, one of the most important artists of… ever, really. It’s lean, it’s moody, and it bubbles sinisterly under the surface like the best R&B of that era does.
And continuing to talk real: nothing else in Mel B’s solo career comes close to this song. ‘Word Up’ is a nice enough song, but it outstays its four-and-a-half minute welcome. Her biggest song outside of ‘I Want You Back’ is ‘Tell Me’, which could very easily be a Samantha Mumba b-side.
Mel B’s issues as a vocalist are the inverse of what makes her famous, so it’s unsurprising that she’s found success as both a celebrity judge, host, and spokesperson. Her voice is thin, but she packs so much personality and vim into what she’s singing that it makes you forget the slightness of her instrument.
However, one Missy Elliot feature does not make a career, and thus she languishes here.
3. Geri Halliwell
Let’s do the numbers on this first.
Geri Halliwell had an unprecedented run of successful singles, especially for someone breaking out of a successful girl group who isn’t named Beyonce or Diana. Her first single, ‘Look at Me’, reached number two on the charts, followed up with four consecutive number one singles, ‘Mi Chico Latino’, ‘Lift Me Up’, ‘Bag It Up’, and potentially her most famous and successful single, a cover of ‘It’s Raining Men’.
It’s a record-setting run that would only be beaten by Cheryl Cole and Rita Ora, both of whom we can all agree are popstars who are breaking ground constantly in pop music.
But how does it actually hold up now?
‘Look at Me’ is… nice? It’s too long, but the beat holds up.
‘Mi Chico Latino’ is one of those trend-following, hit-chasing songs that sounds like everything else at the time. But when you listen to it even a few years later, it sounds entirely inexplicable. That video thumbnail explains exactly what’s wrong with this song: Halliwell is actually half-Spanish, but her passable rapped bridge in the language is… not convincing. It’s a fine song that you forget while the last chorus fades out.
This world never had any use for a mid-tempo Geri Halliwell ballad, and I can’t explain why ‘Lift Me Up’ was so successful except, maybe, that people somehow loved Ginger Spice the most of the Spice Girls and for a few years would spend hard earned money on anything she put out.
However, the music video, which appears to be set in some sort of prequel to Mad Max: Fury Road, involves a lot of little men painted in silver helping her fill her car. That’s something that I have a lot of use for.
And finally, we have Geri Halliwell’s ode to condoms, ‘Bag It Up’.
It’s a fun song. The chorus is hooky, and it’s something that I would love hearing on a playlist, despite it sounding a little cheap.
So, Geri Halliwell had a successful run, inarguably the most successful solo period of any Spice Girls. So why isn’t she ranked higher?
Because one, the songs aren’t very good, and aged the moment they were printed. They were shamelessly on-trend for the time, with no sense of longevity or permanence in sight. The songs don’t get any better if you dig into what she did after her consecutive hits.
And two, take what I said about Mel B and voice vs. personality, but magnify it. Geri Halliwell really really can’t sing, and her brassy personality is not enough to carry these songs across. The soft afterglow of being in the Spice Girls might cover up a few flaws, but once that glow fades, you’re just left in the harsh light with nothing to cover up the fact that your assets worked better in harmony.
But hey, it’s hard to mess up ‘It’s Raining Men’.
2. Emma Bunton
‘What Took You So Long’ is, in my mind, the best song released by a Spice Girl outside of the band. It’s that rare thing: a mid-tempo earworm. You might not try it at karaoke, but you’d definitely crank it up in the radio. It’s the ‘come hither’ at the bar rather than the ‘CHUNE’. So I’d rank her at two for that alone, but I can hear the Geri Haliwell fan (singular, come on, it’s 2019) screaming at me.
So, let me say this: Emma Bunton actually had more than one good song, it’s just that nobody ever heard them.
Take, for example, 2004’s ‘Maybe’:
A few good years before Duffy ‘Mercy’d her way onto the charts, Bunton was giving us a perfect 60’s pastiche – vocals so light they’re brushing the ceiling, an impenetrable wall of sound, and a wry, nearly Austin Powers-ish sense of humour.
For some reason, Emma Bunton seems to be perceived as not having a very good voice. I encourage you to look at her solo albums, or even back at the Spice Girls discography. She’s not a belter, but there’s a lightness to her voice that’s incredibly pleasant to listen to and she never pushes past it. In another decade, Bunton could’ve been a Julie London or a Ronette. In this decade and the last one, she’s an also-ran, someone who was doing the 60s before it became popular.
Also, Bunton’s releasing music right up to the current day, with an album coming out next month. It’s half covers – including a 60’s inspired cover of Madison Avenue’s ‘Don’t Call Me Baby’ which is definitely too cute – and half originals. If the first original is anything to by, it doesn’t sound half bad:
It’s not going to set the charts on fire. Sadly, Duffy ‘Mercy’d away as quickly as she came along. But I’ll be damned if this isn’t someone working within the limits of their voice, having fun with it, and making chill, classy music at the same time.
But, of course, there’s one indisputable winner:
1. Mel C
Oh, come on, like it was going to be anybody else here. If you scrolled down and expected to see Victoria Beckham here, bless your soul and thank you David Beckham for reading The Spinoff.
I could list a Wikipedia’s pages worth of records she’s broken, not just for a Spice Girl but for a real life human being, but let’s leave it at this: she’s got the best voice, she’s the one whose songs you remember most, and she’s the one who’s never taken a break from music, even if you might never have intentionally listened to one of her songs in fifteen years.
She doesn’t need my defending and uplifting like Emma Bunton does, and she doesn’t need my skepticism like the initial solo career of Geri Halliwell did.
She also didn’t need to do a cover of ‘I Know Him So Well’, musical theatre’s best ode to mediocre masculinity and superior women with Emma Bunton, but she did, and she nailed it:
And how many people have a duet from Chess, one of history’s most boring musicals, and an unimpeachable club banger in their discography?
Melanie C is the one who can sing the best. She’s had the best songs. She’s the one who has never taken a break or hiatus. Her solo music career is the best.
Send your emails and complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org you crazy Spice Girls cats you.
A previous edition of this article stated that ‘Halliwell is about as Spanish as Mexicali Fresh’. Despite the humour, this is an inaccuracy: Geri Halliwell’s mother is from Spain. The Spinoff Music regrets the error.
Join The Spinoff Members for as little as $1 to help us hire more journalists and carry out more investigations. Or pay $8 a month and get a free Toby Morris-designed tea towel!
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.