BERTRAND GUAY // Getty
BERTRAND GUAY // Getty

Slam It To The Left With These 10 Facts About the Spice Girls

BERTRAND GUAY // Getty
BERTRAND GUAY // Getty

No one does super-fandom like the Brits, and back in late '90s, it looked as though Beatlemania might finally be outdone by a fivesome of feminism. Today you might remember them for their failed musicaladorable children, or amazing appearance at the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics, but not that long ago, the Spice Girls were a global phenomenon, influencing everything from fashion to British elections with girl power, platforms, and leopard-print body suits. In a decade-long deluge of boy bands, here were five spunky women ready to put ladies back on the map, not to mention on charts across the globe. But were they the big-dreaming friends portrayed in Spice World, or just a manufactured entity, a la Backstreet Boys? Below, 10 things you might not know about the most outspoken women to hit mainstream pop since Madonna.

1. THEY DIDN'T CHOOSE THEIR NAMES—AND NEITHER DID THEIR MANAGEMENT.

THOMAS COEX// Getty

Writer Peter Lorraine and his editors at Top of the Pops magazine had a clever idea to illustrate his story about the group with a spice rack—one that doled out the instantly iconic labels of Scary, Sporty, Ginger, Posh, and Baby. (Luckily they scrapped an idea to call one of them “Old Spice,” which would have given the teen-mag story some mean-spirited bite. And, though they cheekily declined to say who that moniker might have gone to, we'll just say it's a good thing Geri Halliwell had dyed her "mousy brown" hair red during that timeframe.) As David Sinclair wrote in his biography of the band, “If either the girls or the record company had tried to foist such an idea on the public, let alone the media, it would have seemed cheesy beyond belief.” Instead, “they became an instantly recognizable part of British pop’s royal family.”

2. GINGER SPICE CHOSE THE PHRASE "GIRL POWER" BECAUSE SHE DIDN'T LIKE THE WORD "FEMINISM."

Though “Girl Power” had been used for a few years by the Riot Grrrl movement in the Northwest, Geri Halliwell, a.k.a. Ginger Spice, came at it from a somewhat different angle: while she liked the idea of women’s autonomy, she was turned off by the F word. “For me feminism is bra-burning lesbianism. It's very unglamorous,” she told The Guardian in 2007. “I'd like to see it rebranded.” But that’s exactly what she had done a decade before, bringing “Wannabe”—an anthem that celebrated female friendship over dudes—to the top of the global charts, and landing “Girl Power” in the Oxford English Dictionary.

3. THEY CREDIT MARGARET THATCHER AS BEING THE ORIGINAL PROPONENT OF GIRL POWER.

In a very surprising profile—one that compares the group to Descartes, Voltaire, and a burgeoning political party—the girls reveal their true admiration for the Iron Lady. “We Spice Girls are true Thatcherites,” Ginger declared in 1996. “Thatcher was the first Spice Girl, the pioneer of our ideology—Girl Power.” 

4. WHEN A MAGAZINE REVEALED THEIR CONSERVATIVE TENDENCIES, THE LIBERALS FREAKED OUT.

Getty

Tony Blair and the Labour Party won the May 1997 election by a landslide, but there was a moment where they thought the Spice Girls might derail them. In December 1996, the girls all sat down with the British political magazine the Spectator and were quizzed on their thoughts on the upcoming election. Blair, the liberal, was seen as the young people’s candidate, and when the article made the girls out to be conservatives—“Indeed a Spice Girl may have the thighs and hot pants of a feeble hussy, but she possesses the heart and soul of a Tory country squire”—some worried the massive Spice Girl bloc might toss Blair aside. (It didn’t help that, at a press conference, he could only name three out of five Spices.) Turns out it was just Ginger and Posh—Halliwell and Victoria then-Adams—who were the Tories, though: Emma Bunton (Baby) said she didn’t know anything about politics, and Mel B. (Melanie Brown, Scary) came out as an anarchist. Mel C. (Melanie Chisholm, Sporty), from working-class Liverpool, didn’t agree either, and called Margaret Thatcher, the woman Halliwell had called the “first Spice Girl,” a “complete prick.”

