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The Spice Girls Remixed: the return of girl power pop music

Published On February 19, 2013 | By Payge V.S. | celebrities, media, music

When I was seven, my mom gave me her old copy of Spice, the first album by the Spice Girls. I had been too young to realize what that album had meant to the world and, more specifically, to girls. But as I grew up and as I became more aware of pop culture and media representations of girls, I found myself admiring the album on a whole different level than from when I was first given it. There is something so empowering about watching confident, talented ladies preach self-love and independence. In a world that is very much still stuck in the idea that a girl is only as good as the man she’s with, these groups are a necessary counterpoint.

Following the Spice Girls, though, there seemed to be a lull in girl power pop music. The mid-to-late-90s were a great time for this movement. We had groups like the previously mentioned Spice Girls as well as Destiny’s Child. They were distinct from other female performers of that era. For example, Britney Spears gained popularity as a solo artist around the same time as these girl groups claimed rises to fame. From the very beginning of her career, her sexuality was a huge topic. She had made a chastity pledge and yet appeared in her video for “Hit Me Baby One More Time” in a sexy school girl outfit. It’s the common double standard society holds women to: to be pure, but attainable. To be provocative but not “slutty”. On the other side of spectrum during this time were the Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child, who didn’t buy into the virginity movement and who realized that those types of things were their own private business and shouldn’t factor into careers. Most distinctly, the Spice Girls were, in fact, the group that popularized the phrase and the idea of “Girl Power”.

But as the boy band fad began to fade, so too did these girl groups. During that period, Cobra Starship broke into the radio-play mainstream with their song “Good Girls Go Bad” (released in 2009 and featuring Leighton Meester, of “Gossip Girl” fame). The song is repetitive and catchy, like any good pop song should be, but the lyrics leave a bit of sour taste in the mouth. The most repeated expression in the song seems to be “I make them good girls go bad”.

Well, girls are a lot more complicated than that. We don’t fit into two arbitrary categories. And even if we did, how do we define the difference between “good girls” and “bad girls”? Stereotypical “bad girl” traits seem to be things like “trashy” clothing, “bad company”, and number of sexual partners. And yet, there are girls out there who wear what society likes to think of as “trashy” clothing, dark red lipstick and stiletto heels with short skirts, for example, who aren’t interested in sleeping with anyone. The most conservatively dressed girl could also be the horniest. There is a distinct different between true behaviour and what society takes as an indicator of behaviour. People aren’t that simple. People, or girls in this case, are all unique. They all make their own decisions about fashion, what they desire, etc. Nobody fits inside a box.  Furthermore, it’s not anyone else’s business what a girl does with her body. She surely doesn’t deserve flimsy labels like “bad girl” or “good girl” for her choices.

miss A.

miss A’s 5th album, entitled “Independent Women”, cover. Found here.

To cleanse your pallet, I suggest Miss A’s “Bad Girl, Good Girl (Bad But Good)”, which features lyrics that fight against these ideas we have about bad girls and good girls. We could consider this song, released a year after, a direct response to Cobra Starship’s “Good Girls Go Bad”. The group sings, “outside I’m a bad girl / inside I’m a good girl / you don’t even know me that well,” an important message to all the girls out there who feel the weight of people judging them every day. Miss A seems to have started the reintroduction of girl power music into the Kpop scene. After the release of their first single came songs like 2NE1’s “I Am The Best” and Brown Eyed Girls’ “Sixth Sense” (for which I highly recommend watching the video, if for nothing but the symbolism and message behind it). Miss A has also stuck with that girl power image. Last year they released the single, “I Don’t Need A Man”, which starts off member Min introducing the song as being “for all the independent ladies,” in a way that’s reminiscent of Destiny’s Child’s hit song, “Independent Women”.

On that note, it’s safe to credit the return of girl power pop music into modern western music to Beyoncé. Her entire recent discography features songs meant to empower young women. The one that sticks out is obviously the 2011 single “Run The World (Girls)”. The song has since become a staple in fandom communities, related to any widely loved female character or groups of female characters. Additionally, with the return of boy bands, girl groups were bound to make a comeback too — contributing to girl power pop music becoming a common theme in mainstream music once again.

Little Mix. Photo credit to Sony Music.

Little Mix. Photo credit to Sony Music.

