Morning. The phone rings. Fuck. Pick it up.
Hi, it's Melanie here.
Huh? Blank. Who the fuck is Melanie? Do I know a Melanie? I did when I was a kid. But...
Oh, right. Reality. Morning. Melanie equals Mel B equals Spice Girl equals Today's Work.
"Oh, right. Pop star Melanie. Hi. How are you?"
"Very fine, ta," answers the overbright, hyper-confident and supersonic
supergirl with a strong Leeds lilt. Just five feet five inches tall, 22 years old, best
known as Scary Spice and already rich enough to have been sniffing around Michael Caine's
up-for-grabs £2 million country house. She's calling from the south of France where the
Spice Girls are rehearsing for a huge Pepsi sponsored show in Istanbul. We've only got
minutes to talk. Come on. Keep it together. Think of a question. Any question.
"Yeah, hi Mel. I've been checking the press cuttings and Spice ('The Official Girl
Power Magazine, Written By The Spice Girls Just For You!') and you often talk about
farting. Like how your dad offended holidaymakers by farting when you were in Antigua, or
the advice you gave to a fan with terrible wind on the magazine's problem page. I think
your exact words to the troubled girl were 'let it rip'."
Mel B laughs. "I think it's healthy, " she explains, "to talk about things
no matter what. Whether it's farting or anything. I don't think I'm particularly
interested in farting. I think I must've been going through a phase."
Pop stars like the Spice Girls are usually judged by their statistical rather than
artistic achievements. Maybe the whole point about immaculate constructs like the Spice
Girls is that the two are interchangeable. And so far they've been to number one in 31
countries, sold 16 million copies of their debut LP and signed a global 'partnership' deal
with Pepsi. And this Christmas they release their second album and first feature film,
both titled Spiceworld, a double whammy that could secure them a position as the most
popular entertainers on the planet. Like Michael Jackson, Madonna or The Beatles, the
Spice Girls have probably got the most famous faces (and bodies) on earth. If aliens
invaded tomorrow, they wouldn't need to ask to be taken to our leaders. All they would
have to do is sniff the media-filtered cultural air and it would be obvious that Mel B,
Mel C, Geri, Victoria and the other one run things on our little blue and green sphere.
Even Kate Moss reckons the Spice Girls are fashion's most influential women.
"Really?" puzzles Mel. "That's nice of her. "
Come on, girl. Ever since she hit the big time, high streets and market stalls have been
glutted with fake leopardskin bras, g-strings, T- shirts, sheets, pillowcases, the
works. Although Mel insist that her 'Me Mel, Queen of the Jungle' image pre-dates the
Spice Girls and it's actually been annoying to watch her private style flooding the
mass-market. "I was gutted, actually. I don't really follow fashion as such but (like
to incorporate it in my own way. And my old fiat was full of leopardskin. It was like
walking into a jungle. I had this big wooden Indonesian bed and everything from my nightie
to me pillows to my mirrors was all leopardskin. And then like it's in fashion and I
thought, 'Oh damn', you know, when you see everybody wearing it? Which don't mind because
you can always put your own thing on top of it all. But it is quite funny when you see
your fans and little fans and little kids in leopardskin tops."
This proof of influence raises the question of responsibility. You don't wear real
leopard, do you? And would you wear real fur? "No. I'm not into that at all. I don't
see the point when fake looks just as good. And it's not as cruel really, is it?" Mel
B 1, Madonna O. Although, admittedly, Mel B does push the role-model to a nation of pre-
and post- pubescent girls part of her career further than anyone would expect. Is she the
first family-oriented pop star to have a pierced tongue? Of course, pop and rock stars are
no strangers to piercings, but if you want to test the cultural weather of the masses then
it's not what Henry Rollins or Courtney Love do that counts. It's what the Spice Girls can
get away with' that's interesting. If anything, success relies on their instincts (or
sharp market research) about just how far they can lead or reflect the desires of huge
Of course, this is where pop stars can easily slip-up; one hasty bit of dead leopard or
ill-conceived clitoral piercing and you've lost half your audience. "It was a bit
scary getting my tongue pierced,' reflects Mel B of a process where the tongue is
usually held in a clamp prior to puncturing, "but I did it because I'm scary,
man." When Spice Girl dolls reach the shops in a few months time, the Mel B simulacra
won't actually have a pierced tongue although that's how she would've liked it: tongue
out, piercing in. Although Mel doesn't feel that her piercing is particularly radical or
shocking: 'Life has moved on a bit from them, hasn't it?" she reckons. "If it
hasn't, then tough. But it's one of those things that you either do or you don't, and you
either like or you don't. It's a bit like whether you like pain or not. A lot of people
wouldn't get it done because of the pain. It wasn't particularly painful getting it
stabbed but it was a day after when it swelled up, that's when the pain hit. But it was
quite nice, I liked it. I did.'
