With much fanfare and plenty of fan merchandise, four modern pop princesses dropped into the Forum from Spiceworld on Saturday. But the messages the Spice Girls brought were mixed indeed.
Who among the thousands of little girls in the audience wouldn't have wanted to be one of these magical creatures, an ordinary young woman transformed by a cute nickname and the clarion call of "Girl Power!" into a member of Britain's biggest pop vocal group?
Melanie Brown (Scary), Melanie Chisholm (Sporty), Emma Bunton (Baby) and Victoria Adams (Posh)--along with recent dropout Geri Halliwell (Ginger, the only actual spice on the rack)--have made two multi-platinum albums, starred in their own movie and achieved worldwide fame.
During their official L.A. concert debut, the Spices also looked like best pals having the grandest time at a massive slumber party, singing such hits as "Wannabe" and girl-power anthems such as Sister Sledge's "We Are Family," prancing with their Spice Boys dancers, and changing into an array of dazzling outfits eight times in less than two hours.
Their energy and dedication were sincere, even though the music was all unconvincing dance grooves and slick soul-pop, lightly seasoned with funk, hip-hop and rock by a bland six-piece band. Scary and Sporty carried most of the singing weight, but--though it sounded as if some backing vocals were on tape--the quartet harmonized passably and was fairly charming on such Madonna-esque soul numbers as "Too Much."
Riled-up anthems such as "Who Do You Think You Are" were more shrill than inspiring, but the singers tapped a girl-group vein with "Stop," which bore the faintest tinge of Motown. Baby Spice drove home the comparison with her follow-up solo turn at the Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go," in a breathy coo that only approximated Diana Ross'.
Just as the movie "Ever After" (one of several wannabe-targeted products hawked on video screens before the concert and during intermission) adapts the Cinderella story to modern sensibilities, so the Spice Girls have hooked their preteen fans, who are beginning to discover their own identities, with a very '90s take on the princess myth: Be glamorous but tough and independent.
Having created themselves in Madonna's image (minus her wit or relative daring), they shook their behinds while shouting their mantra, as if all it took to truly be oneself in this culture of unequal pay for equal work were loads of makeup, sassy rejoinders and outrageous clothes.
Ultimately, though, the performance was less a threat to feminism's loftier ideals than a plastic, absurd commercial for Spice Girls T-shirts, posters, jewelry and tour books. And the 35-minute intermission, after only 40 minutes of show, seemed chiefly an opportunity to move more product.
So what was the cost of Girl Power? About $27 at the merchandise stand on your way out.
* The Spice Girls play Friday at Coors Amphitheatre, 2050 Otay Valley Road, Chula Vista, 7:30 p.m. $30.50-$41. (619) 671-3600.