Spice Girls: "Headlines (Friendship Never Ends)"
By Mark Abraham | 14 December 2007
While Emma Bunton sings meaningless words over meaningless shots of her fellow Spice Girls sitting in various states of ‘laxation around an overly fancy living room—a surer sign than any that a video is attempting to look expensive when its budget is more a “Victoria Beckham brought that EKG suction cup/straight jacket-looking lingerie from her home closet” type of thing (guess the £1,000,000 they spent on the cover of Greatest Hits sapped their resources)—it’s pretty clear that this song is also going to be pretty meaningless. Other clues: the solemn vibratoed guitar plucks of Deep Inner Import, the canned strings of Emotion-Laden Hope, and the silly shirt on/shirt off camera cuts of Yes, Even Seven Years Later Our Bodies Are Still Cut.
They are, which isn’t the point, really: everything about this song/video combo is so meta/inverted meta that my head’s reeling: “Let’s make the headlines,” they sing, and it’s obvious that this awkwardly written metaphor for love is also an attempt to dispel the now-ancient and pretty-much-verified rumors that Geri Halliwell’s 1998 departure from the group at the height of their fame resulted from her and Melanie Brown’s antagonistic relationship. Witness Bunton’s summary: “The time is now or never / To fit the missing piece / To take the song together” and…please! Even if Halliwell is a “missing piece,” I just don’t care about how your reunion is some grand expression of undying friendship. It’s hard to appreciate all the heavy handed gestures that attempt to claim you’re still young and vital, since while you are, or you could be, this song is a fucking travesty of self-indulgence and it makes you seem dreary and boring. Why are you relegating your charisma and sense of humor to fucking Tesco Christmas ads? I mean, it’s a great ad, but still. I sit here, and I mean this sincerely, Spice Girls, devastated that this song and the paint-by-numbers SG jam track “Voodoo”—the other new track recorded for Greatest Hits—are NOT spicing up my life. I mean, for shit’s sake, “Mama” makes me tear up; I’m target demographic for emotional bullshit, so what up?
Because canned emotion is the point, right? The Spice Girls are the height of bubblegum pop and camp, a glorious resolution of divas dripping with overdrawn production laced with just enough cheeky interplay and awkward everyman roots that their shit don’t stink. Just compare the singles off Spice (1996) and Spiceworld (1997) to the Backstreet Boys and early NSync (the latter group would only become palatable once they doffed the stupid seriousness in favor of the Spice Girls’ signature humor in their own work): the boys are drowning in their own solemnity, while the girls are walking all over ‘em, embracing kung foo and fantastically surreal outfits and bizarre fantasy scenarios and, for really reals, helping Melanie Chisholm to sit an amazing third in line after fucking Lennon and McCartney for most number one UK singles by a British co-writer. She, and they, in short: rawk!
Which means, even stripped of what made them great, we still even sort of get what we expect. Especially since the formula for every Spice Girls video/song ever is exactly the same: Ginger, Scary, Posh, and Baby strike awkward poses, are caught in brief disarming moments where they break down and giggle at the camera, and sing decently—except Beckham, who doesn’t sing much at all—and then Sporty rips the shit out of the song with her vocal chords. Except, y’know, she doesn’t really this time, which may well be because she’s lounging on a couch while she’s trying to do it—although, to be fair, her bridge-type verse where the instrumentation gets freaky is the only remotely exciting part of this joke. Here are the innovations: Bunton has apparently abandoned the weirdly statutory “Baby” image that she maintained into her 20s; her eyes are lined within an inch of their lives. Brown is no longer the unpredictable trickster of the group — in fact, her general happiness at being in this video almost breaks the mood at several points where her smile seems more “I’m so happy to be doing this!” than “I’m happy because this song is about being happy.” The director of the video has finally abandoned the idea that Beckham’s “verse” is anything more than an opportunity to pan the camera up and down her body—fair enough, since Beckham sort of looks like she’s confused about whether this is a music video or just her normal, perpetually filmed lifestyle. And the return of Halliwell, nice though it is to hear her autumn voice as a tonal counterpoint to Bunton’s light brush strokes and Chisholm’s mine shaft implosion, obviously hasn’t remedied the group’s downward trajectory on the rubber reverb road of grandiose R&B balladry that marked their work after her departure. Neither is much of her much-ballyhooed pop-feminism on display, a mildly disappointing fact given that she often seemed more responsible for the tone of the group than she was really providing any irreplaceable talent.
Point being, dear Spice Girls: see The Emancipation of Mimi for the correct way to revitalize your careers. Because it’s a career worth revitalizing. In the past even the schmaltziest Spice Girls tracks had some redeeming qualities (not to mention that the videos for “2 Become 1” and “Too Much” look like they cost about 83937276474 million dollars to create between them). Here, the Spice Girls seem to have entirely abandoned the complicated links they cultivated with the English working class in videos like “Stop” and the absolutely awesome feature Spiceworld; the futuristic sexuality of “Say You Will Be There” and “Spice Up Your Life” that, whether you think it was the right or wrong one, did at least provide a template for teenage girl empowerment; the about-town foolery of “Wannabee” and “Who Do You Think You Are” that decimated the overblown soppiness of late ‘90s pop music with a simple message to have fun; and “Stop” “Stop” “Stop” “Stop” “Stop,” the greatest song ever.
Look: if you’re going to subtitle this track with another cue to what made you crucial in the first place, at least throw some Zig-a-zig Ah back into the “friendship never ends” equation. Because here’s a little story from A to Z: Em, G, V, MC, and MB used to be MA’s BFF until they tried to go, as Halliwell here sings, “beyond the surface.” Believe me, the way you stayed level on the surface was exactly what made you a BFD, 2G2BT, and not a CWOT. But now, as you settle disappointingly into MOR? Just saying, my friends, YMMV.