5 Become 3: The (Spice) Girls of GEM

Last week, a single from new girl group GEM was leaked online (you can have a listen at the end of the post). For those who aren’t aware, GEM is Geri Halliwell Horner, Emma Bunton and Melanie Brown, who, along with Melanie Chisolm and Victoria Beckham, ruled the worldwide airwaves in the mid/late 90s as the pop powerhouse Spice Girls.

Earlier this year, Geri, Emma and Mel B announced that they would be reuniting as a trio (Mel C and Victoria were not interested in reforming the Spice Girls again) and would be known as GEM (an acronym of their first initials).

gem2Now, a fun fact that most people outside of the UK aren’t aware of is that the Spice Girls are one of the few musical acts in history that have had all of their members find success (to varying degrees) as solo artists, so in light GEM’s imminent official arrival, I thought it would be interesting to see what kind of pedigree as solo artists these girls are bringing with them into their new group (and just for kicks, we’ll make it an “Allspice” look, and include Mel C and Victoria).

First, a quick refresher in Spice history:

Their debut single, “Wannabe” was released in the UK in July, 1996. After a seven week reign at #1 on the UK charts, it went on to become a global smash, ultimately reaching the top spot in 31 countries. More hits followed, with the group notching an impressive tally of 9 #1 hits in the UK alone.

In 1997, they released a movie, Spiceworld, and in 1998 Halliwell left the group. They continued as a quartet until the end of 2000, when they announced the group would be going “on hiatus”.

In 2007, Halliwell rejoined the group for a wildly successful reunion tour, The Return of the Spice Girls. In 2012, Viva Forever! a jukebox musical based on the songs of the Spice Girls, opened in London’s West End. It ran for seven months, closing in June of 2013.

Geri Halliwell
Solo Albums: 3
UK Chart Singles: 9 (8 Top 10s)

As mentioned above, Halliwell was the only member to quit the Spice Girls. She made her highly publicized exit as the group was midway through their Spiceworld World Tour, causing the whole show to be restructured and disappointing thousands of Geri wannabes worldwide. Halliwell launched a solo career soon after, to quick success. She not only has the distinction of being the Spice Girl with the biggest solo hit – a cover of “It’s Raining Men”, (her fourth UK #1 hit, it also topped the charts in Belgium, France, Ireland and Italy) but she is also the Spice Girl with the lowest charting single on ANY chart worldwide. Her 2013 single “Half Of Me” belly-flopped onto the Australian charts at #281(!) and then quickly sank without a trace.

Emma Bunton
Solo Albums: 3
UK Chart Singles: 11 (7 Top 10s)

Bunton’s debut as a solo artist, a pairing with Tin Tin Out on their cover of “What I Am”, peaked at #2 on the UK Charts, being locked out of the top spot by none other than Geri Halliwell and her second #1 hit, “Lift Me Up”. Two years later, Bunton released “What Took You So Long?” as the lead single off her debut solo album, and it had no such problem reaching the top spot, becoming her first (and only) #1 hit.

Melanie B
Solo Albums: 2
UK Chart Singles: 6 (3 Top 10s)

Mel B was the first solo Spice out of the gate when she released her #1 collaboration with Missy Elliot, “I Want You Back”, in September 1998. After Halliwell’s departure, each of the remaining Spice Girls would make their solo debut on collaboration singles, but Melanie B was the only one to be listed as the lead artist on her single, the others were all the “featured” artists on their respective collaborations.

Melanie C
Solo Albums: 7
UK Chart Singles: 18 (6 Top 10s)

In terms of overall album sales, Melanie C far surpasses all the other Spice Girls. Her first album, Northern Star, was certified 3x Platinum in Britain and her total worldwide sales have topped 12 million. After releasing two albums (including 2 UK #1 singles, “Never Be The Same Again” and “I Turn To You”) on Virgin, she parted ways with the label and started her own imprint, Red Girl, through which she has released 5 subsequent albums over the past decade.

Victoria Beckham
Solo Albums: 1
UK Chart Singles: 5 (5 Top 10s)

The last Spice Girl to release a solo album, Beckham also released the fewest singles, and is the only Spice Girl to not score a UK #1 hit. Her closest attempt was her collaboration with Truesteppers and Dane Bowers, “Out of Your Mind”, which peaked at #2. However, in a case of quality over quantity, she has had all of her solo singles reach the UK Top 10, which is a distinction none of the other Spice Girls can lay claim to. After her one and only album was released on Virgin, she signed with the Telstar label and began recording a double album – half R&B/hip hop half electronica/euro dance – but after the release of a double-A-sided single featuring the R&B-ish “This Groove” and the dance-infused “Let Your Head Go”, the label ran into problems, filed for bankruptcy and shelved her unfinished albums. Since then, Beckham has moved on and carved out a new career running worldwide respected fashion label, Victoria Beckham.

