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'While it's true that they knew how to market themselves and work within the industry machine, creative substance was always there at the surface and beyond.'

Interview: Quentin Harrison, Author of ‘Record Redux: Spice Girls’

A new book by Blogcritics contributor Quentin Harrison takes on the colorful subject of The Spice Girls. Record Redux: Spice Girls, available July 8, 2016 at Amazon.com, appears just in time for the group’s 20th anniversary, as “the globe’s most successful female pop group” prepares for a new UK tour.

Don’t miss the companion overview to this interview, G-Force With a Zoom: The Spice Girls’ Legacy at 20.

Like many people, I wondered what could be said in seriousness about a pop group that I had never thought of in a serious context. But as someone who’s been made fun up for paying respectful attention to Styx, I recognized a kindred spirit of sorts. And Harrison was happy to answer a few questions about the book.

Quentin Harrison, author of Record Redux: Spice Girls
Quentin Harrison, author of ‘Record Redux: Spice Girls’

When the Spice Girls are referenced today, it’s usually with a wink. Were they more than kitschy manufactured pop? What do you find worthy of serious inquiry about their music and their cultural influence?

The Spice Girls were the farthest thing away from being manufactured pop. While it’s true that they knew how to market themselves and work within the industry machine, creative substance was always there at the surface and beyond. It’s easy for the rock/male music hegemony to dismiss anything not “of them,” specifically anything female- and/or pop-oriented. But the Spice Girls are one of the few girl groups, genres aside, that had complete creative control as songwriters and singers when crafting and choosing what music they wanted to make.

That autonomy runs through 18 albums (between their group and individual projects), a massive body of work that spans a variety of aesthetics and moods; that is why the music of the Spice Girls is worthy of rediscovery.

When you consider that a girl group like Fifth Harmony has found success with much less musicality in their output recently, it really puts into perspective how the Spice Girls concentrated on their musical presentation. Their work is appreciating well over time because of that attention to detail.

The news about the upcoming reunion tour has been contradictory and confusing – feuds, etc. What do you know about it? Who’s in and who’s not? Apparently now they’re NOT going to tour with the Backstreet Boys. Any news on what kinds of venues they’ll be playing?

spice girlsAs a longtime follower of the group, I’ve learned that any gossip surrounding the Spice Girls is just that, gossip. Until they as a collective entity issue a statement in regard to what they will or will not do, I cannot form an opinion. I’m sure that whatever they decide to do will be positive, musical, and engaging for audiences. With no disrespect to the Backstreet Boys, who’ve carved out their own niche, I highly doubt the Girls would do a joint tour with them. They have enough material to cover alone and a large enough fan base to fuel their own shows, if there are to be any.

Aside from Victoria Beckham, who became a fashion icon and David Beckham’s wife, the other Spice Girls have lived in relative obscurity since the group’s heyday. Have they been up to interesting things, musical or otherwise?

The Girls have been active, all five, in a variety of careers including music, fashion, radio, and television. The Spice Girls, while a global group, always resonated more in their native Britain. That means that a large chunk of their music, outside of their first two group recordings, was confined to those shores. My book is a reintroduction to the casual fan in that it catches the reader up on what the Spice Girls have been doing in the 20 years since “Wannabe” impacted in the United Kingdom in 1996.

Anyone can catch Melanie B on American television once a week on America’s Got Talent as one of their staple judges. While she has only sporadically recorded since her last album in 2005 (L.A. State of Mind), Melanie B reinvented herself as a “tasteful” television hostess/coach/personality who has helmed events for VH-1 and other outlets. Further, she had popular stints on the British and Australian versions of The X-Factor” in the last few years. Melanie B also enjoyed a brief but winning Broadway casting as Mimi in Rent in 2005.

Melanie C has continued to record and tour for her fans across the world; she’s currently at work on her seventh album and just wrapped a mini-tour of Asia with hitmaker David Foster. She released her third, fourth, fifth, and sixth LPs independently on her own label Red Girl Records since 2005. Melanie C has also done stage work in the West End (Blood Brothers in 2009) and turned in a critically praised role as Mary Magdalene in a British touring revival of Jesus Christ Superstar in 2012.

Emma Bunton moved into radio presenting in 2009 for one of London’s most popular radio programs, Heart.FM. Prior to that, Bunton’s solo career had a great run from 2001-2006, releasing two gold-selling LPs (2001’s A Girl Like Me and 2004’s Free Me) in the United Kingdom. Beginning with Free Me Bunton styled herself in vintage ’60s-flavored pop with a modern twist, and this sound carried on through to her critically adored (if unfortunately commercially disappointing) junior LP, Life in Mono (2006). Bunton has also done light acting, appearing in the British comedy series Absolutely Fabulous and its upcoming summer film as a client of Edwina Monsoon.