This is where the British band Little Mix comes in. The girl group are steadily becoming more and more popular after winning season eight of the “X Factor” (which had given us artists like Leona Lewis and One Direction) and are sure to make their U.S. debut any day now. Their first single was entitled “Wings” and was a powerful, poppy song about self-love, self-confidence and not letting labels (like “good girl” and “bad girl”) and other people’s perception of you get you down. The girls that make up the group seem very girl-power oriented, as well. They use boys as furniture during concerts. They frequently hold hands and talk about not needing boyfriends as long as they have each other. It’s refreshing. These are the girls you want all the little girls in the world to call their role models: girls who put themselves, and each other, above society’s perception of having the perfect life is — i.e., pleasing your significant other. These girls may just be the linchpin the music industry needs to see the triumphant return of true girl power pop music.

January saw the release of Little Mix’s new single. “Change Your Life“. The song is a beautiful ballad-esque track that revisits the theme of self-love, but also includes lyrics about having the inner-strength and the power to be able to make your life what you want it to be. These are the messages the media should be sending out regularly, not once every few decades. These are the messages that should be reaching little girls, young women and mature women, alike. In addition to the wonderful messages that come through their music, the girls themselves represent a wide demographic. Little Mix are one of the few groups where they number of women of colour dwarfs the number of Caucasian women. In addition, Jesy Nelson — a well-loved member of the group — does not represent society’s traditional views of what a girl should like. Nelson has curves. She isn’t stick thin but she’s still beautiful and not treated any differently than the rest of the girls. Because of these things, it’s easy for girls all over the world to identify with Little Mix and seek them out as role models and inspirations. These are the groups that can give girls the confidence to do what they like, when they like regardless of what other people think. And that’s empowering. Girl power!

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About The Author

Payge V.S.
is a short little unapologetic fun vampire and liker of things. She’s particularly enthusiastic about the merits of cold tea, comic books, K-pop, Thai food, boys who have beards, calling people out on the Internet and the smell of old books. You can find her, usually, in her room on the Internet and jamming out to either girl power pop music or angry punk songs.

0 Responses to The Spice Girls Remixed: the return of girl power pop music

  1. Good read and some interesting points brought up. I grew up with the Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child, but I just liked them for the music…. The whole “girl power” thing wasn’t really something I thought about at the time. At the same time as these girl groups, Backstreet Boys and NSync were also popular, so it’s interesting how the rise of these popular girl bands (and their fan base) coincided with the biggest boy bands around too. Congrats on being FP!

    • vanderlyles says:

      as i said in the article, when i first started listening to the spice girls and destiny’s child (which was about six or seven years after the original release of spice) i loved it for the music. later on, when i started to get more involved with activism and feminism, i noticed the effect these groups and there “girl power” messages could help with young girls self-esteem.

      thanks for commenting!

  2. I’ve noticed the double standard in society and music as well. Although I’m not a girl, I feel sorry for women that they are forced to go through this because of their sex and I try to rectify that as much as I can in my writing and in life. It’s probably also one of the reasons I like “Single Ladies” so much (though the fact that I did part of the dance for a video once may also have something to do with it).

  3. I remember when the Go-Gos first came out – an all girl band. Before that it was Heart with the Wilson sisters heading things up. You are right, this needs to be a consistent message, not one that comes every ten or so years.

    • vanderlyles says:

      considering i firmly believe groups like the ones you mentioned above as well as the ones mentioned in this article, we definitely do need this message getting to all the girls out there every day!

      thank you so much for commenting!

  4. tricesweet says:

    I grew up listening to the Spice Girls and Britney Spears so this really resonates with me! Great post.

  5. Pingback: The Spice Girls Remixed: the return of girl power pop music | nicolamccloskey

  6. Loca Gringa says:

    “Society” is defined by it’s culture. There are many cultures in the world that it’s OK to dress provocatively and wear those heels! Where it’s ok to where clothing 3 sizes too small and be overweight and still think you look sexy… Cultures where this is not the norm could take a few lessons.

    I love your article and want a little spice in everyone’s lives.

    • vanderlyles says:

      exactly! a women is free to do as she pleases – as long as it’s consensual and she’s comfortable with it. you hit the nail on the head.

      thank you! and thanks for commenting!

      • Loca Gringa says:

        Your article was great. Very easy to comment. I live in Dominican Republic, where in my next life I want to come back as an orthopedic surgen (all those platform shoes and spike heels). The women dress provocatively and there is no poor body image. They have never even heard of bulimia or anorexia here. It is unknown.

