Are you a Spice Girl fan? A new comedy pokes fun at the’misogynistic’ culture that fueled their rise.
Peacock’s “Girls5eva” is both a parody and an affectionate homage to the ’90s girl groups.
The infectious, syrupy-sweet tunes of the late ’90s and early ’00s female pop stars were once hailed as a significant move toward female empowerment, with Britney Spears demonstrating how a young woman should own her sexuality and the Spice Girls championing the power of female friendship.
However, in retrospect, the gleaming surfaces of these plays can also be read as a deft repackaging of sexist stereotypes. And the continuing reconsideration of American culture from that period, which has included everyone from Britney Spears to Monica Lewinsky, is allowing those who lived through the years of over-plucked brows, low-rise jeans, and Destiny’s Child to look back, even as Gen Z revels in experiencing those bygone trends for the first time.
Bring in “Girls5eva,” Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s latest Peacock comedy. The series follows the titular girl group, who shot to fame years ago and then faded into obscurity, before their members reclaim the spotlight following their sample on a trap artist’s latest song.
The show cuts between present and past, juxtaposing the group’s music videos, grainy camcorder footage, and vintage “Total Request Live” appearances: We see Y2K through the women’s eyes of 2021, as they wrestle with the dubious creative choices they made, often with less control than they imagined.
Sara Bareilles, Busy Philipps, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Paula Pell star in a Tina Fey-produced sitcom about a 90s girl group reuniting.
In the song “Dream Girlfriend,” Gloria, played by former “Saturday Night Live” head writer Paula Pell, sings, “Have you ever desired the right girl to fit into your world?” “Well, then, don’t make a wish; we’re already real.”
This ludicrous anthem of male fantasy, which segues into more pointed satire about whale-tail thongs and fashionable birth control, may seem outlandish, but the show makes the point that it’s just a stone’s throw from real-world examples like “I’m a Slave 4 U” and “Cater 2 U.”
“Everything is a synthesis of [early 2000s pop music]. Spice Girls, Destiny’s Child, En Vogue, and Britney Spears are all examples. It’s a pastiche of a genre that, in my opinion, is much broader than what Girls5eva were doing,” Sara Bareilles, who portrays the group’s “chill” member, explained via video conference. (Even this is a nod to that period in music history: Jeff Richmond, the show’s executive producer and composer, noted how group members of the era were labeled according to their personality styles, allowing fans to identify as a “Posh Spice” or “Sporty Spice” sort of girl.)
By drawing heavily on that age, the team behind “Girls5eva” (so called since “4 eva’s 2 short”) has attempted to ensure that any exaggerations portrayed in the show are grounded in fact through careful study.
“It’s as if the writers and I purchased every book that was published. We have one from, say, Beyoncé Knowles’ father; we have one from everybody who wrote a book about that age in the late ’90s,” showrunner Meredith Scardino explained. Additionally, the television series “Making the Band” and the Lou Pearlman documentary “The Boy Band Con” serve as reference materials.
Additionally, the show is set in an age that the writers and actors recall vividly, Scardino added. “When I was thinking about creating the show, the girl group concept came to mind as a fun way to talk about being a woman in her forties now and also look back on my adolescence,” she explained.
The show’s jabs at the music industry undoubtedly passed the test for the on-set musicians. The third episode, in which Stephen Colbert portrays an enigmatic yet respected pop songwriter called Alf Musik, puts the group’s members in an awkward position when they are forced to reject a song written for them by Musik.
“I’ve been in those rooms with the producer who has a poor idea, and it’s almost like a tug-of-war between having to be accommodating while still checking in with, ‘Is this a good idea?’ Should we state these points aloud? Probably not,'” Bareilles reflected.
“A lot of [these groups] are only churned out by a factory and were handed a song without much input,” Scardino explained. In a similar vein, Girls5eva’s “Dream Girlfriend” is about “being the perfect woman, but for a certain kind of guy — as if it was obviously not written by them.”