Geri Halliwell released three solo records between 1999 and 2005 and racked up a plethora of UK charters, specifically four British number one singles (“Mi Chico Latino,” “Lift Me Up,” “Bag It Up,” and “It’s Raining Men”). Arguably, Halliwell has tied Melanie C and Emma Bunton in regard to commercial favor. She has penned two autobiographies and a diminutive line of children’s books (Ugenia Lavender) between 1999 and 2008. Recently Halliwell has done activism for the British-based “Prince’s Trust” charity and utilized her skills as a baker for said charity.

Victoria Beckham, transitioning out of music in late 2008, has since gone on to a very profitable and critically acclaimed career in the fashion industry. However, Beckham’s music was quite interesting. She recorded one of the edgiest Spice-related singles with her collaboration with U.K. dance duo The True Steppers on the 2000 hit “Out of Your Mind.” While her eponymous debut did not set the charts aflame a year later in 2001, it was a consistent effort. Beckham attempted a more commercial routine musically by recording two albums between 2002-2004 strung taut between dance-pop and a harsher variation of the urban pop she favored on her first LP. Both records were shelved and have since leaked onto the Internet. With the recent buzz around one of the two shelved records being a “hip-hop album,” it proves that Beckham as a musical figure still creates conversation, but is often misunderstood, and said music lacks context in today’s “research light” climate.

What does it say about the Spice Girls’ place in cultural history that Adele just made a big newsy splash by covering one of their songs?

She’s (Adele) of that generation of young women who grew up with the Spice Girls’ music as the backdrop to their adolescence and obviously their music has had an influence. That’s, again, what’s great about ‘Record Redux: Spice Girls’ is that it is a piece of music history captured in one space (for the first time) that people can go back and rediscover if they’ve lost touch.

What drew you to become a fan in the beginning?

For me, it was the sound of their music. The first time I actually really was taken with the Spice Girls (musically), it was the fall of 1997. I was 12. They’d just put out their first single (“Spice Up Your Life”) from their forthcoming second LP (Spiceworld) and I’d never really heard anything like it.

It was palpable, sort of like this mock-Latin wall of sound, just massive and dense, but not so dense that you couldn’t hear all the intricate details of the music the more you listened. Their harmony blend was really, for lack of a better adjective, cool. They just didn’t sound like anyone else in the scene at the time, it was a very open, big and unapologetic sort of vibe, like a call-to-arms that sort of just touched a space inside of me.

All through my pre-teen and teenage years I experienced that awful since of “otherness,” and added to the fact that I was coming to terms with being black and gay, I just didn’t feel I fit in. So hearing (and seeing) these women who just took their uniqueness and applied it to the wax to produce music that was engaging and uplifting was extremely powerful. By default, if the narrative about them being these commercial kewpie dolls was true, as a black boy in the Midwest hood, I should have been the furthest away from their “demographic.” Instead I became one of their most ardent followers.

What made you take such a strong interest over the years that you could eventually write this book?

To be honest, I’ve been a fan actively since 1998 because the music was just that good. It still is. They were the first act to make me want to go out and put money down on an album. Additionally, they sort of pushed me to dissect and study music, to develop an ear, and due to their musicality, I listen to it all: jazz, hip-hop, alternative, world music, classic rock etc. It all stemmed from just being a exposed to a broad field of pop that drew, as the best pop music does, from a wealth of musical influences from my parents and then having the Spice Girls sort of water that seed and nurse it, make it grow.

However, as I moved into writing about music professionally as an adult, just like anything else in society, I found that human bias colors music commentary. Subsequently, I understood that the same things that are active in our culture now, like race, sexual orientation, age, gender politics, etc. all play a role in the music that is made, and how it is marketed, sold, received, digested, studied, etc. Culture informs these things. I knew that no one was going to sit down and give these women their due in regard to what they achieved musically, not just how many records they shifted, because culturally we live in a society that only wants two-dimensional female characters to be successful.

So, three years ago, I began writing (by hand) my book from my firsthand knowledge, experience, and views as an African-American fan who loved pop, but appreciated the jazz, hip-hop, alternative, world music, classic rock etc. genres because of the Spice Girls furthering my musical education.

Record Redux: Spice Girls purchase information is available on the book’s Facebook page and Twitter. Email Harrison at [email protected] for additional questions. Record Redux: Spice Girls will be available for purchase on July 8, 2016.


About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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