UK garage, diamantes and Dane Bowers: Why Posh Spice’s short-lived solo pop career deserves a second chance

Victoria Beckham was written off as a solo artist before she’d really begun but a mysterious lost album that exists only on YouTube hints at the one-woman supernova she could have become. Adam White wonders whether her brief Y2K releases have been unfairly dismissed

Wednesday 07 July 2021 10:18
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<p>Queen Vic: Beckham promotes ‘Out of Your Mind’ at a Virgin Megastore in Cardiff in 2000</p>

Queen Vic: Beckham promotes ‘Out of Your Mind’ at a Virgin Megastore in Cardiff in 2000

Twenty-five years ago this week, Victoria Beckham became a pop icon with a song she didn’t actually sing on. Her background vocals are somewhere in the mix on “Wannabe”, the Spice Girls’ barnstormer of a debut single, but she’s the only Spice without a verse to herself. Her absence is an anomaly in the band’s back catalogue, but it came to define her role in the five-woman glitter-bomb all the same.

“They used to turn my mic off and just let the others sing,” she claimed in 2016, adding that she used to just “jig about a bit” during her time in the Spice Girls. Two years later, during an interview with a radio station, she recalled how she used to joke about it, but in actual fact, during recording sessions and the like, there’d be “Post-Its up all over the walls [reading], ‘Do not sing, Posh don’t sing, VB don’t sing’.”

But Beckham made a great pop star. She could sing, and dance, and stomp dramatically across the stage in five-inch heels. She was an essential component of the Spice Girls, not only because she could pout well and point spectacularly, but because she was just as funny and charismatic as the other four. And while conventional wisdom is that her pop career started and ended with the group (bar one reunion appearance on top of a black taxi cab at the London Olympics in 2012), there were other – often wilder – musical moments scattered in between, many of which are worth revisiting, many of which exist on lost albums and many of which, yes, include Dane Bowers.

Beckham was the last of the Spice Girls to go solo. The other four women – Geri, Mel B, Emma and Mel C – had had individual No 1s and, for the most part, critical acclaim, setting a high bar. Beckham’s spot as a featured artist in 2000 alongside Another Level boybander Bowers and a pair of balding garage producers known as True Steppers, then, was never going to match Mel C working with Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes from American group TLC, or Mel B jumping on a Missy Elliott hook for 1998’s “I Want You Back”.

And yet “Out of Your Mind”, Beckham’s first move as a solo singer, isn’t as horrendous as you remember. It’s genius in the way that Beckham herself is – a camp event, existing somewhere between knowing badness and abject joy. It took the mainstream garage sound and Y2k aesthetic and raised it to new heights: she and Bowers sported matching Matrix cosplay in the video, she performed it live wearing fake tattoos and bandanas decorated in diamante crystals and, in a move that long predated internet memes, the track ended with the bafflingly quotable lyric: “Ice cream / You’re out of your mind.”

Perhaps Beckham wasn’t entirely: the song was among the best-selling solo Spice releases – fourth behind Geri’s “It’s Raining Men” cover and Mel C’s “When You’re Gone” and “Never Be the Same Again”. But this was a pop era in which not getting a No 1 record was tantamount to crushing failure – and “Out of Your Mind” lost the top spot to Spiller and Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s “Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)”, following a much-publicised chart battle. As the only Spice not to get a No 1 on her own, it therefore became easy to write Beckham off altogether.

Her tabloid image at the time also proved to be an albatross. Beckham launched her solo career at the peak of “Posh ‘n’ Becks” mania. She had married David Beckham one year earlier, with their every move subsequently documented in the press. The interest was justifiable – this was the era of the pair dressing up in matching leather ensembles to events and sitting on thrones at their wedding. As the tabloids salivated over the couple while simultaneously ridiculing them, the idea of Victoria Beckham: Pop Star became suddenly ludicrous. “Why don’t you give up singing?” Jonathan Ross asked her in 2003. “You get so much flak for it – I know if you gave up singing, whatever you’d come back with, people would treat it in a totally different way.”

As much as Beckham would freely admit that her voice wasn’t at Mariah levels, a narrative that she was talentless had formed and her girl band fan army seemed to lose interest. When she released her first single under her own name, 2001’s innocuous “Not Such an Innocent Girl”, it debuted in the charts beneath a Bob the Builder bop.

The self-titled album that followed – the only solo disc to ever see the light of day – isn’t an unheralded masterpiece. It alternates between somnambulant R&B, maudlin ballads and further Dane Bowers collaborations, lacking the irresistible hooks that powered the solo albums by her fellow Spice Girls. That it’s the only Beckham material available to stream is also a shame – she did, in fact, have far more interesting material waiting in the wings.

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Victoria Beckham promotes her self-titled debut album in 2001

Reappraising Beckham’s solo pop career isn’t easy, based on everything that’s on her Spotify page. But dig around on YouTube, where dozens of unreleased or unheralded Posh Spice anthems reside, and it becomes a breeze. “Let Your Head Go”, Beckham’s first single under the Telstar label and released at the tail end of 2003, is among the best ever solo Spice Girls songs. It’s a synthy, electro-pop number that calls to mind “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”-era Kylie and vintage Cyndi Lauper.

The song evidenced her sense of humour, too. In its video, co-directed by Sophie Muller and Scott Lyon, Beckham portrays a diva celebrity who kicks the crutches out from under begging fans, exaggerates a mental health crisis for the paparazzi and has the biggest hanger-induced meltdown since Mommie Dearest. In its funniest sequence, she’s haunted by an OBE that always seems punishingly out of reach.

The track has developed a cult following in the years since its release, particularly in queer circles, but remains unavailable on streaming sites despite the best efforts of its supporters. Rob Johnson, who campaigns for a host of “lost pop” to hit streaming platforms via his site Pop Music Activism, says that “Let Your Head Go” is among his most-requested tracks.

“I think there’s a side to that song and that video that you hadn’t previously seen in Victoria,” he explains. “She’s just having such fun, you know? That video is a hoot, the song’s a bop, and there’s just this lovely joyfulness to it.” Part of the difficulty in getting the track online is that no one seems to know who actually owns it. “I’ve asked her lawyers and they’ve not clarified [which company] owns the rights,” he claims. “And when I’ve asked them about getting it online, they’ve very much given the company line of, you know, Victoria is very busy with her fashion career now.”

Another mystery involves the album that would have housed “Let Your Head Go”, which is referred to as both Open Your Eyes or Come Together. The sessions for the album were, like everything Posh at the turn of the millennium, infamous. Beckham had collaborated with Roc-A-Fella founder – and Jay-Z’s BFF – Damon Dash, with tabloid stories claiming that she had become so immersed in R&B and hip-hop that she had dubbed herself “The Female Eminem”. In actuality, Beckham’s work with Dash fit her like a muscle tee, borrowing the same luxe dexterity of “Love Don’t Cost a Thing”-era Jennifer Lopez, with a dash of crunk and rap.

“I’m not Ashanti or anything,” Beckham told i-D Magazine in 2004. “I’m not trying to be, and I’m definitely not trying to be hip-hop. I think from some of the stories that have been written, some people think I’m going to start rapping or something, which is just… ridiculous! This just sounds like great pop music to me. It’s the sort of thing that I’d want to listen to.”

Beckham’s Telstar sessions, which leaked online in 2016, are a trip. The lush, Curtis Mayfield-sampling “Resentment” ended up being recorded by Beyoncé for her B’Day album in 2006, and if the image of Beyoncé rifling through Posh Spice’s leftovers is surreal enough, just wait until you hear “That Dude”, a collaboration with the late, great Wu-Tang rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard that essentially plays like the lost theme song to a Shaft movie. And, yes, Beckham does rap… sort of. The jittery kiss-off “Full Stop” is less Lil’ Kim than it is that part in Madonna’s “American Life” where she raps about soy lattes, but it’s still genuinely arresting.

Pre-poptimism and in the eye of a tabloid hurricane surrounding her marriage, Beckham’s second-album material went down like a lead balloon. “Let Your Head Go”, released as a double-A side with the dreamy “This Groove”, reached number three in the charts, but Telstar went bankrupt soon after. Faced with trying to find a new home for a bank of unreleased material – much of which had already been judged before anyone had heard it – Beckham threw in the towel instead. Outside of occasional Spice Girls reunions – if not their 2019 concerts, which she declined to participate in – Beckham has focused on her work in the fashion world. Posh Spice exists today in name only, her lingering fans hoping that she’ll one day drop her unreleased music as a treat.

Together again: Beckham performs on top of a taxi with the Spice Girls (not pictured) at the 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony

“I really hope that somehow the message will get to her that this music is very much loved by people,” Johnson says. “That it’s not anything to be ashamed of. While it might seem like such a small gesture, it will mean so much to so many people who’ve supported her, and that she also supports through being an ambassador for the LGBTQ+ community. They’d love it if it could be on streaming. It will be a very big day in the world if it ever comes online.”

Beckham may have lived and breathed fashion from her earliest Spice days, but it’s not an enormous leap to guess that her resistance to her solo pop career – and her exaggerated diminishing of her own musical talent – was sparked by being endlessly mocked. If everyone is telling you that you’re bad at something, chances are you’ll start to believe them. That second album, though, is proof that there was magic there. Explore the sleepier corners of YouTube and see for yourself. Prepare for giggles, but don’t be surprised when you find yourself jiggling along to it. Victoria Beckham was a magnificent Y2K pop star. We had no idea how good we had it.

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