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ID Magazine - October '97
Oh, Melanie! The spiciest of the Fab Five uncovered.

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 demographic groups.

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 manufactured.

"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, normal.”

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 ya."

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