Spice Girls are special. Not just because they look good, not just because they're top of the charts, but because they believe in `Girl Power'. And that's a first.
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A few years back, the television presenter Dani Behr was in an all-girl group called Faith, Hope and Charity, which preached a sermon of self-respect and spandex. They were a flop because, whilst you could tell that Dani and her cohorts really felt strongly about the spandex part, it was clear that they had no interest in developing the self-respect of their adolescent female fans. Their potential market was alienated from the start because Faith, Hope and Charity practically had "ambition" tatooed on their foreheads, and looked like they would trample on any of their fans to get what they wanted.

Come in Spice Girls, the all-girl band who have succeeded where so many have failed (Have you seen Bananarama or Shampoo lately? Anyone remember Milan?). Spice Girls' debut single, "Wannabe", has now sold more than one and a quarter million copies in the UK alone. It is number one in 22 countries. The LP, which is already out in Japan, has made them the biggest-selling band there since The Beatles. Significantly, the follow- up single, "Say You'll Be There," also went into the chart at number one. Spice Girls are officially not one-hit wonders. I'd prefer to think of them, along with Oasis and The Prodigy, as a band that defines the Nineties.

This group could only have come about after 17 years of Tory rule. There is a dash of yuppie, a dash of page-three girl to them. They are Essex Girl incarnate, yet at the same time they are the band of the next government. The message is "Pull yourself up by your boot straps. And then pull everyone else up with you." Spice Girls are New Labour.

So who are we dealing with? There's 18-year-old Emma Lee Brunton, 24- year-old Geri Halliwell, 21-year-old Melanie Brown, 20-year-old Melanie Chisholm and 21-year-old Victoria Aadams. That is, respectively, the giggly blonde one, the fiery redhead, the loud-mouth, the sporty one, and the posh one. Unlike Take That, the Spice Girls were born fully formed, five Venuses rising from the sea. It took Take That four flop singles before they made it, and then four good ones until they got a fix on who they were, their "look".

Spice Girls were smart enough to deal with all that image nonsense in their very first video. One viewing of "Wannabe" and you'd know who your favourite Spice was (Emma, the walking Sindy doll, is the one their youngest fans want to be, Victoria is the one teenage boys want to shag and Geri is the one gay men say is the only woman they've ever fancied). They look fantastic together - Mel B's untameable afro next to Emma's white-blonde bunches, half-Spanish Geri wrestling with Dutch Victoria. At times they look more like a meeting of the United Nations than a pop group.

It is important that they don't look too glossy, either. They're real 60s dolly birds. Although they're all gorgeous, there is something slightly rough about them. You can tell that their make-up is Maybelline rather than Yves Saint Laurent. Even the "posh one" has a touch of vulgarity about her. Geri was recently pictured doing a high kick with no knickers on. The blonde one has been described by a male friend as looking "so stupid, she'd probably fall over if you tried to kiss her". Well tough luck, buddy, she isn't there for you. Of course Spice have a huge male following but they're really there for girls to dance around their bedroom to. And their emphasis on friends over boyfriends is something new in the pages of teen mags. It is quite moving to hear a six-year-old child yelling "Girl Power!" on a crowded tube train at the top of her voice.

Beyond that, there is an even more daring edge to Spice's message. Just as Take That always had homo-erotic undercurrents to their photo shoots and interviews, so do the Spice Girls. When Melanie B got her tongue pierced, she made all the girls snog her to see how it felt. When she sees the girls being chatted up by boys she yells "Oi, you, get away from her!" Asked what she thought of the wholesome pop starlet, Louise, Geri replied that she had "lovely breasts". And asked what they thought about having lesbian fans, they said: "We want girls screaming at us, not just boys". Take That only ever said they were "flattered" to have gay fans. Spice Girls are saying they find it a turn-on.

It will be interesting, when this is all over, to know how much of it was planned. The story goes that the girls were all aspiring actresses and dancers. They kept bumping into each other at the same auditions (Mel B almost became Angie on Coronation Street, Emma was up for Bianca in EastEnders, Mel C was a contender for Tank Girl). Eventually they decided to get a flat together and, if the story is to be believed, had been living together for nine months before they got their record deal. That was 18 months ago, and they have spent the time recording their album with dance producers "Biff 'n' Memphis". The girls write some of the music and all of the words themselves. The lyrics are often on-the-mark power slogans ("If you wannabe my lover, you gotta get with my friends") but frequently, on the album, resort to your standard swing-beat "ooh, baby, baby" slush. Their vocal delivery is more Neneh Cherry than Eternal. The tunes are strong, 70s-style Philly ("Say You'll Be There" borrows a sizeable riff from Stevie Wonder). Spice are basically Northern Soul girls - they're out to have fun, but they still know their references.

The odds for their survival are good. For a start, they are a good number. When a girl group is three, two always gang up against one, or, like The Supremes, one becomes a star and breaks away. And they still have that peachiness that Madonna had at the start of her career, the ripeness that made Neneh Cherry a star. They occupy territory between Eternal and Hole. No matter how glossy the tunes, the girls always look like they have hangovers.

The definitive Spice Girl mark is that the director of their last video was credited as "Spice Boy". Far from being a band manufactured by guys, men are in the scheme only to do what Spice tell them. It's perfect. There is, however, one nightmare scenario: that the Spice Girls fall out over a boyn