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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:

1. ELVIS’S NUNCHUCKS

Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.

2. PRINCE’S GUITAR

A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.

3. KURT COBAIN’S CHEERLEADER OUTFIT

Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.

4. MICHAEL JACKSON’S WHITE GLOVE

A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.

5. WOOD FROM ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS

A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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How Jimmy Buffett Turned 'Margaritaville' Into a Way of Life
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Few songs have proven as lucrative as “Margaritaville,” a modest 1977 hit by singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett that became an anthem for an entire life philosophy. The track was the springboard for Buffett’s business empire—restaurants, apparel, kitchen appliances, and more—marketing the taking-it-easy message of its tropical print lyrics.

After just a few years of expanding that notion into other ventures, the “Parrot Heads” of Buffett’s fandom began to account for $40 million in annual revenue—and that was before the vacation resorts began popping up.

Jimmy Buffett performs for a crowd
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“Margaritaville,” which turned 40 this year, was never intended to inspire this kind of devotion. It was written after Buffett, as an aspiring musician toiling in Nashville, found himself in Key West, Florida, following a cancelled booking in Miami and marveling at the sea of tourists clogging the beaches.

Like the other songs on his album, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, it didn’t receive a lot of radio play. Instead, Buffett began to develop his following by opening up for The Eagles. Even at 30, Buffett was something less than hip—a flip-flopped performer with a genial stage presence that seemed to invite an easygoing vibe among crowds. “Margaritaville,” an anthem to that kind of breezy attitude, peaked at number eight on the Billboard charts in 1977. While that’s impressive for any single, its legacy would quickly evolve beyond the music industry's method for gauging success.

What Buffett realized as he continued to perform and tour throughout the early 1980s is that “Margaritaville” had the ability to sedate audiences. Like a hypnotist, the singer could immediately conjure a specific time and place that listeners wanted to revisit. The lyrics painted a scene of serenity that became a kind of existential vacation for Buffett's fans:

Nibblin' on sponge cake,
Watchin' the sun bake;
All of those tourists covered with oil.
Strummin' my six string on my front porch swing.
Smell those shrimp —
They're beginnin' to boil.

By 1985, Buffett was ready to capitalize on that goodwill. In Key West, he opened a Margaritaville store, which sold hats, shirts, and other ephemera to residents and tourists looking to broadcast their allegiance to his sand-in-toes fantasy. (A portion of the proceeds went to Save the Manatees, a nonprofit organization devoted to animal conservation.) The store also sold the Coconut Telegraph, a kind of propaganda newsletter about all things Buffett and his chill perspective.

When Buffett realized patrons were coming in expecting a bar or food—the song was named after a mixed drink, after all—he opened a cafe adjacent to the store in late 1987. The configuration was ideal, and through the 1990s, Buffett and business partner John Cohlan began erecting Margaritaville locations in Florida, New Orleans, and eventually Las Vegas and New York. All told, more than 21 million people visit a Buffett-inspired hospitality destination every year.

A parrot at Margaritaville welcomes guests
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Margaritaville-branded tequila followed. So, too, did a line of retail foods like hummus, a book of short stories, massive resorts, a Sirius radio channel, and drink blenders. Buffett even wrote a 242-page script for a Margaritaville movie that he had hoped to film in the 1980s. It’s one of the very few Margaritaville projects that has yet to have come to fruition, but it might be hard for Buffett to complain much. In 2015, his entire empire took in $1.5 billion in sales.

As of late, Buffett has signed off on an Orlando resort due to open in 2018, offering “casual luxury” near the boundaries of Walt Disney World. (One in Hollywood, Florida, is already a hit, boasting a 93 percent occupancy rate.) Even for guests that aren’t particularly familiar with his music, “Jimmy Buffett” has become synonymous with comfort and relaxation just as surely as Walt Disney has with family entertainment. The association bodes well for a business that will eventually have to move beyond Buffett’s concert-going loyalists.

Not that he's looking to leave them behind. The 70-year-old Buffett is planning on a series of Margaritaville-themed retirement communities, with the first due to open in Daytona Beach in 2018. More than 10,000 Parrot Heads have already registered, eager to watch the sun set while idling in a frame of mind that Buffett has slowly but surely turned into a reality.

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