Victoria Beckham is many things: an entrepreneur, an author, a celebrated actress, a reality TV star, a mother, a devoted wife to David, a philanthropist, a tattoo enthusiast, a lover of LBDs, a real lay-dee.
But before the Marc Jacobs campaigns, Vogue interviews and the flagship store on Dover Street, Victoria Beckham was and forever will be a pop star.
Specifically, she’s a Spice Girl.
And while her alleged decision not to once again reunite with Baby, Sporty, Ginger and Scary for the 20th anniversary of the debut of the most iconic bubblegum pop girl group of the ’90s seems all but confirmed at this point (Geri says they’ll still go on as a foursome, which…stop right now, thank you very much), perhaps the greatest outrage of Victoria’s rocky relationship with pop is what became of her career as a solo star.
With four Top 10 singles in a row tucked under her Chanel belt and a Top 10 debut album, Victoria Beckham never once actually flopped.
She just stopped.
Following Spice’s farewell LP Forever in 2000 and her R&B-flavored self-titled debut in 2001, which spawned two hits (“Not Such An Innocent Girl” — that music video! — and “A Mind of Its Own”), Victoria set to work on a follow-up between 2002 and 2003.
That’s where the story differs slightly: According to Digital Spy, Vicky B recorded an 11-track dance-pop record speculated to be titled Open Your Eyes, but reportedly hated the songs, clashing with her then-manager Simon Fuller and her record label, Telstar Records. Instead, she teamed up with Damon Dash to set out in a more hip-hop oriented direction.
But according to a (now defunct) fan Tumblr dedicated to Victoria’s solo career, it was actually the other way around:
The first [album], known as Come Together (named for the Beatles sample used in the title track), is the record Victoria Beckham wanted to make, a hip-hop influenced opus that would (ostensibly) take her away from her aloof, Spice Girls image and transform her into a credible urban-pop musician. Working with Damon Dash in a deal which would also see her become the British face of Rocawear, Victoria attempted to craft a pop persona that fell somewhere between Teena Marie and a harder-edged Jennifer Lopez. When Telstar Records heard the recordings, they were aghast, and rightfully so: while the songs themselves aren’t bad (‘Resentment’ would later be covered by Beyoncé), they are a hard sell from an A&R’s perspective, even without taking into account her sampling of Jay-Z. A wealthy posh British woman of international affluence singing that she’s “down and keeping it real” all while appropriating hip-hop culture was always going to be difficult to market, and especially so when Beckham herself wasn’t particularly “hard” to start with.
The Telstar rebuttal to Victoria’s sonic switch-up made its way to Damon Dash, who was none too pleased with the feedback.
“Because Victoria’s record company aren’t happy about the fact that she came over to New York to work with me they are putting out stories. Before anyone’s even heard the album they were making things up. I heard a story that Victoria was calling herself the female Eminem. That’s just dumb. She never said that. I’m going to open Roc-a-Fella Records in London. I’ll show these Telstar cats how it’s done,” Dash told The Evening Standard at the time.
He even used Victoria’s music to vent: “I know y’all been hearing I’ve been working with Victoria Beckham, AKA Posh Spice,” Damon announces off the top of “Come Together” before launching into a mini-rant. “I know y’all thinking this shit doesn’t really make sense. How’s he gonna turn a pop star into a real rock star? And also I hear a lot of people saying ‘You gonna get her to rap?’ And all kinda other dumb shit like that. Well, I’m here to tell you: It’s not gonna happen.”
But Victoria ultimately did concede to her label’s wishes…sort of, anyway.
By the end of 2003, Posh found a compromise between the two sounds by releasing a double A-side just after Christmas: the pulsating “Let Your Head Go,” a criminally underrated dance-pop tune with a Mommie Dearest-referencing music video — the epitome of Posh’s camp sensibility (“I’m a gay man trapped in a woman’s body,” she’s famously said in interviews) — and the hip-hop leaning, The System–interpolating “This Groove.”
The double single sailed to the #3 spot on the UK charts, and there were even murmurs at the time of a U.S. debut as “Posh Spice Victoria Beckham.” That, of course, never happened.
By early 2004, Victoria was preparing to release a single that summer called “Mine For Real” (also known as “My Love Is For Real”), as confirmed in an interview with Marie Claire. By then, however, she was already feeling discouraged. “I used to think that if I put a good record out, like my last record [the double-sided This Groove/Let Your Head Go, released in January], that would be enough. But it’s not. The odds are so against me. I’ve spoken to [my manager] Simon [Fuller] about it – I’m not sure anyone’s ever going to give me a fair go with my music.”
Before “Mine For Real” even had the chance to hit UK radio, Telstar Records went bankrupt. And that was that.
Granted, Victoria had already made it abundantly clear that she wasn’t too jazzed about staying in the music scene on her own because of how she was being perceived by the press. In that same 2004 Marie Claire interview, she referred to music as a “hobby,” shrugging off the idea of notching more number one records. “My records have all done very well and, to anyone else, it would be a big success. It’s not the public not giving me a chance, it’s the media. And I recognize that.”
Since Victoria abandoned her solo ambitions, over two dozen tracks have leaked from those post-Victoria Beckham sessions, including the R&B-leaning set deemed Come Together, and the 11-track dance-pop oriented collection unofficially referred to as Open Your Eyes.
In retrospect, it’s a shame the second album never materialized, because there are some genuine smashes now collecting dust: “Open Your Eyes” is a throbbing, tranced-out Pride Week club anthem in the making, “Me Without You,” “Full Stop” and “Hustler” are the sort of electro-R&B seduction that wouldn’t sound out of place next to Kylie Minogue‘s Body Language, and “Be With You” is the best song chart rival Sophie Ellis-Bextor never recorded. Even her (very, very rough) original version of what would become Beyoncé‘s “Resentment” shows that, at the very least, she was on the right track when it came to cutting superstar-worthy songs.
That said, Victoria was always keenly self-aware of her musical limitations: “I was never going to give Mariah Carey any competition,” she told Marie Claire in 2010. (As if she wasn’t already my favorite Spice, that quote only makes me love her infinitely more.)
Even with just a quick glimpse of her lifestyle fifteen years later, it’s difficult to say with any sort of conviction that Victoria made the wrong decision by pursuing her passion for fashion. She’s probably right: The media wasn’t about to let her have a solo moment, anyway. And now? She’s undoubtedly winning the game.
At least there’s one thing that can never be taken away: Reunion or otherwise, she will always be Posh. (And to be fair to Victoria, she has done two major reunions with the girls already.)
Still, somewhere in some far off in an alternate universe, there’s an alien version of Victoria Beckham — one that did decide to break the American market and rocket to solo superstardom around the world — balancing her time between a global Spice Girls 20th Anniversary reunion tour and setting up for her fabulous, feather and glitter-filled Las Vegas residency next to Britney and J.Lo with an arsenal of hit solo singles at her disposal.
A midnight fantasy, but a boy can still dream.