Through their image in music, print and visual texts, the Spice Girls construct a particular feminine space, representing models for adoration, inspiring young girls’ fantasies, providing legalization for various modes f rites of passage into the world of femininity. What then defines being a young female today, ¤ la Spice Girls? What are the characteristics and signs of femininity they choose to portray? What range of gender relationships do they provide for young girls growing up in today’s confusing world of “feminism”?
It is to these questions that the following analysis is devoted. Female pop stars Previous analyses of female pop stars are infrequent but revealing. The advent of MET introduced a different variety of female images from familiar representational forms of the plastic arts or of Hollywood movies. In reviewing the development of female expression in MET, Lewis (“Gender Politics and MET”) suggests that the ‘ass exposed young audiences to women performers through “female-addressed videos designed to speak to and resonate with female cultural experiences of adolescence and gender” (109).
Madonna (with “Like a Virgin”), Cindy Lapper (with “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”), and Tina Turner (with “What’s Love Got to Do With It? “) are the more pronounced among them. As Taper and Black suggest, female musicians have been producing video-clips that differ on a number of dimensions from those of male reformers, such as: musical genre, sexual appeal, objectification of women, presence of violence, opposition to authority.
Peterson, for example, argues that Cindy Leaper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” marks girls’ unique space as being related to bedroom culture, mag...
azine consumption, clothing styles and the like, through resisting dominant culture. The interpretive themes offered by Peterson- which include the “tenability” of the song, its fun nature, the sense of freedom it offers, and its rebellious counterrevolutionaries previous attempts to fuse liberal- feminist notions within young girls’ popular music.
Madonna, a pre-teen idol, has received much academic attention, as a performer who bases her career on challenging conventional perceptions of femininity, combining seductiveness with independence, and articulating a desire to be desired (Fiske, Kaplan, Longhorns, Chitterlings). Fiske (Understanding Popular Culture) claims that Madonna provides an image of independence and resistance to the ideological binary opposition of virgin-where which is an empowering force: “Madonna’s popularity is a complexity of power and resistance, of meaning and counter meaning, of pleasure and struggle for control” (113).
Her image serves as “a site of semiotic struggle between the forces of patriarchal control and feminine resistance, of capitalism and the subordinate, of the adult and the young” (97). However, as Kaplan suggests, Madonna’s challenge to patriarchy still remains inherently constrained through her focus on the female appearance as being crucial to identity. In a recent analysis, Dibbed attempts to understand “how gendered subjectivity is constructed through the particular representational system of music” (332).
Applying both semiotics and Adorns critical theory, she examines the ways in which music encourages the nonuser to embrace a particular subject position towards the ideologies of femininity in three pop songs. The first, “Ooh, Aha Just a Little Bit” by Gina G. , encourages a patriarcha
construction of femininity, while the second, “Dress” by P. J. Harvey, encourages a critical view of such a construction.
The third analysis focuses on “Say You’ll Be There” by the Spice Girls, and suggests that the video does not privilege one perspective over the other and can therefore be interpreted as either reinforcing or challenging traditional representations of femininity. Her detailed analysis of the lyrics, music, and images in that video suggests that while the Spice Girls are posing for the male gaze, offering traditional images for masculine fantasy, they are at the same time also portrayed as autonomous and expressive proud young women.
Choice of musical material, including rap for example, appropriates male meanings and signifies power and group identity. In conclusion, Dibbed argues that the Spice Girls, in common with other popular texts, offer the power of evasion of discipline and control through exaggeration and fun, as well as the power of assistance by using the patriarchal constructions of femininity in oppositional meanings. Both, however, as she rightly states, are problematic in that they do not deny the dominant ideology but work within it and therefore reinforce and sustain it.
While the discussion so far has centered on mainstream popular music, it is worthwhile to note the possible contributions of analyses of female rockers and alternative music performers to the debate (Whitely). In her analysis of the Riot Girl movement’s version of “girl power”, for example, Leonard suggests that it opened debate concerning girls’ position as music creators and performers. Their music style, forms of performance and body display, as well as celebration of shirttail and female friendship and networking, creates a special space for a rebellious female voice.
Such an alternative, although marginal to popular genres, helps set the stage for some changes in the feminine musical discourse of mainstream pop as well. Popular music at the end of the millennium thus featured a great diversity of complex and mixed messages about women and femininity in society (Cooper). Therefore the Spice Girls can be analyzed as a progression of female stardom in popular music from the famous persona of the ‘ass and ‘ass, inhabiting the Minnie space already cultivated before them.
The texts The discussion of the Spice Girls as a particular case of interest is based on an extensive study of popular texts, clearly provided or stimulated by well-oiled marketing strategies. These texts include: the songs of the group’s two discs and their video-clips, MET specials, the “official” Spice Girls videotape and book, the movie Spice World, various posters, memorabilia and Internet sites. In addition, all issues of the three major popular pre-teen and teen weekly magazines in Israel (about 150 issues) were investigated and all Spice Girls-related material was studied.
What follows is a thematic semiotic analysis of “the feminine” as it emerges from these Spice Girls’ texts. It is painted in rather broad strokes, highlighting clear motives rather than providing a finely detailed examination of specific texts (such as Dibbed). A second study, reported elsewhere (Limits), preceded this one and focused on pre- teen age girls’ reception of the Spice Girls in Israel. Insights
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