For most of the interview Mel B plays it cool, just letting me ask the questions and never
saying anything unless asked first. But on two occasions she just comes out with
something. The first is a bit of a surprise. "Oh, yeah," she laughs. "One
thing I was going to say is quite funny. You'll laugh your head off. I'm actually sat here
with a leopardskin dressing-gown on and leopardskin bikini knickers. It's quite
cool," she adds, "when your mother goes out and buys you a leopardskin g-string.
That is quite cool.' Is this supposed to be a continuation of our 'great fake leopardskin
debate' (she later tells me she's got a leopard-style cat, a Bengal, called Spot) or is
this just the kind of sensual play that she either likes or thinks a Spice Girl ought to
engage in? Who knows. But there's no denying that the Spice Girls are aggressively sexual
pop stars. Just as Dennis Pennis once asked Demi Moore if she'd consider taking a movie
role for which she had to keep her clothes on, the same question could be leveled at a
Spice Girls video or photo shoot. They're all flesh. If Oasis were the Spice Girls they'd
have done most of their public work in nothing but jockstraps and sneakers.
'I think that's quite feminine,' considers Mel. "I'm not saying to be feminine you
have to get your flesh out - but, you know, there's nothing wrong with it. And then again,
there's nothing wrong with covering up and wearing a tracksuit. " But there does seem
to be a flesh-gap between the girls and boys in rock and pop. And what does that tell us
about our society if female artists or entertainers are allowed, or worse, perhaps forced
to continually expose their bodies to maintain their market-share? “I've never looked
at it that way. As long as it's done tastefully then don't mind. As long as it's not just
getting your bits out and saying 'Hello Boys'. If you do it and feel good about it, that's
fine by me. But if you want to talk about it on a pop level, you've got Peter Andre
getting his chest out all the time- or Iggy Pop who likes to get his kit off and wear
see-through trousers. "
A standard post-feminist response or a reflection on advanced capitalism and the ways in
which consumers are manipulated by teasing them with images of unattainable perfection? Of
course, this is just the way the worldworks right now, but the anorexic and bulimic
casualties aren't fictions and many would blame flesh-stars like the Spice Girls for
advertising the impossible. "I don't agree with that," retorts Mel, "I
don't agree with the pressure some women have upon them to look a certain, way. I do think
that's bollocks. For a start, we wear just what we want to wear. That's it. All of us have
got our own individual things. A girl knows what looks good on her and everyone knows what
they like and what colours suit them best. As long as they're not brainwashed into
thinking fashion is a certain way. Fashion changes all the time."
It could be argued here that the Spice Girls, unlike Kate Moss, represent the available
rather than unattainable female form. They've always presented themselves as 'ordinary'
girls. Their Spice magazine has pictures of Spice Girls in nighties, Spice Girls in
anoraks, Spice Girls tobogganing and holiday postcards from Spice Girls sunbathing with
their parents. And their styling walks a tightrope between high-street and superstar so
that any girl, on any Saturday night, could do their Miss Selfridge-meets-Barberella thing
and be like Spice. And Mel is keen to insist that when she returns to her hometown of
Leeds she also has her Saturday nights. "I do like to go out and have a good boogie.
In Leeds it's easy because everybody knows me and nobody bothers me. I wouldn't be seen
dead somewhere like Stringfellows but I like to get taken out by my mates. They're very
cool down-to-earth people there. Northerners are the best."
You see? She's just an ordinary girl. Which contributes to this sense of the available
that has won them so many girl fans but, more importantly, so many boys. Their debut
single, Wannabe, essentially asked one question: Do You Really Want To Shag Me? "If
you want to be my lover," they said, you had to "get with my friends" and
maybe then you could "zigazig ha" with the Spice Girl of your choice. The single
only lasts two minutes and 49 seconds but that was all the time the Spice Girls needed to
make loads of girls want to be them and even more boys want to bed them. And when they
reached that final 169th second, every boy band in the country died. Because if Take That
and East 17 succeeded by appealing to gay men and young girls, the Spice Girls took the
game to the next level by scoring not only with the girls and the gays but also the boys
(and men). Shazam! The world was theirs. No wonder people accuse them of being
"To be honest I don't really care, because I know what goes on and how we got
together and, to a certain extent, we are manufactured,' says Mel. "Then again, we do
our own thing and we do make our own decisions so that puts an edge on it all. We're
different to how purely manufactured bands am." Not that it matters. It's only the
old guard of American rock or the UK indie-media that still care about issues like
credibility or whether a band write or can even sing their own songs. Both Oasis and the
Spice Girls have sussed it out: all that counts is what you can get away with. It's more
important to be incredible than credible. Just as Damien Hirst can insist that he prefers
advertising to art because it's more honest, so the-Spice Girls similarly refuse to
pretend that pop music is about anything more than being popular. "What is pop
music?' asks Mel B. "Pop music is popular music."