5. THE TEAM THAT BROUGHT THEM TOGETHER WASN'T THE TEAM THAT MADE THEM STARS.

When father-son team Bob and Chris Herbert put an ad in the The Stage trade-paper in March 1994—which called for “streetwise, ambitious, outgoing, and dedicated” 18-23 year olds—they brought together four of the five future Spices (Emma Bunton was rounded up later) and named the group Touch. But the Herberts had a very different image in mind—they moved the girls in together and allegedly asked them to all dress the same. The girls, obviously, would not stand for this. After being offered what they saw as an unreasonable contract, they ditched their management and were scooped up by Simon Fuller in March 1995, who changed their name, embraced their differences, and let their personalities seep into the music—which all the girls helped write.

6. GINGER'S ICONIC UNION JACK DRESS WAS ACTUALLY JUST A DISH TOWEL.

The first time the Spice Girls had gone to the Brit Awards, Ginger had made her own outfit, a green sparkly dress—but by the next year they had a number one hit, and she knew she needed something to top it. She told Piers Morgan in 2010 that when she was sent a little black Gucci dress for the 1997 awards, the patriotic Brit had her sister sew the towel on the front. The look landed her plenty of front pages, and the dress sold at auction in 1998 for almost $70,000.

7. SPICE WORLD REFERENCES PULP FICTION.

The girls are pitched a show, Spice Force Five, a reference to the Fox Force Five, a fictional pilot in the Quentin Tarantino classic—with similarities down to "the black girl [being] a demolition expert." Ginger was particularly good as the master of disguise—she goes into a phone booth in a silver bodysuit and emerges as Bob Hoskins.

8. THEY HAD SOME DELICIOUS MERCHANDISE.

You know how Baby Spice was always carrying around a lollipop? Not only could you pick up some Spice-branded Chupa Chups at the Limited Too, or some Cadbury chocolate bars if you were lucky enough to live near a Tesco, but—as Posh’s mom rediscovered in her freezer last year—there was also… Spice Pizza?

9. VICTORIA BECKHAM HAS ONLY BEEN ON THE COVER OF AMERICAN VOGUE ONCE—AND IT WAS WITH THE SPICE GIRLS.

Posh rose to independent fame as a model, designer, and world’s most visible footballer’s wife, and it got her three turns on the cover of UK Vogue and a recent one in Australia. But since the whole group landed on the seminal mag’s cover in January 1998—a decision Anna Wintour recently said she’s “not terribly proud of”— Posh shockingly hasn’t been asked back. She did, however, do a hilarious 73 Questions interview for Vogue.com earlier this year, throwing in sly references to her younger years (Favorite spice? "Posh") and other pop culture jokes (Diamonds or pearls? "Both. We love Prince"). 

10. NELSON MANDELA WAS A TOTAL FANGIRL.

ODD ANDERSEN// Getty 

When the Spice Girls first met the South African President in 1997, he called them “my heroines.” "I don't want to be emotional,” he said, “but this is one of the greatest moments of my life." Ten years later he invited the five-some to perform at his 89th—and 90th—birthday parties, but it never came together.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Ralph Gatti, AFP/Getty Images
The 'David Bowie Is' Exhibition Is Coming to Your Smartphone
 Ralph Gatti, AFP/Getty Images
Ralph Gatti, AFP/Getty Images

"David Bowie is," an exhibition dedicated to the life, work, and legacy of the pop icon, concluded its six-year world tour on July 15. If you didn't get a chance to see it in person at its final stop at New York City's Brooklyn Museum, you can still experience the exhibit at home. As engadget reports, the artifacts displayed in the collection will be recreated in virtual and augmented reality.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, the curator of the exhibit, and the David Bowie Archive are collaborating with Sony Music Entertainment and the sound and media studio Planeta on the new project, "David Bowie is Virtual." Like the physical exhibition, the digital experience will integrate visual scenes with the music of David Bowie: 3D scans will bring the musician's costumes and personal items into the virtual sphere, allowing viewers to examine them up close, and possibly in the case of the outfits, try them on.

