Spice and Rain
Let’s talk about the Spice Girls, shall we?
This past June, the premiere girl band of the 90s reunited for a 13-show UK tour, which amassed a whopping $78 million, and I was lucky enough to witness it in all its glory. While traveling to London and Paris for my 30th birthday, I noticed I was returning home just one day shy of the Spice Girls’ London shows, at the end of their tour. Luckily, they had another show in Bristol two days before I was flying home, and there were still tickets available. While I’d spent too much on my trip, and been to plays, musicals, and operas over a two-week period, I couldn’t help but splurge and plan a last-minute overnight adventure. How often does a child of the 90s get a chance to see the Spice Girls?
Nearing the end of my birthday romp, I was feeling worn down. My Airbnb in Paris had exclusively down-feather-filled pillows and bedding, and my allergies were teetering from obnoxious to becoming full-blown sick and tired. The prospect of a two-hour train ride from London to Bristol was daunting, but the idea of seeing my favorite childhood band was worth the struggle. After checking into my hotel and having an early dinner, I found myself in a taxi in a much busier city than I expected, large gray clouds looming overhead that had been letting off sprinkles the whole day. Car traffic was backed up for miles in every direction, all trying to convene at Ashton Gate stadium.
My taxi driver had the radio playing and I could hear local hosts talking about the traffic and the evening’s big show. As we inched closer to the arena, they shared their own memories of the band. It felt just like listening to the media talk about them 20 years ago. Not quite getting the hype, trying to name just one song of theirs they remembered or liked. Their voices sounded around my age at least but their words were like they couldn’t relate at all to the singers.
Spurred on by the new tour, Alex Taylor wrote for the BBC about the Spice Girls and their impact on the world. It’s interesting to note that their theme of “girl power” really came about as a mainstream version of the early 90s Riot Grrrl scene, a feminist punk rock movement that largely didn’t care for the Spice Girls portrayal of their ideals. This connection was something I was blindly unaware of until now. But beyond feminism, Taylor writes that “for many young fans at the time, there was also a simpler appeal - The Spice Girls inspired confidence. Friends as a group, but diverse [...] individuals, there was someone for everyone.”
In another review of the tour, Holly Williams for The Independent writes, “Nineties nostalgia is big business, leopard print is back in fashion, and the crowd – women of all ages, and a fair few men in ginger wigs – are as fizzy and overflowing as the prosecco necked on the Tube over.” The rest of her review was less kind, in particular, dialing in on that their friendship after all these years was strained at best, in her opinion.
When I eventually arrived at the venue I did something I never do at concerts – bought merch. With two Spice Girls shirts in hand, I made my way inside along with the leopard-print-heavy crowd. I’d purchased an inner circle ticket so I could be as close as possible, and let me tell you, it was worth it. Not only did I get to see Jess Glynne, the opener, up close, but I was mere feet away from the Spice Girls as they took the stage. The rain was steady throughout the show, but I didn’t care, and neither did the performers it seemed. Dancing in the rain with my jacket hood on, surrounded by a packed stadium of thousands of one of the nicest crowds I’ve seen at a concert, I was happy (I cared a little more when the sun had set and the cold started to settle in.) I was alone in a foreign country, soaking wet, singing along to songs I’d thought I’d forgotten the words to as Baby, Sporty, Scary, and Ginger Spice performed the soundtrack of my youth – I swear the entire stadium sang along to "Viva Forever" and "Mama." Their friendship seemed genuine to me, even if it was just an act.
The Spice Girls were a formative band for me. Their messages of girl power, fun, friendship, and self-empowerment didn’t just strike a chord with girls, but my own little gay heart. While not as explicit in their heyday, the reunion tour brought it home that their message had a queer meaning as well, with Melanie B. – aka Scary Spice – being an out bisexual woman, one of their show’s dancer interludes being called a “Queer Tango,” and hearing them call out and praise all of the “Boy Spices” of the world felt invigorating and warming. Seeing the Queer Tango in the rain, the dancers' bodies out on the circular walkway splashing water in every direction, it felt like some sort of childhood validation. It felt like I fit into their ethos, and wasn’t just a kid searching for their tribe, but recognizing it.
The energy, the crowd, the performance, the rain, it all culminated into a perfect evening and one of my favorite concerts I’ve been to. It was familiar and new all at the same time, just how proper nostalgia should feel.
PS: Here's a link to a Spotify playlist of their full set list!