But if you become a pop star and switch from person to a personality, then you're going to
come face-to-face with a media that's decided all who dream of celebrity must sacrifice
their secrets. "We do get followed and harassed and have them camping outside the
door to a certain extent," details Mel, "but we put ourselves in the limelight
so you have to expect it. But some of them are ruthless. I didn't think that people would
be that ruthless... they stalk your families and friends and that hasn't got anything to
do with what you're doing really.' And didn't a mass-circulation Sunday tabloid get same
topless sunbathing shots from the south of France without permission? 'I didn't even
realise that anybody was them which was a bit of a gutter – if I did then I would
have given them my best side. " She laughs. "Know what I mean?"
It sounds like 1984. The idea of not knowing that you're being watched and that anything
you do, anywhere, at any time, could be photographed and broadcast to the world. It's
terrifying. It's like you have to be constantly on guard. "No. I mean, yes you do.
For me, that's at the back of my mind. I don't think 'I've got to put that bikini on
because them might be some photographer there'. I go topless, I sunbathe, I don't really
care if they get a picture of me. I might be gutted for a bit but I think 'well, I'm only
human and I'm not going to sunbathe covered up. This is my chill-out time'. " But
doesn't that mean (and I'm really not sure why I asked this question) that things like
outdoor sex are forever denied you? "Do you wanna bet?" she roars. "Sorry,
but what rules are you playing? I think you can do anything as long as you remember you
can get caught. At the end of the day, I still want to go out and do my own thing because
think I'd go mad if I didn’t really would. I'd end up a recluse or a completely
boring person. I'II have to grit me teeth because nobody could ever force me into being a
recluse. Nobody could at all."
I hope she's right. Because the Spice Girls are reaching a level of fame where the game
becomes incredibly weird. And not having a private life is almost the whole point of
getting through to this final level. It's played out across the media but it feels like
some mystical rite by which the pop star and person are eternally fused. And then there's
no going bade you'll always be Mel B or Scary Spice and perhaps the only people you can
relate to are other immortals. Does she find that it's easy to empathise with superstars?
"Because they've been through it, they don't talk about bullshit. They want normal
human contact, they want to be able to sit down and talk about important issues in the
world or sit down and talk about Coronation Street." You are on the same level now,
aren't you? "At the MTV Awards, I made eye contact with Madonna." What was that
like? "It's quite strange and, at the same time, it was quite nice to know that if
you do get to be big like she has and last that long, you can still be quite normal, maybe
a bit crazy because of the industry and the people around you, but still, deep down,
Maybe Mel is lucky. She's part of the post-Michael Jackson generation after all so she
should know what's coming. Or perhaps she's just going through a honeymoon period, the
dream before the nightmare. Although she's convinced she can handle it: "I think if I
wasn't a strong person in how I feel about things then deep down I'd be going 'Ohmigod
everybody knows what I'm like and the whole world, they can buy me... Whereas to be
honest, I know what I am and I know where I'm from and not everybody gets to see that.
They get to see one level of me. Which is perfect because you don't want to give yourself
away completely because it’ll completely eat you up.
But she's already been devoured, or at least nibbled, when a former boyfriend sold a
kiss-and-tell story to the tabloids. 'Yeah, but I just think 'you dickhead'. You made
yourself look like a right wally. One of my ex-boyfriends is now driving around in a flash
car and he crashed that car and it's gone. And all he's done is sell a story on me. And he
was a mate. That is a gutter but it brushes past you and you get to know what people you
can trust and who your friends are. I think it's one big lesson. I was madly in love with
him when I was young but I realised he was a bit of a wanker. And I think anyone who does
that sells their soul to the devil,"
And then, for a second time, she stops playing the 'I'll just let you ask the questions
game' to make another point. "One thing I do want to say is that I think when you're
in your teenage years you're just finding out what kind of person you are. It's only when
you get to your twenties that you can stand by yourself and decide what person you really
are. I think nobody should ever take that away from you. You should be sure of what you
are. I think that's what got me through so many things."
And that's it. Time's up, she explains, make-up and the entire multi-coloured,
multimillion, supersonic, supersexy and hyperreal world of Spice is calling.
Maybe you just can do me a favour before we hang-up, I ask?
"Sure, what is it?"
You couldn't do an answer phone message for me?
"You recording? Right, This is Mel B, Scary Spice, and at the moment Tony Marcus is
not available. I can't tell you where he is or what he's doing but he's with me. See
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