        Dirty dancing reigns supreme here with all it’s trappings. From BOTH sexes. And … I wouldn’t change it for all the tea in China.

        This is a 3rd world, developing nation. I hope it never develops the stigmas of 1st world countries.

  7. jalal michael sabbagh.http://gravatar.com/jmsabbagh86@gmail.com says:

    Eye opener post about the music industry .Great post.Wishing you happiness.jalal

  8. museconfuse says:

    Lol I was such a closet Spice Girls fan. It wasn’t cool with my friends who though Grunge was all the rage. (i do love that too!)

    Good post. It definitely definitely brought back some of my teen year memories.

  9. eunoic says:

    What is so interesting to me is the difference between cultures that these girl groups have. For instance in Japan, J-pop has groups that sign pledges saying they won’t date and have most of their decisions made by their fans. Check out this article: http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/02/a-pop-star-shouldnt-shave-her-head-in-shame-for-having-a-boyfriend/272907/#

    Great read!

  10. It was Britney’s and many other girl artists to dress or act that way, they knew it will make them famous in no time. However, many singers during that stage and now don’t try to hard on whole sex apeal thing and still successful. Why at this day and age we still encouraging “girl power” “boy power”, haven’t we matured enough? Instead of equality why do we have to preach our kids that they “don’t need man or women to be happy”.

    • vanderlyles says:

      i’d like to think we should teach them that they don’t need a significant other to be happy because society hammers this idea of what the perfect life is in your head from a very young age. society tells us to be happy we have to do good in school, get a job, find someone to marry, settle down and have kids. but that’s not for anyone, so i think it’s good to have people out there saying “you don’t need any of that to be happy! you just have to enjoy the life you make for yourself. no matter what that life is made up or who is sharing it with you.”

      thanks for commenting.

  11. eroshiyda says:

    I don’t know that using boys as furniture is a message we want to send to girls. We don’t want men to use us as furniture. Hypocrisy is never appropriate. We need to teach mutual respect to all of our children. That’s the only way things are ever going to get better.

    • vanderlyles says:

      equality is what i want, no doubt. i felt necessary to mention that in this post because it is, in fact, a post about girl power. we live in a patriarchy, it was just an opportunity to show an example of the tables being turned.

      thank you for commenting!

  12. Loved the post! The spice Girls were (are) my all-time favorite band, and I believe they contributed to the feminist in me (haters be damned, lol!) What you said about their sex lives being their private business is very true and one of the great tihings about them was that they were showing that a girl could be sexy and empowered at the same time.

  13. There’s some great girl bands nowadays, especially girl bands that are taking on a less poppy-genre, like Vivian Girls – they’re music gives off surfy cali vibes. Go girl power!

    • vanderlyles says:

      i love vivian girls! of course this post couldn’t include all awesome girl bands, or it would be more long than necessary :). but the indie scene is filled with awesome girl bands that i love.

      thank you so much for commenting!

  14. Girl Power is a marketing term, The Spice Girls were, and still are a marketing tool. We can delve as deep as we want into their involvement with empowering women but at the end of the day, they were a creation, just like Little Mix are, and One Direction, who are comprised of individuals deemed not good enough to make it in the competition on their own merit. And like all these manufactured bands, there’s only ever really one or two talented members, the rest are just hangers on, there to sell more t-shirts. Hate to be so negative but I just can’t give my full support to manufactured pop music, it’s soulless and gets far too much attention, whereas talented musicians with real ability get forced to tour their whole lives living from gig to gig because they’re not “cool” or “pretty”. I’m all for girl power and women’s rights but not when it’s some nasty marketing term conjured up in a boardroom by a bunch of middle aged men.

    • vanderlyles says:

      i think it’s unfair to be calling all pop musicians soulless and talentless. i would deny that there is talent out there that goes unnoticed but it takes talent to make any kind of music. personal preferences aside. and regardless of whether it’s a marketing tool or not – it’s empowers girls! it gives them confidence. some even enough to go out and campaign for women’s rights or just stand up for themselves the next time there rights are threatened. that’s why this music is necessary.

      but thank you for commenting.

  15. OwlMcCloud says:

    I for one welcome it back and look forward to more in the future!

