Is anyone ever too young to indulge in a little nostalgia now and then? Perhaps there are babies who pine for the halcyon days of the womb. “Oh, alas for the amniotic fluid, the vitamin-rich food on tap, the lovely cosiness” they would moan if only they knew how. Instead, they pass their time wordlessly wailing for what has been. Perhaps there are children, on their first day of nursery school, who heave a little sigh for the dearly departed – the onesies, the high-chair, the cot – before stoically resigning themselves to the serious, grown-up business of tidying the Wendy house and making sure that the Cabbage Patch doll gets to bed on time.
Certainly, at the not-too-ancient age of twenty, I’m no stranger to a spot of ‘fauxstalgia’ – that is, nostalgia for those who are young enough to know better. Midnight essay crises tend to induce severe bouts of fauxstalgia, during which I pine for my spoon-fed, well-read school days when I was a mere snip of a thing at eighteen. Gender divides at parties, Billie Piper on Top of the Pops (RIP), Starbucks-free high streets, and fake IDs comprise some of the things for which I’m occasionally fauxstalgic. And I’m not the only one. Indulging in fauxstalgia is a national hobby, largely thanks to the wonders of digital cameras, which allow us to pore over a photo only a moment after it has been taken (“didn’t we look pretty five minutes ago?”).
Yet, the term ‘fauxstalgia’ does not only apply to this kind of premature nostalgia for things only recently past. Fauxstalgia also encompasses our false nostalgia for those things past which we never actually experienced ourselves. That today’s fashions are so heavily influenced by the styles of bygone eras, from the mini-dresses of the sixties to the maxi-dresses of the seventies, most likely represents a dearth of creative inspiration but may perhaps also be symptomatic of our fauxstalgic tendencies. In fact, this reverence of yesteryear leads to the irony that anything awarded the suffix ‘retro’, whether it be music, fashion or film, is automatically up-to-the-minute.
Unsurprisingly, fauxstalgia is a financially lucrative business. Cashing in on the trend are bands as musically diverse as Take That and the Pixies, both of whom have performed to sold-out arenas on their recent comeback tours, with tickets exchanging hands for more than £200 on E-Bay. In the case of Take That, it was notable that the only former member of the band who did not participate in their reunion tour of 2006 was also the only one to have enjoyed a profitable music career since their demise almost a decade earlier. Likewise, by the time of the Pixies’ reunion in 2004, they had been defunct for twelve years and the royalties had dwindled substantially. Yet, as the BBC website reviewer said of the latter, “If nothing else comes out of this comeback tour other than a healthier bank balance for the four members of the Pixies then that’s fine, but that doesn’t have to mean that I won’t be down at the front of the stage in 2014 for their next show, manically singing along to Monkey Gone To Heaven, pretending I’m a teenager again.” It seems that you can’t put a price on fauxstalgia.
The latest to be announced in this recent spate of fauxstalgia-friendly comeback tours is that of the Spice Girls. Despite reports that they will earn a not-to-be-sniffed-at sum of £10 million each for the tour, the sponsorship, the accompanying documentary, and the inevitable greatest hits album, Geri has staunchly denied that money is a motivating factor for their reunion. Instead she attributes the reason for the tour to “nostalgia”, which is interesting if we consider that it was she who brought about their demise, dramatically resigning her place in the band during their world tour in 1998, on the grounds of in-band “differences”. At the recent press launch she said, “we’re doing this because it’s a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to be a Spice Girl again. Who would turn that down?” Who indeed, particularly if your last attempt at a solo-album, Passion, was met with such a distinctly passionless response that it failed even to reach the top-forty on first release. “Obviously it’s nostalgic,” she continued, “but equally, if new fans want to come along, that’s fantastic.” And fauxstalgia is certainly to be cited for the astounding fact that the £85 tickets to the London dates of the tour sold out in just 38 seconds. As LMH second-year, gleeful golden-ticket holder and fauxstalgic fan, Gerard Lee, said, “Geri had already left the band by the time I got the chance to see them at Wembley Arena in 1998 so I decided I’d have to go this time round and see them all together”.
From my adamance that Baby Spice and I were soulsisters (“we have the same name and we both have blonde hair!”) to my long-overdue epiphany as to the meaning of ‘Two Become One’, the Spice Girls are bound up with many of my formative childhood memories. Not least do I remember the tremulous thrill of buying a packet of Spice Girls photographs (the latest ‘official’ merchandise product to guzzle my pocket-money), only to discover that fate had dealt me a cruel hand since this new acquisition did not contain that rare photo for which I longed but rather was a duplicate of a packet I already possessed. Yet, despite my predilection for Spice Girls fauxstalgia of this kind, I shall not be joining the ranks of former fans in begging, borrowing, stealing or selling my vital organs in the hope of obtaining a ticket. In fact, I’m thoroughly disillusioned by the hype surrounding the Spice Girls’ reunion and, contrary to appearances, this is not due to any lingering photo-related bitterness.
In my opinion, seeing the Spice Girls on their comeback tour will never be able to mean to me now what it did originally, not so much because I myself have changed but rather because the five members of the band have changed. Though the intricacies of the feminist ideology possibly underlying the motto, ‘Girl Power’, were lost on me as a child, I nevertheless appreciated the spirit of female friendship and sisterhood which the Spice Girls represented to girls of my age. Yet, the photo shoot which accompanied the press launch for their comeback tour made it abundantly clear that no such camaraderie still exists between them. No longer resembling a cohesive five-piece, no longer even friends, they stood stiffly as five individuals, all of whom are unrecognisable from their former individual ‘Spice’ personas. Mel C, Mel B and Emma, once Sporty, Scary and Baby respectively, were indistinguishable from one another, demurely and blandly dressed in top-to-toe black. Geri, in stark incongruity, was serenely encased in swathes of white fabric, perhaps in a misguided attempt to dispel the image of her as the black sheep of the band.
Yet, the sight of Victoria alone, her impossible breasts vying for attention and chihauhua-like frame squeezed into a corset, was enough to confirm that the endearing ordinariness and outspoken, girl-next-door charm which accounted for much of the Spice Girls’ appeal has long been lost. Indeed, she is no longer the likeable and fun Posh Spice of old but rather she is one half of so-called ‘Brand Beckham’, ironically managed in this enterprise by Simon Fuller, the media svengali whom the Spice Girls notoriously sacked as their manager during their heydey. Ruthlessly dedicated to her own self-promotion, from ‘DVB’ perfumes to her personal online blog, her entire image has been strategically crafted by a team of publicists with military precision.
The Spice Girls’ comeback tour is a bloated, cynical and ultimately pointless operation, not unlike ‘Brand Beckham’ itself. It’s a half-hearted resurrection of what was successful in its day; a shadow of its former self. It can only disappoint those leagues of fauxstalgia-driven fans who have come to see the Spice Girls as they once knew and loved them. Save your £85 and see Girls Aloud instead. Fauxstalgia is so last year.
By Emma Bernstein