Girl power doubled You may not think it at first, but there is a harmony of purpose between the funky Spice Girls and the punky Ani DiFranco.

June 21, 1998|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Who has more girl power, the Spice Girls or Ani DiFranco? Musically, the two could not be further apart. DiFranco is folkie and punky; the Spice Girls are pop stars and funky. DiFranco has a heritage that includes populist Woody Guthrie and feminist Ferron; the Spice Girls belong to a tradition of pop stars like Bananarama and Take That!. DiFranco's stage show is low-key and homey, relying on nothing more elaborate than amps and lights; the Spice Girls are touring with a stage that's bigger and more elaborate than many amusement parks.

Yet for all that, the two are closer than you'd think. Both believe that women should be independent and self-actualized, confident in their femininity and beholden to no man. Both take care of their own business, with the Spice Girls managing their own empire and DiFranco operating her own small-but-successful record company. Neither thinks there's anything wrong with girls wanting to have fun.

Tonight, the two are closer in a more literal sense, as the Spice Girls perform at the Nissan Pavilion in Bristow, Va., while DiFranco plays the Wolf Trap Filene Center, just a few miles away in Vienna. Two girl-power acts, side-by-side - and on Father's Day, no less!

Still, if you were to tell the average DiFranco fan that her idol had a lot in common with the Spice Girls, she'd probably laugh in your face. DiFranco's music, she'll tell you, is emotionally naked and musically direct, with songs that speak openly about what it's like to be young, intelligent and nonconformist. Nor does she hide behind a wall of production, the way the Spice Girls do; often, the only thing between DiFranco's voice and the listener is the fevered strum of her acoustic guitar.

All of which is true, but beside the point.

Sure, DiFranco's songs are more confessional and confrontational than the average Spice Girls tune; they're real in ways Spice songs never are. And DiFranco's lyrics are eminently quotable, packed with wise observations and witty asides. Her songs vividly sketch the uneasy feeling of falling out of love and draw connections between the desecration of slave graves in Manhattan and the desecration of pop culture by mass-market radio programming.

The Spice Girls, on the other hand, write lines like "I wanna really really really wanna zigazig ha."

Then again, the Spice Girls aren't trying to bare their souls. They just want to entertain, to have fun, to get their audience singing along and maybe wiggling their bums. Their songs are intentionally frothy and frivolous. Nobody listens to the Spice Girls for edification. You listen for escape, plain and simple.

That's why, were you to tell a Spice Girls fan that her idols have a lot in common with Ani DiFranco, she'd think you were out of your mind (assuming, of course, she'd even heard of DiFranco). How could such totally cool, totally stylish, totally gorgeous pop goddesses have anything in common with a freaky little punk girl with a nose ring?

But they do. The pre-Spice girls walked away from managers who wanted to make them into a prefab pop group and developed their own sound and image; DiFranco decided to put out records on her own instead of letting some big record company tell her what to do.

And take the way the Spices mock their own images in the movie "Spice World." Whether it's Baby gee-whizzing her way through a scene or Posh pretending to be a total fashion victim, it's clear that the Spices are confident enough about their own identities to poke fun at the cartoon-flat characters the media imagine them to be.

That's kind of what DiFranco talks about on the title tune from her new album, "Little Plastic Castle." Addressing the way the media seem to be framing her as an alterna-girl icon, she laughs, "People talk about my image/Like I come in two dimensions." A different spin, but essentially the same perception.

Ultimately, the most significant difference between the Spice Girls and DiFranco (all are in their 20s) is style. DiFranco is about nonconformity, the belief that you don't have to buy into the system to be happy and successful. The Spice Girls emphasize subversion and confidence, suggesting that by being brash, focused and unafraid to be herself, a woman can make the system work for her in ways a man never could.

So, who has more girl power? It's a meaningless question. What Spice fans want and what DiFranco fans crave are two versions of the same thing. To suggest that one might be better than the other is to miss the point of girl power entirely.

See them sing

What: The Spice Girls

When: 7:30 p.m. today

Where: Nissan Pavilion at Stone Ridge

Tickets: $42.25 and $30.25; $21.25 for lawn seating

Call: 410-481-7328

What: Ani DiFranco

When: 8 p.m. today

Where: Wolf Trap Filene Center

Tickets: $25, $18 for lawn seating

Call: 410-481-6500

Pub Date: 6/21/98

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