Out with Prada, in with Pampers

They've got it all, but what

the pop chicks really, really

want is a baby. Will the fans

follow suit?

Suddenly it's all the rage among youthful female pop stars. Not body-piercing, top-heavy shoes or tattoos, but babies. All Saints' Melanie Blatt, 22, already the talk of the tabloids after appearing in concert with her swollen belly bulging out underneath a little cropped top, has been joined in approaching motherhood by half of the Spice Girls, Posh and Scary.

With this sudden blossoming into pregnancy, Girl Power has taken an unexpected twist. As Melanie Blatt's elegant bump grows ever bigger, the All Saints' shoulder-sloping routine is becoming something of a waddle, but pregnancy is not going to stop her going out on stage.

A chorus of family campaigners has been wheeled out to cast doubt on the girls' unmarried status. Since the Spices' huge fan base includes a high proportion of pre-teens, arbitrators of youth are questioning whether the unmarried Melanie Brown, 24, Victoria Adams, 23, and Melanie Blatt are sending the wrong message to impressionable fans about the joys of getting up the duff.

Whether or not one considers the girls' marital status to be a moral issue, presumably we can now expect to see throngs of teenyboppers wearing bulges like they used to wear belly-button rings. Hell, with her huge smile and elegant round belly, Melanie Blatt makes it look so easy.

All three girls, although unmarried, are claiming that they plan to marry the fathers of their children, just as soon as they get round to it. Victoria Adams' fiance David Beckham needs all the good news he can get at this point, although she claims the pregnancy was unplanned. Mel B says she plans to marry her boyfriend, dancer Jimmy Gulzar, and Jamiroquai bassist, Stuart Zender, will marry Melanie Blatt after the baby's birth.

Sorry, what was that again about Girl Power?

All of a sudden, our glam new pop stars seem to be hell bent on settling down, having a family and becoming responsible.

Cast your minds back to archetypal rock chick Marianne Faithfull. She had a baby with her first husband, art dealer John Dunbar, but always lacked the aura of contented domesticity that afflicts today's current crop of pop singers. Indeed Nicholas, her son, was removed from Faithfull's custody at the age of seven because she slipped into a somewhat unmaternal drug haze.

However the Spice Girls are threatening to turn all earth-motherish, a la Madonna, who incidentally waited until her late thirties before having a baby. This is a rather worrying thought, explains comedian Jenny Eclair. "In the old days, the managers would have made them have abortions. In fact you weren't a genuine pop star until you had at least three abortions behind you," she says.

"But I honestly think this is another phase in the Spice marketing plan. They can see the fans are getting a bit tired of their current image, so why not make them all mumsy? In one fell swoop the marketing men whack up the `ahhh' factor among the pre-pubescents. And then there are the spin-offs. We've had the Shelley doll, Barbie's baby sister, now we'll have reams of Baby Spice merchandise.

"But more seriously, these girls have always had that desperate suburban streak in them. You can just imagine Posh in her mock Tudor mansion with loads of kids."

Alda, currently sitting at number seven in the charts with "Real Good Time", looks at things a little more seriously. She says competition to hit the big time is so intense that young stars often feel isolated once they become famous.

"These girls are all in their early twenties and are very young to be having children," says the 27-year-old Icelander. "I think it could be something to do with being on the road. You leave your family and friends behind and the schedule is non-stop. By having a baby, you are forced to slow down and give some time back to yourself."

Although Alda has had numerous top ten hits in Iceland, she admits that children are far from her mind because her British career is only just taking off.

"I want to establish myself as a serious artist with a couple of albums under my belt before I start thinking about children," she says.

And perhaps this is the nub of the infectious Pregnant Pop Star syndrome. All three blooming mothers are, it can safely be assumed, at the pinnacle of their careers. There is almost nowhere else to go but to bow out gracefully, using the politician's favourite excuse: spending more time with the new family.

Indeed Melanie Blatt has already gone on record saying that she plans to quit the music business when she makes enough money. In a rather sobering statement for any 22-year-old, she said: "I don't think I'll be able to do this for long. It's a pretty soul-destroying environment. I just want to be happy and have clever kids and a nice man that loves me. This baby has made me sane and calmer. I have a job to do now. A serious one - motherhood."

Kirstin Watson, features editor of teenage music magazine Smash Hits, said: "All the girls have said they want to get married and settle down with the men they love, which is no different from many other young women of the same age. Of course the average life span of a pop group is two or three years, so cynics would say they are preparing another life for themselves when their singing career is over."

For Spice Girl watchers at least, conspiracy theories are rife. Reports of the remaining four members of the band holding a crisis meeting over their collective future could herald the end of Girl Power.

Ex-Girlie Show presenter Sara Cox, 23, thinks news of the double -whammy pregnancy might be the best excuse for the Spice Girls to hang up their platforms before things go sour.

"Let's face it," she says. "They've got the money, the fame, the hit songs, and their fans still love them. With Spice and Scary getting pregnant, they could quit while they're ahead. And because it is all supposed to be unplanned, no one will begrudge them moving out of the limelight."

Whichever pop star next succumbs to the voracious trend, one thing remains quite certain. Don't bother to watch for any signs of real pregnancy. You know, the varicose veins, the puffy legs, and generally dishevelled appearance. Pregnancy in pop land is all about smooth brown bumps and ever-so-tight cropped tops.

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