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Entertainment Weekly - July 1998
Tour Divorce

The Spice Girls have much to discuss during the drive to Madison Square Garden. As their van slowly zig-a-zig-zags away from the squealing preteen mob gathered outside their hotel on Manhattan's 57th Street, they seem blithely oblivious to the hordes of adoring fans pressing their faces against its windows and banging their tiny fists against its sides. Instead, the four British superbabes chat about shopping in New York. "Of course, we had to go to Bloomie's," Sporty says. "And Barneys," adds Posh. "And the stores in SoHo, " chimes in Scary.

Later, as the van crawls through midtown traffic nearer the Garden-where, in a few hours, 14,500 mostly prepubescent, mostly female fans will turn out for the Spice Girls' July 1 concert- the conversation turns to parties (Scary recently attended a Prince bash in New York), then to celebrity attendees at tonight's performance (Madonna and child are expected), and next to international ruminations on rude waiters (they all agree that New York's are worse than London's). About the only subject that doesn't come up during the ride to the arena, conspicuously enough, is the one everyone else in Spice World can't stop talking about: Geri Halliwell, a.k.a. Traitor Spice.

Last month, Halliwell-or Ginger, as she's known in Spicespeak- shook the music industry (or at least bummed out lots of fifth graders) with the startling announcement that she was leaving the group, effectively ending Spice life as we know it.

Precisely why the racy, flame-haired rocker suddenly decided to hang up her Union Jack miniskirt and call it quits-on the eve of the group's first North American tour, no less-is one of the great unsolved mysteries currently swirling around the Spice Girls. Another is whether the remaining Spices can still thrive-or even survive-now that five have become four. Could this be the beginning of the end for the most masterfully marketed musical act of the decade? Or is it, as the Spices insist, merely the end of the beginning?

To find the answers, one must delve deep into the heart of Spiceness. One must slip past their army of bodyguards, follow the Spice Girls backstage at the Garden as they prepare for their Gingerless concert, even violate the very sanctum sanctorum of Spicedom: their dressing room. And, of course, one must listen to their music.

The horror. The horror.

"THERE ARE NO hard feelings. We wish her all the luck in the world. We are totally behind her."

That's Posh Spice speaking, but it could be any of the Spice Girls. Each says the same thing-sometimes using the same exact words-when separately asked about Halliwell. The subject is first broached-gingerly, as it were-after the women have settled into their drab but bustling dressing room located deep in the Garden's concrete bowels. In full preconcert pandemonium, the place looks a bit like an episode of ER as filmed inside Carol Channing's closet- racks of gaudily sparkling gowns are constantly being rushed down hallways as if on the way to emergency sequinectomies. Hovering by the door, two Oddjob-size security guards in snappy black Armani suits stare unsmilingly at the interloper with the tape recorder.

"It was a shock to us, a complete shock," continues the selfconsciously stylish Posh, a.k.a. Victoria Adams, 23 (at least in Spice years; some of their ages have been more hotly debated in the press than welfare reform). "But we've always said that if anybody was unhappy, they should leave. The most important thing is our friendship. Fundamentally, we're friends."

Even more fundamentally, the Spice Girls are a hugely profitable merchandising machine, one of the most successful marketing engines ever to roll off the pop-music assembly line. Not only have they sold more than 30 million albums internationally, signed multiple megabuck endorsement deals (with Pepsi, Sony, and Benetton, among others), and even made a spot of money with a movie (Spice World grossed $77 million worldwide), their names and likenesses have also been used to peddle everything from candy bars to bed linens to Barbie-like dolls. In England, epicenter of the Spice Quake, only Lady Di's face is plastered on as many T-shirts, posters, and buttonsand she never had a brand of potato crisps named after her.

Globally, the group's total grosses so far have been estimated at $500-800 million-not including the $60 million they're projected to rake in from their mostly sold-out American tour.

What's made all this such a riveting spectacle-even for those old enough to remember a time when kids had a favorite Monkee-is how incredibly quickly the whole thing has unfolded. In just two short years, the Spice Girls have traveled the entire whirling circle of prefab fame, from the rush of instant stardom (photo ops with the royals, meetings with Nelson Mandela) to the sting of media backlash (gossip about lipsynching, fat jokes in the press). They've suffered internal power struggles (resulting in the firing of their first manager) and sex scandals (resulting in the firing of the second), endured public humiliations (getting booed off a stage in Barcelona) and premature obituaries (with Halliwell's defection provoking yet another round of fresh breakup rumors).