  16. Sing it, sister! Celebrate the person (female or male) for the person and act with respect even when you disagree/disapprove. It’s unfortunate how often the media propagates rivalries between and among female vocalists rather than fostering collaboration and appreciation for the different flavors that each brings to music – wouldn’t that be empowering! I haven’t heard of them, but as a Spice Girls fan, I think I’ll go check out Little Mix now.

    • vanderlyles says:

      i agree with you wholeheartedly. we need to recycle that tired idea of girl-on-girl hate into girl-on-girl love! we need to working together to make a difference. and while little mix’s sounds a little different than the spice girls but they’re a lovely group of girls! i have friends who don’t necessarily enjoy their music but love the four girls who make up the band.

      thank you so much for commenting!

  17. Reblogged this on richardreid98 and commented:
    this is true music very awesome

  18. Nice! I work in media for pre-teens/teens, and it’s so nice to see confident girls like Little Mix getting attention.

  19. Love, love, love that you included some k-pop. I really adore the whole electro/dance pop trend going on right now and k-pop is the place to find it.

  20. Great blog post! I was more of a fan of Jewel and Lisa Loeb in that era. Also loved Paula Cole. I would constantly listen to You Were Meant For Me on my cd player. Love these ladies!

  21. ljohnsto2013 says:

    good post! I feel like many powerful pop artists lose their message and are forced to change their image as they progress in order to “make it” in the music industry. Some examples: Avril Lavigne, Pink…. It is sad.

  22. Hello vanderlyles,

    excellent topic for sure! I have definitely noticed these trends myself since I grew up during the 90s. To me the 90s had it’s good points and bad points. Why Girl Bands and Boy Bands kind of died out still confuses me. I guess people thought of it more as a “Fad” thing. I remember how much teasing Boy Bands would get though for simply being THAT – a Boy Band.

    Thought it was ridiculous and foolish. Even the girl bands I listened to, I was a big Spice Girls fan myself when they were big, I know got teased now and again. Or I’d get teased for listening to them, which I didn’t care. :P

    Admittedly though, young American Girls and even Young Boys need good role models promoting positive messages and ideas. I think the quality of Pop, Rock and Rap music has seriously gone down hill in the past decade or two. That’s sad to me since I love music and dancing. However, I also care about the messages contained in my music (if it has lyrics).

    Course nowadays you also have “Cookie-Cutter” groups that are simply flooding the market with sounds that are all too familiar and not very unique, hence the analogy. So while they might fill the “Need” for now, they aren’t fulfilling my “Need” for quality. I don’t see too many people except within my own age or peer group (I’m 27) who seem to care about this element though and maybe that’s because Teens or Tweens are too young to understand what “Quality” vs “Quantity” is as far as the music they listen to is concerned.

    I don’t know. I can’t say for sure not being an expert on the subject. All I can do is speculate with everyone else.

    While I do like the idea of some artists making a comeback with the “Girl Power” notion and hope to see maybe even some decent “Boy Bands” and “Girl Bands” make a comeback in the states, I also think we need to be careful about what kind of messages we are sending. Not trying to pull “P.C. Police” or anything but – like the example you mentioned, the Girls using the boys as chairs or pieces of furniture, that could definitely send out a possible bad signal to young impressionable girls that men have no worth and should be treated LIKE that.

    In a way, just about anything creatively beautiful we can do we can also find ourselves in a situation of “Catch 22″ and that – is just uncouth. :/

    By the way, I know you didn’t ask and I apologize if this is an unwanted critique, but I think something that would help appearance wise for your blog is to try and break-up your paragraphs more. I found it a bit difficult to get through some of your post without feeling I might be staring at a “Wall of text”. However, I did manage through it because I wanted to finish since it was an excellent topic.

    Thank you for writing and sharing this topic, I’m glad there are other people out there who care about this as well. :)

    ~Gwen

  23. N. says:

    I love 2ne1. I think they are one of the handful of girl groups out there who aren’t afraid to show strength and attitude without compensating for it in other means. Some girl groups may say “girl power!!!”, but the image they present to its audience says otherwise. (see: Britney Spears)

  24. life shall be the one wants it to coz one makes it

  25. puresketch says:

    Nicely put, by the way, I love Spice Girls’s songs

  26. thank you for the great post.

  27. softenergo says:

    wow

  28. pennyfields says:

    Really enjoyed and agreed with this post, I love Spice Girls :)

  29. So glad someone is writing about this! It’s been a matter of concern for me the last couple years. It’s nice to see these groups highlighted. p,s. “wings” is my ringtone. :)

  30. A real, feel good read. Some good points brought up – I have always been sick of the double standard for girls – I really enjoyed hearing your opinion. Cheers!

