Do they know where it's at?

James Sherwood on All Saints

AT THE Brit Awards, as All Saints won the double whammy (best single and best video), All Saint Melanie Blatt threw the following crumb from her table: "We admire the Spice Girls for what they do and as far as we're concerned, there is no problem". She sounded like a disdainful studio guest on Esther discussing prostitution. This was Single White Female territory.

A music industry insider, probably the All Saints agent, said in the Daily Mail, "The British public have chosen real music over clever merchandising". Since when have the British public been so discerning? Natalie, Nicole, Shaznay and Melanie can sing a cappella in tune. They are passably attractive. But are they any less manufactured than the Spice Girls? "You can imagine All Saints' manager telling them that the Spice Girls are frivolous, cartoon- character, good-time girls who wear tight frocks," says Helen Tayler of OK magazine, "So they have to be sulky, streety girl-next-door types in baggy combat pants and Kangol berets."

"Fashion moves faster than pop," says Elle fashion editor Sally Courtis. "But All Saints is where Elle girl is at. Their look is sexy without being tacky. They are confident, mature and harmonious". All Saints are harmonious all right. They share a bland taste in clothes, a uniform prettiness and an appalling taste in men. Boyfriends include children's TV presenter Jamie Theakston, has-been Bros singer Matt Goss, Peter Andre and sundry boy band members. Their Stussy vests, Wu-Tang Clan combats and Tommy Hilfiger hooded tops are me-too labels. If you want real real-life London street girls then you need a gang of Chenises from Brixton with nail extensions and sculpted hair who hang out at bus stations and - fingers wagging - rap: "What have you done for me lateleee?"

Of course the Spice Girls are cartoons: crass, vulgar and infantile. But as style icons they will endure. The Spice Girls are indeed so far ahead of themselves in the irony department that they must be as world- weary and cynical as Dot Cotton.

Sadly, only Mel B looked like a star at the Brits. In signature leopard print bra and leggings, and hair curled into a "She who must be obeyed" turban, the Scary One looked serene and sure of a solo career. It shouldn't have been John Prescott who got the bucket of water over his head. All Saints deserved a dousing for hastening the demise of Spiceworld. But when they are relegated to Radio 2's back catalogue, earnest PhD students will be considering Posh, Baby, Sporty, Scary and Ginger as cultural icons on a par with Madonna, Hillary Clinton and Princess Di.

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