Puppy power for the Nineties

Ponies and Puppies wrote their own magazines, with the same formula: five females, and every little girl had a favourite
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The Independent Online
I like the Spice Girls. My daughter is sold five eager role models and the idea that female independence makes you rich. Nice. I like her other current obsession too: the Virtual Pet which wakes her at seven doing virtual poos. "I can't believe anyone wants such a simple computer game," said her friend's older brother in contempt. But I like it. Down the years I have enjoyed My Little Pony and Puppy in My Pocket as well: a host of plastic in subtly different shapes, and I knew all their names and personalities.

These Ponies and Puppies wrote their own magazine. Puppy in My Pocket magazine was more detailed. (Gemma ran "Puppyville's Problem Page", Fifi had Op Ed) but both had the same formula. Several, say five, individualised females: posh, wacky, gentle, sporty, baby. Every little girl had a favourite. Cute females, having fun together. Puppy Power. Pony Solidarity.

For those who don't know, this is the Spice formula too, but targeting a broader audience. Not many bishops have a favourite Puppy in Their Pocket, but most know the Spice Girls' names and admitted, in a recent survey, to a favourite.

Like the Puppies, the Spice Girls have written a magazine. When it comes out it will be called Girl Power, will be "written by the Spice Girls, just for you", and will promote the "total control" which "new Girl Power" gives you. (Bishops will find a year's subscription sets them back pounds 10.) Their mag is advertised on the back of their book, also called Girl Power "written by all of us, especially for all of you". I was fine with Gemma and Fifi but I feel a bit bolshy about this book. According to Emma Daly's expose in this week's Punch, it is ghostwritten by the male music writer Howard Johnson, who was appointed to this daunting task by another man, the girls' manager, Simon Fuller. So here's a book, ghostwritten by a man, which contains (in Puppyville pink) words like "We can give feminism a kick up the arse: women can be so powerful when they show solidarity", beside a shot of The Girls on a bed, eyes closed, mouths parted, hands twining crotchwards, whose image of female solidarity is crafted to appeal to the darker side of any bishop. The Girls' male photographer, Ray Burmiston, wouldn't talk to Punch.

My daughter knows a few people who write books. Does she believe this was written by girls who are managed, photographed and promoted by men?

"I know they wrote some of it. They say, 'Anything we do for you is always totally honest.' "

"Did Gemma and Fifi" (oh heartless mum) "write Puppy in My Pocket magazine?"

"That's different, these girls are real. They're not just models who sing!"

"That's exactly what ... "

"No, I mean they're not ventriloquists' dummies. They exist!" I don't mind virtual doggie shit while I deal with the real thing. I know she knows the difference. But the ingredients of "Girl Power" promoted by the men who run Spice are female independence, solidarity and creativity. What's "real" here? Female solidarity? The Girls "just laughed" when their male radio promoter asked wouldn't they prefer a woman to promote them. Spice was created by men and is run by men: the independence seems pretty virtual. What about creativity - and not only on their book and magazine?

The book goes through their lyrics blow by cuddly blow. "We wrote this when ..." "Writing for other artists is very important. It's the one thing we want to do." (Really?) "When we write a song, we have a huge pad and just write down ideas. We end up with a big page of phrases and words and put them all together".

That word "just" crops up a lot, giving the authentic Puppyville flavour of artless you-can-do-it-too-ery. It gets applied to the creative process without mention of music ("I've tried to play the piano a million times but I've got a really short attention span") or of the male songwriters who "co-write" the songs. Such as Eliot Kennedy who co-wrote "Say You'll Be There". Nick Varley had a go at this co-writing stuff in last week's Guardian. The well-established songwriting duo involved in "Wannabe", "Mama" and "2 Become 1" is Richard Stannard (who also produced these songs) with Mathew Rowebottom. If five girls are making big money doing what men say and singing songs men produce, fine. But the last thing this is, is new. "Plastic Girl Power here we come/Right back where we started from" ...

What's new is how essential the appearance of creativity is. "Creatively, I love lyrics," says their book. "Spice Girls are about freedom of expression." "We wrote 'Mama' when I was going through a bad phase with my mum." But Richard Stannard's name is in the credit too: might his experience not come into a song he "helped" write? To take the unlikeliest scenario I can think of (just fantasy, of course): if I said, "Suppose Richard Stannard wrote 'Mama' for his own mum three years before Spice existed," all hell would break loose. But why? Of course I'm not suggesting this happened. But if they sang the song well would it matter? No one asks Kiri Te Kanawa to co-write with Puccini. Why do female pop singers have to say they write their own lyrics? Some do - and the music as well - but many don't, and why should they? Interpreting is different from creating, but both are OK things to do. If I wrote a poem with a man, we'd put both names to it. Maybe the Societies of Authors and Consumers' Protection should ask CDs to specify everyone's exact input, as in Ribena.

Male image-makers create the look of creativity in pop music (no one bothers with writers or classical singers) partly because, from kids upwards, it's such a big selling point. "Creative" sells babies' plastic toys by the ton. Maybe it's better for girls to believe in a creativity and girl power that's actually plastic, rather than buying into the overt female pushed-aroundness of a lot of earlier girl pop. But older brothers sneer at virtual puppies. Mightn't they sneer worse at virtual girl power or creativity, if the myths explode?

I like the Spice Girls. But I don't like men selling my daughter a female image that's been really really made by men.

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