And now this latest gripping chapter: the Ginger Doesn't Live Here Anymore Tour, in which the group will play to packed houses in 40 North American cities with arguably their most flavorful member missing from the mix. "We didnt see it coming," says Sporty, 24, the always athletically garbed Spice (her real name is Melanie Chisholm). "She just said, 'Look, girls, I don't want to go to America for the tour.' We tried to change her mind, but she was set in it. And we respected her decision. We're all good friends."

"Obviously, it was a shock," says the pigtailed, lollipop- sucking Baby (also known as Emma Bunton, 22). "But she just had different ideas about what she wanted to do. And we've always been behind each other a hundred percent. Fundamentally, the Spice Girls are about friendship."

"She just wanted to move on and do her own thing," repeats Scary, 23, the Spice with the most piercings (her real name is ... oh, like it matters). "We support her and say good luck."

All this Girl-Powered loyalty is terribly touching-and kind of suspicious --- considering the abruptness of Ginger's depar- ture. According to the British tabs, the trouble began May 27, with a shouting match at an airport in Helsinki; by the time the group's private jet touched down at Heathrow three hours lat- er, the Spice split was apparently complete. Ginger reportedly stomped off the plane and disappeared, failing to show at a London TV performance and later missing the group's gigs in Oslo. For a few days, there was the usual attempt at spin control- the official Spice story was that Ginger had missed the shows because of a "stomach virus." But on May 31, Halliwell confirmed the worst, issuing a statement announcing her exit from the group because of "differences between us."

The repercussions were immediate, profound, and contradictory. The Spice Girls' distributor, EMI, took a two- percent dip on the London Exchange, while sales of Spice Girls CDs paradoxically picked up. "It wasn't like our switchboard ]it up with calls from preteen girls furious about Geri leaving the group," says Ray Cooper, copresident of EMIs Virgin Records, the group's label. "But it did give us pause. The Spice Girls have such a young audience. We weren't sure the children would understand the change."

A month later, the crisis has settled down somewhat, but the Spice Girls are still denying a row with Ginger. "There wasn't even a cross word, not even a raised voice," insists Sporty. Posh backs her up-sort of. "We were five girls all together all the time. Obviously we argued sometimes. But it was like sisters, really. We respected each others differences." And Baby makes three: "Obviously, we have our arguments," she says. "But at the end of the day, we love each other. Like sisters." Of course, not all sisters are created equal. Without Ginger, 25 (or 35, depending on which tabloids you read), supposedly the savviest, most worldly Spice (not to mention the cheekiest-she's the one who pinched Prince Charles on the bum), the group has lost its unofficial leader and putative manager (she reportedly took over after Simon "Svengali Spice" Fuller got the boot last year when rumors- emphatically denied-of an affair with surfaced). The Spices now say they manage themselves, dividing the duties in equal parts: Posh handles merchandising, Sporty stays in touch with the record com- pany, Baby oversees personnel and charity, and Scary takes care of touring (apparently she's also the Spice in charge of walking out of magazine photo shoots and reaming out publicists). As Posh explains the arrangement, "We want to make sure that if any mistakes are made, they're our mistakes, not somebody else's." Musically, there's been some post-Ginger shuffling as well-although, according to Scary, barely enough for anyone to notice. "Geri didn't actually sing that much, so it was quite easy to delegate her areas," she says. "And none of the choreography changed-just the spac- ing." Sporty concurs: "All four of us have wanted to be per- formers our whole lives, whereas Geri is more of a talker. She gets more out of TV interviews and stuff like that." Posh even sees the streamlining as an improvement: "The whole thing gave us a bit of a kick up the a - -, really," she says. "It made us get ourselves sorted out. The show is great."

In any case, there are no plans for a Ginger replacement any time soon. "We're a four-piece now," Sporty says flatly. "We're comfortable with that." Comfortable enough to proceed as scheduled with a third Spice Girls album, due possibly as early as next spring. "But we are going to make a few changes," promises Scary. "We're still going to sound like Spice Girls, but there's going to be solos and duets, to make it more interesting." For the first time, some of the Spices are branching out into non-Spice projects: Scary, for one, just cut a track with rap queen Missy Elliott for the soundtrack of the forthcoming Frankie Lymon biopic Why Do Fools Fall in Love? and may end up recording something with Prince (looks like that party may have paid off).

If there's a subtle subtext to all this nonchalant confidence and apres Ginger activity-she sucked, we're better off without her-the Spice Girls are far too cagey to openly admit it. The group has always fiercely guarded its secrets: Fuller, for instance, reportedly received a 10-million-pound severance check to keep quiet about the details of his sacking. So while there are plenty of juicy theories floating around as to why Halliwell quit-she lost a power struggle with Scary, she alienated the other Spices with her hypercritical lashings, she hogged too much of the spotlight, take your pick-all of them remain unproven and officially denied ... at least for now.

