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USA Today, Jan 21 1998
It's Still A Spice World After All

Beneath the makeup and the glitter and the bangles and the cleavage and the feathers and the sky-high heels, the Spice Girls aren't nearly the crushing force that has taken over the world, with sights set on the USA. The Spice Girls onstage in Britain last year (AFP).

They're five superstars, age 21 to 25, who two years ago were mired in obscurity on London's club circuit. They've been topping record charts all over the world, and, they say, they got there on their own.

"We can do it ourselves," says the belly-baring Scary Spice. "We have nobody to answer to, apart from each other."

The five, who have fired two managers in four years (the latest in November), meet with accountants and advisers - people they refer to as employees - to "sort out our money," Scary says. "We sort out our music. We sort out even the little things. It's like a whole thing we've got going here."

The Spice Girls "thing" mutates further in the USA Friday with the premiere of Spice World: The Movie. The stateside second coming of Spice will continue with tours this summer.

But can the British working-class quintet hold onto the global clout that has them meeting with heads of state? The group's second album, Spiceworld, has been criticized even more than Spice, the debut collection of infectious pop that has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide, infusing teens with their tell me what you want, what you reallyreally want anthem of female assertiveness known as "Girl Power."

But after 10 weeks in the USA, Spiceworld, which has topped 10 million worldwide, is selling even faster than the first album, which continues to sell well. The group has taken hits from critics who say that its manufactured talent champions mediocrity and that it can't maintain its momentum.

"If this is a failure, then I'd like to fail this way every time," says Billboard chart director Geoff Mayfield.

"I wouldn't underestimate them," says Rolling Stone senior editor David Wild. While their music isn't "mature," he says, "they're pretty savvy. . . . their records are pretty damn catchy, living in a time when pop, in the post-grunge era, is being embraced again."

Others say the Spice Girls jumped into merchandising and movie deals before ever stepping onto a stage to prove if any musical prowess exists behind their feisty front of bubble-gum eroticism.

"At the end of the day, we're just entertainers," sighs Ginger Spice, the sultry, flame-haired band mate who has evolved as Spice queen.

The five lean toward well-rehearsed preaching about "positivity," and musical messages of safe sex and self-belief to empower young listeners. They often speak "for myself and the other girls" and try to maintain a single Spice voice.

But no topic is taboo.

Talent vs. enthusiasm

They refer to each other not by their Spice names, which were bestowed on them by a British pop magazine, but by their real names: Geraldine (Geri) Halliwell (Ginger), Victoria Adams (Posh), Melanie Chisholm (Sporty), Melanie Brown (Scary) and Emma Bunton (Baby).

Admits Scary: "Maybe we're not necessarily talented, but we work bloody hard."

"I don't particularly think we're the most fantastic singers in the world," adds Ginger. "We're not trying to be soul divas like Mariah (Carey) or Whitney (Houston). What we've got is earth-bound conviction . . . and that counts for a lot when you've got enthusiasm."

Passion aside, at least one Spice will admit to toning down some of their in-your-face antics. "Even though we do say Girl Power, because we're girls, we thought that we need to shut up a little more about that," says the group's youngest member, Baby Spice. Sans signature pigtails and bursting forth from her powder blue zipper-vest, she adds: "But it's about being a strong person and creating your own destiny."

Their assertiveness, says Ginger Spice, comes from all the "negativity" that's been piled on them. "We've had so much of it, really."

Such as when their last manager, Simon Fuller, was credited with combining the unknown glam gals into a force. Fuller has never spoken about the Spice Girls; his stance hadn't changed Tuesday, when a spokeswoman at his London headquarters of 19 Management said Fuller would not comment on the film or his former clients.

Fuller came on board after four of the five had been chosen at a London audition calling for girls for a music group. Those four bought out their contract, fired their manager, hired a fifth member (Baby) and took on the Spice Girl persona. Then they hired Fuller.

He is billed as executive producer on Hollywood's Spice World. Fuller's brother, Kim, gets writing credit.

But the film is "based on an idea by the Spice Girls," and the group contends it was their hard work, dedication and input into the script that got the film into theaters.

Fuller wasn't around much as filming got under way, says director Bob Spiers, who says the Spice Girls did have "a lot of influence" on the script. "Geri spoke as the kind of intermediary, and she spoke to Kim most after discussing it with the other girls," he says.

The level of their power: Most of the film's creators, including the "money people," says Spiers, "were not too keen" on a scene involving space aliens. The Spice Girls insisted; the aliens are there.

The group collectively fired Fuller late last year and say they can't talk about him because of legal reasons.

But they will address, quite aggressively, reports that Baby Spice dated Fuller, often referred to as Svengali Spice. Not so, she says.

Spice solidarity backs her up:

"If you saw Simon Fuller, you'd know it wasn't true," Ginger says.

"No one would date him," sneers Posh.

"Well, they would, but, y'know, they might not be female," adds Scary.

The group roars with laughter, all except Sporty Spice, who's in a very unglamorous position several doors down suffering from food poisoning and unable to join in.

"Management are just facilitators," notes Ginger, adding the group recently hired a woman to handle their day-to-day activities.

"Look," she says. "There's five girls here, and we're not stupid and we're not up our own backsides. . . . We had very good reasons to sack Simon Fuller, and they were purely professional. Enough said."

Their lips are sealed

They won't talk about their income, either. Business Age magazine ranked the group No. 42 among British musicians last year with $24 million apiece, the third-highest paid female artists on its list.

"We're not going to tell you that!" screams Scary, arms flailing.

"Not as much as people think," adds the quietly bored Posh, looking up from her cuticles.

"What's really important is love and happiness," coos Baby.

Friends to the end, they say.

They own matching Mercedes-Benz SLKs and wear matching Spice rings given in a marriage-type ceremony crafted by Ginger Spice.

Though they all admit to a naughty side, Ginger gets into the most trouble. "I just get caught the most," she retorts.

Unlike other widely held reports that have proved untrue (neither Posh nor Scary are engaged to be married), the five admit to the mischievous high jinks that have made headlines around the world.

"We're like girls behaving badly," Scary says.

"Girls on holiday," adds Baby.

Ginger: "But at the end of the day, we're mates, we're friends. So it's like being in a girl gang."

For the past four years, they've seen each other every day, they say, and they still love each other's company. Should tensions rise, says Scary, it wouldn't be a problem:

"We'd cancel everything on the schedule and take a week off."

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