By Whitney Pastorek
Updated August 19, 2009 at 08:22 PM EDT
Credit: Roberto D'Este
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EW’s Music Mix is searching for the Greatest Guilty Pleasure Musical Act of All Time. With 32 seeded contestants (see all the matchups), this tournament is sure to change hearts, minds, and lives for weeks to come. Read/listen to the following, and then cast your vote in the poll after the jump; reader comments will be used in subsequent rounds, so we encourage you to also post a comment explaining why you chose the way you did. Note: In case of a tie, please select the artist you feel more ashamed to adore. Thank you.

You know how everybody’s all cuckoo for cocoa puffs over Twilight at the moment? (I think I read about that somewhere.) That fervor is about on par with the social impact of the Spice Girls in the ’90s — except now engorge it to an interplanetary level, and imagine there are five Rob Pattinsons. In the same way that women today choose to define themselves via Sex and the City characters, they once chose a Spice avatar. (I’m a Carrie/Sporty.) Their repurposing of the Union Jack for non-punk fashion led in part, I am convinced, to the success of the Austin Powers film franchise. They shot a Hard Day’s Night-esque movie called Spice World that made Hard Day’s Night look like a Bergman film, but when I won a free copy of it on VHS by answering a Spice Girls trivia question correctly in the Astor Place Kmart, I did not throw it away. (It has since tragically disappeared.) The Spice Girls at the height of their fame make the Pussycat Dolls look like a charming little indie band. And if the Spice Girls came over to my apartment, I wouldn’t feel the need to thoroughly disinfect it later.

Oh, and they also made music — uniformely brainless, fluffy pop treacle of the worst degree, which history has shown to be the missing link between Ace of Base and Britney Spears. “Wannabe,” “2 Become 1,” “Too Much” — we’re talking diabetic coma-quality stuff, buffed and polished and precisely calculated for addiction by money-hungry execs who exist but one ethical step on the ladder above the creepy dude hanging out in a van next to the elementary school playground, passing out scratch n’ sniff stickers laced with PCP. Naturally, people loved it. Hi, “Spice Up Your Life”? That was my jam.

Do I still listen to the Spice Girls? No. No I do not, and how dare you allege such a thing. But will I defend them on philosophical grounds? You bet. Two words: Girl Power. Their skirts were short, their boobs were big, their hair looked like it took days to construct (except Sporty’s; god, I loved Sporty), but their message was that we ladies were seriously awesome creatures who could achieve world peace, just by sticking together and believing in ourselves. For some reason, back in those days — running concurrently with Lillith Fair and the ascendancy of a young, track-panted Gwen Stefani — this bothered me, all the bumper stickers and sparkly goo-gahs at Claire’s allowing young women to convince themselves of their personal empowerment just by accessorizing with it. I take all that bitterness back now. What I’d give to have one — just one! — female artist, no matter how prefabricated/cheesy/indefensible musically stand up and say, “Hey! Ladies! What up! Shall we read the dictionary description of ‘degradation’ together, and then reassess some of this behavior?” I believe Pink is trying, but I’m not sure how well it’s working. She needs help. She needs a Union Jack. And five strong women behind her, whispering zig-a-zig-AHH! — WP

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that Rihanna isn’t the most democratic of singers. With songs that are maddeningly overplayed, egregiously bereft of any absolute meaning (“Disturbia, am I scaring you tonight?” WTF?), and featuring unspectacular vocals, it’s hard to understand just why these mindless tunes are on constant repeat, looping through my feeble brain. But as much as I try to avoid any syrup-soaked Riri song — since I know my soul dies just a little with blatant shame whenever my body dances to “Don’t Stop The Music” — it’s virtually impossible to escape her advances.

But it’s clear I’m not alone. With more than 12 million albums sold internationally, countless No. 1s, and a fine-tuned launch into superstardom led by mentor Jay-Z, the sweet-voiced R&B/pop crossover has the hit-making formula down pat. Not to mention that she’s one of the only acts in the business today whose every single is as deliciously catchy as it is unimpeachably clever. (“Take A Bow”; “Live Your Life”; “Unfaithful”; hello, the other “Rehab”?) And the mere fact that “Umbrella-ella-ella-eh” became one of this decade’s catch phrases is telling of just how germane this 21-year-old is to the globalization of pop culture and why she indeed not only Runs This Town, but clearly dominates it with a fetching tyrannical reign. — David Yi

Photo Credits: Spice Girls: Mike Owen; Rihanna: Roberto D’Este

Spice Girls

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