Spice Up Your Life: Pop Meets Fascism

Spice Up Your Life was released by the Spice Girls in 1997, an upbeat Latin-inspired pop song that stormed the charts in the UK and Europe. With the success of the song, the Spice Girls became the first group to have its first five singles reach number one in the UK.

The Spice Girls were unstoppable. When the music video for Spice Up Your Life was made, this theme was thus chosen: world domination. In a New York dressed up to look like Blade Runner, the girls rule over a fearful populace, dictating their dominance through cheery pop vocals.

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The dark world of Spice Up Your Life

These days I see fascism wherever I look. Whenever I revisit novels such as Wicked, or games such as Final Fantasy VII, the prescient models of fascist dictators hit me in the face with their bluntness. While we have not quite reached the levels of monolithic cyberpunk displayed in Spice Up Your Life, we may not be far off.

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A common theme in Spice Girls videos is Cool Britannia – Union Flag dresses, double decker busses, village fêtes, and so on. Spice Up Your Life eschews this in favour of a homogenised multicultural future, where cultural commodification and orientalism run rampant. In this context, the Latin influences in the song feel poignantly decontextualised. This is the Spice Girls’ world, and other cultures only exist for the overladies’ consumption.

As the populace cower in homes, workplaces, and bars, where Spice Girls music videos are played endlessly on television screens, the girls float menacingly on hoverboards, singing the following words:

Yellow man in Timbuktu,
Colour for both me and you
Kung fu fighting,
Dancing queen
Tribal spaceman
and all that's in between
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Dogma delivered via hoverboard

Who is the ‘yellow man in Timbuktu’? What is a ‘tribal spaceman’, and what is its relevance to kung fu and dancing? The song leaves these and many other questions hanging, flying ahead with a dominating sneer.

The bridge of the song presents similar confusion:

Flamenco, Lambada
But hip hop is harder

We moonwalk the foxtrot
Then polka the salsa

It begins as a reference to the musical style of the song, but quickly degenerates into meaningless declarations of fusional dance flexibility. Notably, nowhere in the song are the Spice Girls shown dancing a flamenco, lambada, foxtrot, or salsa.

The word-salad-esque lyrics combine with the images of decadent too-late capitalism, contrasted against the backdrop of a dreary, dictatorial famocracy.

The video came as a warning, made inert by its medium: one day we will face this future, but this video will be nothing more than a pixellated artefact by then.

The Spice Girls are no longer the unstoppable behemoths they were in the late nineties, but the music industry has shown a dogged persistence of dragging them out of the mud, squeezing out old gossip into bankable tours – a testament to the segmented, resculptured, zombified nature of contemporary media.

Perhaps one day Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga will rule over their own spicy dystopia, imploring us through autotuned megaphones to ‘foxtrot our gay rights’. Only time will tell.

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