When the Spice Girls Broke Up, I Realized Friendship Does Actually End
Breakups That Broke Us is a weekly column about the failed celebrity relationships that convinced us love is dead.
Stop right now, thank you very much. That was the simple instruction laid out in the Spice Girls's song "Stop," one of only two Spice Girls singles that didn't hit no. 1 on the international charts. It was seen as such an injustice that in 2018, the year that commemorated the song's 20th anniversary, fans rallied around the hashtag #StopToTheTop to seek justice for the song. But in 1998, the year "Stop" fizzled out on its way to the top of the charts (Next's "Too Close" and K-Ci and Jojo's "All My Life" kept "Stop" from reigning supreme), there was bigger disappointment for anyone who worshipped at the altar of Scary, Baby, Posh, Ginger, and Sporty.
After two albums and two years of girl power (and honestly, apart from the Suffragettes in Mary Poppins, did an '80s baby ever have such an overt, in-your-face example of feminism?), Union Jack mini dresses, and the first full-on multi-platform marketing domination I'd ever witnessed (anyone remember Spice Girls lollipops and the Spice World movie?), Geri Halliwell, born Geraldine Estelle Halliwell — Ginger Spice herself — announced that she was breaking up the sisterhood and stepping out as a solo artist. Like that, girl power was down 20% and fans were reeling, wondering just how the band — and the fandom — would go on.
Today it seems like Halliwell was just taking the next logical step in her career. Think of it this way: Halliwell's platform-clad first steps paved the way for Beyoncé to decamp from Destiny's Child with her 2003 solo release, for Camila Cabello to ditch Fifth Harmony in 2017, and for Fergie, Gwen Stefani, and countless other solo artists to strike out on their own after first finding success in a band. Sure, Ginger wasn't the first to do it (see: Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson), but for everyone that saw the Spice Girls as a quintet, losing any part of the group — and the accompanying girl power — was akin to losing a limb.
Part of that feeling of loss had to do with the band’s marketing: Fans identified with a single member of the holy altar of Spice. I was (am) Posh sun with a Sporty rising. My friends fell in line with Baby's saccharine-sweet attitude, Sporty's signature back handspring, or Scary's vocal dominance. Anyone with the audacity to call Ginger their guiding light (a Leo, for sure, like Halliwell herself), wanted the spotlight. In a time when dELiA*s and Dawson's Creek were a way of life, everyone wanted to be looked at, but not everyone admitted it. Being Ginger let you play superstar and retreat to real life without looking like a diva.
When Halliwell left — in style, by the way, with a lead single, "Look at Me," that featured a music video depicting a literal funeral for Ginger — the vacuum was never filled. The group continued as a foursome, immediately embarking on a North American tour sans Ginger, and releasing a Christmas single, "Goodbye." Fans assumed it was a farewell to Halliwell, but it would also be a goodbye to the Spice Girls everyone knew and loved. That was part of being enamored with any music group. Listeners grew up, but when the actual band wanted to do the same thing, it felt like a betrayal. By the time the Spice Girls's third album, Forever, dropped, the shimmer and shine seemed a little duller. It was an empty shell.
For me, the Spice Girls split also happened right as junior high turned into high school. The real Spice Girls parted ways, and so did all the middle-school Spice Girls. It felt like life was imitating the Teen People headlines, and, like the feeling of helplessness that came with Ginger's departure, teenagers felt the powerlessness that came with friend groups splitting up thanks to things beyond their control, like parents sending their kids to boarding school in Connecticut. It hurt to lose so much on so many levels, but, like the Spice Girls went on to reunite (twice) and prove that their brand of exuberance and fun could last decades, we all learned that friendships could endure a breakup or two.
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