Nineteen ninety-seven witnessed the peak of the Girl Power movement, which, building on the momentum of the pithy manifesto “Wannabe,” briefly succeeded in seizing the mass media for dissemination of its postsocialist, postfeminist agenda. Controversial commune the Spice Girls argued that a collectivist spirit was not mutually exclusive with the assertion of strong individual personalities (Ginger Spice, the most energetic proselytizer of the cause, was its Karl Marx; Posh Spice, the child of privilege writ radical, its Friedrich Engels). Nor was gender equality incommensurable with ladies’ apparel largely contrived from narrow bands of vinyl and double-sided tape.
The predictable backlash against GP was exacerbated by Ginger’s breach of faith and, soon after, the ascent of younger, buffer divas who could sing and dance better (Posh, Baby, and Ginger could never do much of either, but their cheerful attempts evoked a prole gal’s workaday fantasies blossoming into karaoke dream-so-real, cf. Dancer in the Dark). What’s more, where the strenuously averred virginity of Britney is kinky, the slumber-party kamaraderie of her elders seemingly limits their amorous pursuits to giddy leafing through British Esquire or the Daily Worker personals.
So the uncharacteristic promises of loud dominatrix sex in the first single off Forever, “Holler,” sadly evince a discomfort with what Ginger—I mean Karl—called “sensuous human activity.” Actually, Marx was talking about labor there, and the Girls are alienated from it indeed, adrift on the means of production: Rodney Jerkins’s blips, burbles, ominous keyboards, and sharp, brittle rhythmic angles; Jam and Lewis’s plump-bassed janet. retreads. Sporty’s phlegmatic yowl is still the only distinctive voice of protest, though occasionally on Forever a new fellow laborer grunts “Uh!” and “Yeah!” and “Spice Girls!” and other consciousness-raisers into some faraway mic. He’s the last of the party faithful, the cheering section at the concession speech.