Also Credited As:Baby Spice
|January 21, 1976|
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Born January 21, 1976 in Finchley, London, England, Emma Lee Bunton was the daughter of a milkman father and karate instructor mother. She grew up studying martial arts, acting, singing and dancing, and enjoyed a modicum of success as a child model and teen actress, with bit parts on such series as "EastEnders" (BBC, 1985- ) and "The Bill" (ITV, 1984-2010). Unlike her fellow future bandmates, Bunton did not respond to the famous ad in The Stage that read "WANTED: R.U. 18023 with the ability to sing/dance? R.U. streetwise, outgoing, ambitious and dedicated? Heart Management Ltd. are a widely successful music industry management consortium currently forming a choreographed, singing/dancing, all-female pop act for a recording deal. Open audition. Please bring sheet music or backing cassette." After 400 eager young women auditioned, Victoria Adams, Melanie Brown, Melanie Chisholm, Geri Halliwell and Michelle Stephenson became the founding members of the new group, Touch.
Moving into a house together and subsisting off of the most basic of living expenses, the five women began an arduous training schedule that included multiple daily singing and dancing lessons as well as media training. Although the intensity of their regimen helped bring the women closer, it soon became obvious that Stephenson was a weak link, and she was dismissed from the band and replaced by Bunton, who proved a natural fit. Although originally formed with mercenary motives, the band proved to have a one-of-a-kind chemistry and drive that would help them become music industry icons as well as assuring them an amount of control unthinkable to many other similarly-created pop entities. Changing their name to "Spice," the women began performing in showcases and writing songs, but soon butted heads with their managers over the direction of the band. Led largely by Brown and Halliwell, the group's strongest and most aggressive personalities, Spice left their management and sought out new representation on their own, eventually impressing power manager Simon Fuller with their talent, verve and charm.
Signed by Fuller to his 19 Management, the women underwent another professional metamorphosis when, upon realizing that "Spice" was already in use by a U.S. rapper, they dubbed themselves the "Spice Girls" and signed with Virgin Records. Quickly charming the press with the overwhelming force of their personalities, charisma and effervescent good cheer, the Spice Girls gained valuable touring experience during the all-important process of writing and recording their debut album. Although many industry experts augured success for the group, no one could have predicted just how massive the Spice quake that would rock the world would be. The band burst into the public's consciousness in 1996 with their debut single, "Wannabe," a sing-a-long tribute to female friendship that topped charts all over the world. Serving as the ultimate introduction to the Spice Girls, "Wannabe" was also powered by a charming video that featured the band at their mischievous best. Helping to fuel the SpiceMania was a feature in Top of the Pops magazine, which gave each of the band members nicknames: Posh (Adams), Sporty (Chisholm), Ginger (Halliwell), Scary (Brown) and Baby (Bunton), the latter earning the sobriquet for her innocent blonde pig-tailed vibe. The group's Melanies, Brown and Chisholm, were also well known by their nicknames of "Mel B" and "Mel C" as well.
After the glorious reign of "Wannabe," which hit No. 1 in 31 countries including the United States, the Spices scored another massive U.K. No. 1 with their follow-up, "Say You'll Be There," which in turn helped pave the way for their global blockbuster debut album, Spice, which was the biggest album of 1996 in the U.K. and of 1997 in the U.S., eventually selling more than 23 million copies worldwide. Earning an unprecedented amount of endorsements, the Spice Girls quickly achieved not just pop cultural ubiquity, but also an amazing degree of power pushing their updated brand of feminism, embodied in their frequently declared motto of "Girl Power!" In fact, for many cultural critics, despite the enormous musical milestones set by the Spice Girls, the greatest legacy of the band was their ability to steadfastly broadcast an aggressively pro-female message to all corners of the globe and to help start serious conversations about the face and future of modern feminism, despite their cartoonish and over-the-top antics. The group went on to score U.K. No. 1 hits with "2 Become 1" and "Who Do You Think You Are"/"Mama" and made headlines around the world for their performance at the 1997 Brit Awards, which featured Halliwell in a Union Jack dress that would later become the most expensive pop star memorabilia item ever auctioned off. Conquering the U.S. charts, the Spice Girls helped usher in a new era of pop music, reclaiming radio from grunge and harder rock, and their universal popularity helped their debut film "Spice World" (1997) become a global blockbuster, despite negative reviews and a Worst Actress Razzie shared by all five members.
