They started out white hot, but are they fading to naught?

By Benjamin Svetkey
Updated December 26, 1997 at 05:00 AM EST

Scary, Baby, Ginger, Sporty, and…what’s the last one again? Salty? Snoozy?

Already the memory dims. And that, when you think about it, is the amazing thing about the Spice Girls. They started the year as the hottest girl group on the planet — ultimately selling more than 19 million albums — and seem to be ending it as a bit of trivia for the Game Show Network. In just 12 short months, these five British lasses took in the entire swirling circle of fame — the hit song and movie deal, the magazine covers and money fights, the backlash and breakups (well, any minute now) — all of it in less time than it takes most pop groups to get around to trashing their first hotel room.

It was a riveting spectacle, even for those with good musical taste. Overnight, they were everywhere — on the radio with their hit single ”Wannabe” (on the charts for five months), in bookstores with their fast-selling Girl Power!, even peddling their own brand of junk food (in England, epicenter of the Spicequake, fans munched on Spice potato crisps and Spice candy bars). Blink and you might have missed the Spice Girls at the Cannes film festival, performing on the Croisette. Or in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela reportedly said that meeting them was ”one of the greatest moments of my life.” Or being photographed with Prince Harry.

But then the cruel cycle of celebrityhood turned inexorably against them. There was that messy business with their manager, Simon Fuller (Svengali Spice, as the British press dubbed him), fired last November as rumors spread of an affair with Baby Spice. There was the disaster in Barcelona, where they were booed and hissed during an awards-show performance. Their second album, Spiceworld, is showing signs of tankage (selling only 100,000 copies in the U.S. its first two weeks); their movie of the same name got panned by European critics (it opens Stateside Jan. 23 — by which time it may seem as fresh as Milli Vanilli: The Motion Picture); even their chocolate bar got in trouble for violating strict European cocoa-content standards. That’s right, even as candy the Spice Girls aren’t cutting it anymore.

The meltdown has been as rapid and spectacular as the rise — and in some ways just as synthetic. A totally artificial creation (none of the Spices were actually musicians), constructed of equal parts hype, marketing, and more hype, they were designed not to last — disposable entertainment at its finest. By the end of the year, as rumors of a Spice split began to circulate, their fall seemed as inevitable and contrived as the last act of the cheesy TV movie that will someday undoubtedly be made about them.

Of course, we may be a bit premature here: The last act of that TV movie has yet to be written. It’s possible the Spice Girls still have one or two seconds ticking in their 15 minutes. In which case, expect to witness one last glorious gasp from the Prefab Five: The Spice Comeback.