One thing's for sure: Ginger certainly isn't talking. Since the split, she's been lying low in Paris, avoiding reporters, and mulling over her prospects. Among the rumored possibilities: a part in Luc Besson's Joan of Are movie, a role opposite Johnny Depp in Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate, and a gig hosting a British-TV variety series. She did pop into New York a few weeks ago to catch her friend Alan Cumming on Broadway, but he Cabaret star isn't exactly brimming with hot gossip. "In leaving, I'm sure Geri has a sense of relief" is about all he'll say. "The press was with her everywhere. It was very stressful."

Fortunately, there are some other potential Deep Throats inside the Spice Girls circle-four of them, in fact-and right now they're all conveniently sitting on a sofa in the group's dressing room at the Garden. Turns out he Spice Mums have flown in from England for the concert. With a little Yankee charm and professional-journalist-caliber schmoozing, getting these out-of- towners to spill some beans when their daughters aren't listening should be a snap. "When Emma comes home, she's just the same person she always was," Baby Spice's mother, Pauline, 44, fesses up between bites of exotic American cuisine (Kentucky Fried Chicken). "But then I turn on the telly and she's all over the place! It's so hard to get your head around it." Posh's mom, Jackie, age unknown, is about to serve up an even tastier slice of behind-the- scenes Spice Life"I think the group is much tighter since Ginger left," she begins-but then her daughter bursts back into the room, morphing into Livid Spice. "You aren't interviewing our mums, are you?" she asks incredulously. "That would be really unfair."

THE SOUND OF 10,000 hysterically screaming preteen girls is so startling it can send the popcorn flying out of your lap. By the time the group finally lands on the stage at 8:30 p.m.-arriving via a special-effects rocket ship-the screeching is so loud and high- pitched that dogs as far away as Bensonhurst are stuffing cotton into their ears.

Actually, it's not quite that bad. After a while, in fact, the cheery horror of all that prepubescent enthusiasm can even start to grow on you. A lot of the youngsters in the audience are waving cute homemade signs with messages for their favorite Spices ("I LOVE YOU EMMA"). Many are adorably dressed like Spices (where does one purchase a leather miniskirt and go-go boots for an 8-year-old?). Even their parents seem to be getting into the Spice spirit, unleashing some impressive screeching of their own. It's pretty sweet, really.

Of course, there are some less heartwarming scenes going on here as well. That lascivious-looking fortysomething guy waving his homemade Baby Spice sign is a tad creepy,

for starters. And the mayhem over at the souvenir kiosks puts the fall of Saigon to shame. Kids and parents alike frantically claw through lines 12 or 13 people deep- all for a crack at buying $30 Girl Power T- shirts, $25 Spice Girl teddy bears, or $7 sheets of Spice Girl stickers. Outside the Garden, the gouging is worse: Scalped tickets are rumored to be going for as much as $2,000 (although $200 is probably a more reliable figure).

As for the music itself-let's just say that grows on you too. The kitschy pop pleasures of '2 Become I ... .. Say You'll Be There," and "Spice Up Your Life" have by now converted even the crustiest rock critics. And on stage, it's nothing if not ... energetic. The four Spices and their beefy Spice Boy backup dancers jump and jiggle through two hours of Spice standards, change clothes backstage faster than Clark Kent in a phone booth, and keep the audience stoked between numbers with Spice-style banter and jokes ("What did the big poo say to the little poo?"...). That banter, not incidentally, includes not a single reference to a certain ex-Spice who used to share their stage: The G-word is never once spoken.

It is sung a couple of times, though: In the chorus for "Lady Is a Vamp," when the Spices belt out their names, Ginger's isn't left out ("She was a part of us, part of our history, and always will be," as Baby explained before the concert). Ginger haunts the gig in other ways: Her face, pouty and proud, still adorns all of that overpriced merchandise at the souvenir stands. It also pops up frequently on the big-screen video monitors around the arena, in the prerecorded clips that accompany some of the tunes. And, of course, it remains forever fixed in the hearts and minds of all those thousands of faithful fans squealing their lungs out at tonight's concert.

For all the showbiz shenanigans and big-bucks boosterism. swirling around these women, Ginger & Co. have made a potent connection-and maybe that's what Girl Power is really all about. Toward evening's end, when Scary and Sporty launch into an unexpectedly funky, surprisingly rousing cover of "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves," it sends thousands of little girls leaping to their feet in an ecstatic-and undeniably moving moment of prehormonal feministic bonding. Even with one Spice missing from the rack, this music clearly does strike a deeply gratifying chord.

As one 10-year-old girl was overheard musing after the concert, "I didn't want Ginger to drop out, because she was my favorite. But it's okay. I'm getting over it."

So must we all.

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