With one member gone, will an adoring public lose its taste for the Spice Girls?

When you’re mega-successful and ultra-stressed-out, friendships are a lot like Spinal Tap drummers: They tend to explode. On May 31 the five officially became four when Ginger Spice, a.k.a. Geri Halliwell, jumped ship, rocking the Spice world 15 days before the kickoff of the group’s long-awaited U.S. tour. The root of the rift? Reportedly, a tiff between Scary and Ginger. (While Ginger’s statement attributes the split to ”differences between us,” a band spokesman declined to comment.) It’s certainly no surprise that the Girls won’t be getting geriatric together, but Geri’s departure makes us wonder just how much longer they can last. Can these careers be saved?


— CAREER PINNACLE Spice, their debut, spawned three top 10 singles and sold 20.3 million copies worldwide, making it Billboard’s best-selling album of 1997. And tickets for their July 1 concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden sold out in a record-breaking 12 minutes.

— PERCEIVED PROBLEM That darned 15-minute thing. Tick tock. Tick tock. Did anyone think it wouldn’t come to this? Plus, there’s only so much cartoonish Girl Power posturing a self-respecting singer can take.

— FALLOUT The day after Ginger quit, the Girls’ label, EMI (parent of Virgin), saw its stock stumble, falling roughly 2 percent on the London Stock Exchange. But the Girls shouldn’t despair, says Darrin McGillis, who manages Puerto Rican bubblegum stalwarts Menudo: ”It’s not like the Supremes, where if you lose Diana Ross that’s the end. It’s not going to be that big of an obstacle. Menudo has gone through 32 members. It’s the name.” Concert promoters concur: ”We’re getting very few calls,” says Mitch Slater, copresident and co-CEO of DelsenerSlater Enterprises. ”All people want to know is if the show is happening.”

— CONSPIRACY THEORY This is all a massive stunt meant to drum up press for the tour. A funny idea, but not likely. ”If it is a stunt, it’s brilliantly executed,” says Paul ”Cubby” Bryant, music director of New York Top 40 station Z100. ”It could be possible, but I don’t know why they would do it now. They’ve already sold out a majority of their concerts. If their shows were selling like crap, it would make more sense.”

— NEXT MOVE The former Spice says she has ”no immediate plans,” but watch for a solo record. In her Schwarzeneggeresque statement, Halliwell insists she’ll ”be back.” What tricks does she have up her sleeveless halter top? Only thyme will tell, but a solo success would ”depend on the song,” says Z100’s Bryant. ”It would be considered immediately, but just because it’s Geri from the Spice Girls wouldn’t make it an automatic for radio. The Spice Girls’ last two songs haven’t even been as mass appeal as their first three.” For the rest of the group, the songs remain the same: The tour will go on as planned, minus Ginger. And they’re already working on a third album, tentatively scheduled for early next year.

— ADVICE The way we see it, they’ve got four options: (1) Hire a new Spice. ”I think it would take about two days” to find a replacement, says Dick Wolf, creator and exec producer of NBC’s Law & Order, a show familiar with replacing key cast members. ”You have an open casting call for Sugar Spice or something. It’s not as if you’re trying to cast Frank Sinatra’s voice.” Forget it, says Alan Edwards, the Girls’ U.K. publicist: Replacing Geri is ”not on the agenda.” (2) Call it quits. Sure, they’ll milk money out of fans for a few more months, but why prolong the inevitable? No again, says Edwards. ”The rest of the band is 100 percent solid.” (3) Reunite. ”I’d be trying to talk Geri back in,” says one major-label marketing exec. ”The Spice Girls without Ginger is like a plate of sushi without the ginger: You’re missing something.” (4) Soldier on, which seems to be the plan for now. The Girls are reportedly holed up in Elton John’s private villa in the south of France pondering their future. Geri, meanwhile, is most likely somewhere singing ”Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.”

(Additional reporting by Kristen Baldwin)