"These new digital versions of ‘David Bowie is’ will add unprecedented depth and intimacy to the exhibition experience, allowing the viewer to engage with the work of one of the world’s most popular and influential artists as never before," the announcement of the project reads. "Both the visual richness of this show and the visionary nature of Bowie and his art makes this a particularly ideal candidate for a VR/AR adaptation."

"David Bowie is Virtual" will be released for smartphones and all major VR and AR platforms sometimes this fall. Like the museum exhibition, it will come with an admission price, with a portion of the proceeds going toward the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Brooklyn Museum.

[h/t engadget]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
Why Do Orchestras Tune to an A Note?
iStock
iStock

When orchestra members tune their instruments before a performance, it almost always sounds the same. That’s because across the world, most orchestras tune to the same A note, using a standard pitch of 440 hertz.

This is the result of international standards that have been in place since the 19th century, according to WQXR, a classical music radio station in New York City. Currently, standard tuning frequency is set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), an international group that makes recommendations on everything from what safety labels should look like to how big the hole in a pen cap should be. A standard called ISO 16, first recommended in 1955 and confirmed in 1975, “specifies the frequency for the note A in the treble stave and shall be 440 hertz.”

The ISO didn’t pull that frequency out of thin air. During the Industrial Revolution, a rush toward standardization and universality led to multiple international meetings that aimed to bring orchestras all over the world to the same pitch. Standardizing pitch had important ramifications for the international music scene.

Historically, the pitch that orchestras tuned to could differ wildly depending on where the musicians were playing. “In the course of the last 400 years in Europe, the point that has been considered ideal for a reference pitch has fluctuated by some 5 or 6 semitones,” musicologist Bruce Haynes explained in his book, A History of Performing Pitch: The Story of ‘A.’ In the 17th century, a French performer might tune his or her instrument a whole tone lower than their German colleagues. The standards could even change from one town to the next, affecting how music written in one location might sound when played in another.

As a writer for London's The Spectator observed in 1859, “It is well known that when we are performing Handel's music (for example) from the very notes in which he wrote it, we are really performing it nearly a whole tone higher than he intended;—the sound associated in his ear with the note A, being nearly the same sound which, in our ear, is associated with the note G.”

In the 19th century, a commission established by the French government tried to analyze pitch across Europe by looking at the frequencies of the tuning forks musicians used as their reference while tuning their instruments. The commission gathered tuning forks from different cities, finding that most were pitched somewhere around 445 hertz. Over the years, due to bigger concert halls and more advanced instruments, pitch was rising across most orchestras, and instruments and voices were being strained as a result. So the commission recommended lowering the standard to what was known as “the compromise pitch.”

In 1859, the French commission legally established diapason normal, the standard pitch for the A above middle C, at 435 hertz. (The music world would still be debating whether or not pitch had risen too much more than a century later.) Later, 435 hertz became enshrined as a standard elsewhere, too. In 1885, government representatives from Italy, Austria, Hungary, Prussia, Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and Württemberg met to establish their own international standard, agreeing on 435 hertz. The agreement was eventually written into the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

But not everyone was on board with 435 hertz. The Royal Philharmonic Society in London believed the French pitch standard was pegged to a specific temperature—59°F—and decided to adjust their pitch upward to compensate for their concert halls being warmer than that, settling on 439 hertz. Meanwhile, in 1917, the American Federation of Musicians declared 440 hertz to be the standard pitch in the U.S.

In 1939, the International Standardizing Organization met in London to agree on a standard for concert pitch to be used across the world. A Dutch study of European pitch that year had found that while pitch varied across orchestras and countries, the average of those varied pitches was around 440 hertz. So it made sense for the ISO to choose A 440. Furthermore, radio broadcasters and technicians like the BBC preferred A 440 to the English A 439 because 439 was a prime number and thus harder to reproduce in a laboratory.

World War II delayed the official launch of the 1939 ISO agreement, but the organization issued its A 440 decision in 1955, then again two decades later. A 440 was here to stay. That said, even now, pitch does vary a little depending on the musicians in question. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra notably tunes to 443 hertz rather than the standard 440 hertz, for instance. While A 440 may be the official “concert pitch” across the world, in practice, there is still a little wiggle room.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios