Or, when Chloe Bailey reminded me I’m old now.
By the time the Spice Girls released their second studio album Spiceworld 25 years ago this month, they were a phenomenon that, together with groups like TLC, had resurrected the girl group in the 90s after a slow death in its 60s heyday with groups like The Shirelles, The Crystals, and the Ronettes, through to its Motown evolution with The Marvelettes, Martha and the Vandellas, and The Supremes (though there were earlier attempts). Household names, their ambitions barely exceeded their grasp when they teamed up with Pepsi for an ad campaign that featured the jingle “Move Over,” tipping the scales into the few places on Earth they had yet to infiltrate. Despite some of the great tracks on Spiceworld (the title itself a nod to their international reach), it’s amazing how prominent of a role “Move Over” plays as the forward-thinking, statement-defining centerpiece of an album focused on disco, R&B, and bubblegum-inspired pop music.
Pepsi’s marketing strategy changed dramatically mid-century in a bid to distinguish themselves from their main competitor, Coca-cola. If Coca-cola was all about their deep legacy and classic taste, then Pepsi was going to tap into the youth boom and the future. In 1984, they launched “the choice of a generation” campaign. This was the beginning of what would become a long tradition of pop-star collaborations — and not just any pop stars. They were the biggest, most mainstream rising stars, with already-established core audiences that left room for growth among their most important target: young listeners. Michael Jackson (and his brothers) were the first pop stars to shill for Pepsi for a cool $5 million (Beyonce would net $55 million almost twenty years later), piggybacking off of the phenomenal success of Thriller, the album that almost single-handedly resurrected the music industry after the disco crash, just released in November of 1982 (also gearing up to celebrate its 40th anniversary this month). These “New Generation” spots (with the “Convention” iteration now infamous for the on-set accident that introduced him to the painkillers that would lead to his death) led to deals with Gloria Estefan and, in 1989, Madonna. But Pepsi’s always-looking-ahead ethos that aimed for ever-younger audiences to lock in that lifelong brand loyalty for a generation of steady sales really hit home for kids in my age bracket (Generation Y/Millennials) in January of 1997, with the “Generation Next” campaign.
The jingle “Generation Next” written by Mary Wood and Clifford Lane of BBDO, is a dizzying hybrid of pop, rock, and dance styles, blatantly calling out dad-rock styles of its time like punk, rap, and metal and instructing listeners to “do it over, cause that’s over.” An extended version of the track was later co-written by the members of the Spice Girls, then the most popular girl group in the world, whose audience hit Pepsi’s sweetest spot. A massive Spice Girls fans at the time (their debut Spice was actually the very first CD I ever bought for myself, a momentous and life-changing occasion for someone who only had access to records and cassette tapes til then), I consider myself part of that demographic: a kid still mostly unaware how marketing worked and ripe for persuasion. The group’s rumored $100 million contract included rights for an exclusive single, TV ads, and on-can promotions (collecting the pull tabs won you a free CD with the until-now unreleased track “Step To Me“), and what would be their first performance in Turkey.
But perhaps one step too far was the inclusion of the song on their long-awaited follow-up album Spiceworld, released in November of 1997. “Move Over” was squeezed in between “Never Give Up on the Good Times” and “Do It,” right in the center of the 10-track album, a sort of crown jewel that like “Spice Up Your Life,” functioned as an extended advertisement for the group and its consumer-driven lifestyle — not just Pepsi, but Sporty’s track pants, Ginger’s platform boots, and Baby’s glossy eye shadow. Tapping into this lifestyle-over-product strategy, it anticipated a future of loyal Pepsi drinkers by calculatedly sandwiching the song inconspicuously between anthems to having a great time, staying positive, and trying new things (some sample lyrics that could have just as easily been featured on “Move Over” include “Livin’ it up is a state of mind,” “Who cares what they say, because the rules are for breaking,” and “Don’t care how you look, it’s just how you feel / Come on and do it!”), all statements tailor-made to impressionable Millennial girls, “[b]orn primarily in the mid-to-late 1980s” on an album that would go on to become what is probably the best-selling album by a girl group of all time.
Brian Swette, then executive vice-president and chief marketing officer of Pepsi described the ad as “positive, in control, and lay[ing] claim to the future — the antithesis of Generation X.” Pepsi and Virgin wanted my money and they wanted it bad; history and a cursory glance at the various merchandise available for sale at the time (Spice Girls-branded school supplies, wristwatches, dolls, tape decks, headsets, and a really cool standing microphone that I spent way too much time pretending to be Emma Bunton with) reveals that they got it.
To its credit, “Move Over” is a fantastic pop sorbet of various styles, anticipating the electronic renaissance and making the future seem as exciting, bold, and completely within one’s control as any good PR campaign. The torch was passed on to a number of other mega-stars over the years, like Britney Spears, Beyonce, and Christina Aguilera, but the one by the Spice Girls is the one that hit closest to home — as the years pass, people naturally start catching on to the soft sell. And of course, all of this now seems almost comically absurd considering what ended up happening to Generation Y in the future, as yet-unseen developments like social media, a global recession, and culturally-encouraged toxic work habits tipped Millennials into what some people now refer to as the burnout generation. But certainly nothing signals the end of youth quite like a mega corporation no longer interested in appealing to you and your money.
In October, Pepsi unveiled its newest pop-star partnership with Chloe Bailey, Generation Z’s amazingly talented It Girl. The ad re-launches the Pepsi-Cola Soda Shop brand with an updated take on I guess what kids in the 20s now consider “classic” music (no mind that soda shops were popular in the 1950s). This mix of the old and the new, where the “old” is the 1984 hit “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins, and the “new” lifts its sentiments straight from the pages of think-pieces on The Great Resignation and posts on the r/antiwork subreddit:
“Been workin’ so hard, we’re punchin’ our cards,
Eight hours for what? Oh tell me what we’ve got
I’ve got this feeling that time’s just holding us down,
I’ll hit the ceiling, or else I’ll tear up this town.”
Like Pepsi campaigns before it, it focuses on taking a sliver of truth and making it as wildly optimistic as possible: Life sucks? Nothing a sugary beverage and dancing with your friend can’t solve! It’s pure still-has-no-major-responsibilities, fantasy logic. Move over, indeed.
In 1997, the Spice Girls sang of “the next page, next stage, next craze, [and] next wave,” at a time that I was that next wave. That wave was 25 years ago, when the Spice Girls were the biggest group on the planet and the thought of a 25th anniversary re-release of Spiceworld seemed outlandishly far away, as distant and impossible as retirement does to me today. But as surely as Chloe’s debut album (she hasn’t even released her debut solo album yet!) will celebrate its own anniversary 25 years from now, amid op-eds looking back at all we didn’t do to save the planet, time comes for us all. Or as a depressingly-relatable Grandpa Simpson reminds us: “I used to be with ‘it’, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t ‘it’ anymore and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me. It’ll happen to you!”
[ Image sources are from here, here, here. The 25th anniversary edition of Spiceworld was released digitally on November 4, and will be released on CD in December; among the bonus tracks is two versions of the Pepsi pull-tab mail-in promotion-exclusive single “Step to Me.” My favorite track on Spiceworld was, perhaps sadly, “Move Over,” followed by “Viva Forever.” ]