Although they set the media world afire with the news that they were dropping Simon Fuller and managing themselves from that point on, the Spice Girls saw their chart success continue. The accompanying album, 1997's Spiceworld, became another worldwide sensation, hitting No. 1 in the U.K. and launching the chart-topping singles "Spice Up Your Life," "Too Much" and "Viva Forever," as well as the No. 2 hit "Stop." The media firestorm that Fuller's departure had caused, however, was nothing compared to what happened when rumblings began that Halliwell was potentially leaving the band; when it was announced that she was, in fact, leaving, shares in the record label itself dropped. With Halliwell out of the picture, Brown became the band's leader, although news that she and Adams had both become pregnant cast some doubt on the viability of the Spice Girls continuing. Nevertheless, they completed their successful world tour, with Adams marrying soccer superstar David Beckham and Brown marrying dancer Jimmy Gulzar, briefly going by "Mel G." The year 1998 ended on a high note for the Spices; their aptly named tribute to Halliwell, "Goodbye," went to No. 1, giving them their third consecutive U.K. Christmas single. Bunton also tasted solo success when she placed her first solo single, "(Hey You) Free Up Your Mind" on the multiplatinum soundtrack for the kid-friendly hit "Pokémon: The First Movie" (1999).
Earning Lifetime Achievement honors from the Brit Awards, the Spice Girls scored another No. 1 with "Holler"/"Let Love Lead the Way," which, like "Goodbye," was off their post-Halliwell album, 2000's Forever. The album, however, sold less than its predecessors, and the Spice Girls made the mutual decision to put their band on hold and to follow in Halliwell's footsteps by launching solo careers. The sweetly effervescent Bunton, the only blonde Spice, had long been a fan favorite, and her solo debut album, 2001's A Girl Like Me became a modest success on the strength of her U.K. No. 1 hit, "What Took You So Long?" as well as her Top Five hits "What I Am" and "Take My Breath Away" and the Top Twenty "We're Not Going to Sleep Tonight." Despite launching a string of hits, A Girl Like Me was not the blockbuster her record company hoped for, causing Bunton to jump labels and undergo a sonic and style transformation for her follow-up, 2004's Free Me. Steeped in the sounds, fashions and vibe of the 1960s, Free Me dazzled critics and fans who applauded Bunton's artistic evolution and maturity, and she scored some of the most well-received solo Spice hits with "Free Me," "Maybe," "I'll Be There," and "Crickets Sing for Anamaria."
Although she built on her retro-cool vibe to excellent effect with her next album, 2006's Life in Mono, the set proved a commercial disappointment and only spun off one major hit, a cover of Petula Clark's classic "Downtown." In 2007, each member of the Spice Girls, including Halliwell, had a career-reviving burst of energy when they reunited as a band under the management of Simon Fuller and launched a massively successful greatest hits set and reunion tour that took them around the world and helped cement their status as enduring pop cultural icons, culminating in their own documentary, "Spice Girls: Giving You Everything" (2007). Buoyed by her rekindled success, Bunton dueted with bandmate Chisholm on a cover of "I Know Him So Well" for the latter's Stages album and continued to make inroads into the worlds of hosting and reality television, earning raves for her recurring role as a comically-heightened version of herself on "Absolutely Fabulous" (BBC, 1992-2012). In the summer of 2012, the Spice Girls reunited once more to perform onstage during the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics, held in London. Although Bunton and company did not appear in it, West End audiences also had the opportunity to see the Jennifer Saunders-penned Spice Girls jukebox musical, "Viva Forever!" although reviews were less than kind.
By Jonathan Riggs