So, not too shabby at all for the solo ventures of the gang formerly known as Ginger, Baby, Scary, Sporty and Posh (and it’s actually understandable why Mel C and Victoria didn’t want to reunite the Spice Girls – seeing as how Melanie C is the only Spice Girl who is still consistently recording and releasing solo material and Victoria Beckham most certainly has her hands full this days running her business/fashion empire).

And now, here it is – “Song For Her” by GEM. It was confirmed by Emma Bunton that this indeed was a leak, and it is not the song that they had pegged as their first single. Nonetheless, it’s still a catchy, breezy bit of pop that has a very “now” message of empowerment, which ties in nicely with the whole “Girl Power!” mantra of the original Spice Girls. It will be interesting to see how the rest of GEM’s output shapes up.

 

 

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Pop, Pop, Pop!

The three “Pop”s in the title above refer to that magical instance when: Pop (1) meets Pop (2) and it results in a Pop (3), a piece of pure perfection.

Or, to be less vague, it’s when Pop (Singers) collaborate with Pop (Drinks) to make commercials that become pieces of Pop (Culture) perfection.

Now, singers have been shilling sodas for decades, but starting in the early 1990s and peaking just over a decade later, the big soft drink companies of the world went all-in on their popstars + pop drinks mission, and the results just kept getting bigger and better. Today I’m going to touch on just a few notable ones that have remained my favourites over the years.

Also, be sure to check out the very end of the post for a little gem that predates this whole era and is not only a blast from the past but a blast of yesteryear pop culture that will blow your mind.

Paula Abdul (Diet Coke)

Paula Abdul brought a whole new visual dynamic to pop music when she burst on the music scene following years of choreographing music videos for other artists. It only made sense then, that in the early 90s she was tapped by Diet Coke to be their spokesperson and star in a series of commercials that utilized her talents as both a vocalist and dancer. The most notable of these was a highly ambitious project that took remastered film versions of older Hollywood stars like Cary Grant, Groucho Marx and Gene Kelly and integrated them into newly-shot scenes with Abdul (remember, this was LONG before CGI and hologramming). For Abdul’s part, she was already a pro at dancing with and reacting to someone wasn’t actually there (namely, one MC Skat Kat, the animated costar of her “Opposites Attract” video), so she’s aces all around. Also, I believe at the time, this was one of the most expensive commericals ever made.

 

Spice Girls (Pepsi)

Somehow during their non-stop whirlwind tour of world domination in the mid 90s, the Spice Girls found the time to do some shilling for Pepsi – and it was some serious, next-level cross promotion. In this particular advert, our lovely Spices are singing the track “Move Over” from their then-current second album Spiceworld. One of the oft-repeated lyrics of “Move Over” has the girls chanting “Generation Next, Generation Next”. And guess what Pepsi’s slogan at the time was? Yup. So, with Pepsi’s slogan earworming its way onto every Spice fans playlist, not only did “Move Over” become “that Spice Girls song in the Pepsi ad”, it became “that Spice Girls song that IS a Pepsi ad”.

 

Britney Spears (Pepsi)

And then there was Britney.

This is what I feel is the peak of the popstar/pop drink collaboration era, because I doubt we’ll ever see such a long-running, high profile pop/pop collab as the one forged between Britney and Pepsi. One that resulted in the pieces of pop culture that is their Holy Trinity of ads from the early 2000s. Each Pepsi commercial that Spears did was an EVENT and they were treated as such (and premiered during Super Bowls, natch). The first was a full-on music video, (Brit’s “The Joy of Pepsi” is closer to an actual commercial single than commercial jingle) with Britney and her legion of backup dancers taking over a Pepsi factory before relocating to a rooftop billboard (hello Justin Timberlake cameo!), while the third was a historical mini-movie set in the Roman Coliseum and featured not only Britney, but Pink (!) AND Beyonce (!!) as gladitors singing “We Will Rock You” (also there, in a non-singing role, Enrique Iglesias – because, why not?).

But my favourite was her second commercial (showcased below) which featured Britney in snippets of Pepsi ads from “across the eras” and fans could vote for which version got her full stand-alone commercial (decade-old spoiler alert, the 50s version won). How much do I love this one? Well, let’s just say that I ripped the audio from it, put it in my iTunes library and it is STILL one of my most top-played tracks ever (what that says about me, I’m not so sure…)

 

Beyonce (Pepsi)

As I mentioned, since the Britney era we haven’t seenas  many of the high profile pop/pop ad campaigns as before, but that doesn’t means the soft drinks companies have gone soft on pop stars. These days they just seem more focused on smaller campaigns featuring more “niche artists” like Tori Kelly and Janelle Monae. However, Beyonce did do an advert for Pepsi just a couple of years ago, that for some unknown reason was never released. But it is STUNNING, and it is right up there with the best from Brit’s heyday, so it’s being included here as well.

 

And now for an extra-special, way,way back bonus:

Ann-Margaret (Canada Dry)

This musical number/crash course in late 60s pop culture is BONKERS and I love it. If ever there was such a thing as a “soft drink expert”, Ann-Margaret has convinced me that SHE is IT, now and forever. Cheers!