  31. tylersmiles says:

    I am soo excited pop bands and music groups are coming back.. It was some of my favorite music when I was younger. I love Little Mix’s music !

  32. Selvinas says:

    I love Asian popbands but somehow popbands from elsewhere don’t quite do it for me. I only liked Blue and Sugarbabes and Girls Aloud. Too bad they all split up..
    But more empowerment is always a good thing and could use some more attention as well.

  33. declil says:

    I think you can name a couple of girl groups that are good but the article more or less says they are all good.
    LOT OF CRAP OUT THERE

  34. declil says:

    Got to say my grand child loves Little Mix

  35. I will forever and always be a Spice Girls Fan!! Is it sad that I still know all the words to all the songs??

  36. your article shows the gradual shift so well…i have seen these changes but never did realise…kudos!!!!

  37. Interesting article. I grew up listening to Australian girl group Girlfriend who were the original Spice Girls in terms of girl power (around 1992 I think).
    One song ‘ just a girl’ had a cute rap that I still remember most of the words to – about how girls can be anything they want to be – doctors, lawyers, judges etc.
    All about striving for your goals & working hard. Crazy to say, but I reckon the two albums truly had quite an impact on me. :-)

  38. Reblogged this on Gold Coast Mum and commented:
    Interesting article. I grew up listening to Australian girl group Girlfriend who were the original Spice Girls in terms of girl power (around 1992 I think).
    One song ‘ just a girl’ had a cute rap that I still remember most of the words to – about how girls can be anything they want to be – doctors, lawyers, judges etc.
    All about striving for your goals & working hard. Crazy to say, but I reckon the two albums truly had quite an impact on me. :-)

  39. Reblogged this on In Random Words: Ranting, Rambling, and Composing and commented:
    Hey everyone! Check out this article which explores the importance of girl power in today’s music generation. See you all soon, and I hope you enjoy this just as much as I did.

  40. dianamyates says:

    I loved the Spice Girls when I was young. I wanted to be them not only because they were famous but because they had such great confidence. They were different but that is what they strived for. I am so happy that their is still girl bands out there.

  41. Groups like Salt N’ Pepa, En Vogue, Destiny’s Child, etc. made me the feminist I am today. I’m so glad I grew up listening to those groups, who preached respecting yourself and being with someone who would treat you right. They also helped me embrace my sexuality and not be ashamed of it or feel like I was a “slut.” I wish there were more empowering female role models in the music business today. As you said, perhaps we’re experiencing a comeback. I hope you’re right!

  42. “I had been too young to realize what that album had meant to the world and, more specifically, to girls.”

    Absolutely nothing is what it meant and still means. Girls wearing very few clothes, “singing” “songs” not even written by them to make some men very rich.
    Heroes for naive simpletons.
    Sorry, i dont want to be mean but they stand for money and little else.
    If they did mean anything you would have graduated past them (after about 5 minutes) and now be blogging about something worthwhile and writing about actual clever talented women like Kirsty Wark, Helen Mirren, Frida Kahlo, Sylvia Plath etcetc..

  43. Pingback: The Spice Girls Remixed: the return of girl power pop music «justlafm justlafm

  44. Interesting eye opener and good read! :) I grew up with DC and spears aswell!

  45. Jo says:

    I miss some of the music growing up. Spice Girls were definitely one of my favorites. A lot of music now may sound catchy but the lyrics don’t mean too much. I am really into Kpop and is glad to see you referencing that. I will also be checking out the British group! Thank you for a refreshing read! I am now off to find my Spice Girls CD!

  46. rehflect says:

    enjoyable, but sad that my korean is so off

  47. Reblogged this on weirdestrobkast's Blog and commented:
    Music as a whole needs to be revamped and refined. I welcome any change to the structure.

  48. taranbarhaug says:

    Pop is possibly the worst type of music, right behind country.

    • ajlahey says:

      you might think pop is bad, but you at least have to admit it and its fans are powerful. you know at least the chorus to at least one Justin Beiber song, everyone does. pop and teen girls are powerful, respect it.

  49. I would also argue that most of Katy Perry’s songs promote a “girl power-like” anthem.

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  52. rememberthis says:

    Really interesting thoughts on the 90’s, will definitely follow :)

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