Credit: Heidi Gutman/Peacock
'Girls5eva' and 5 recommendations to revisit Y2K
Keeping you in the know, Culture Queue is an ongoing series of recommendations for timely books to read, films to watch and podcasts and music to listen to.
Record labels of the late 1990s and 2000s curated a seemingly endless march of girl groups in matchy-matchy outfits, all vying to be the next Spice Girls or Destiny's Child. But after a fall from the top 10 of "TRL" or the afterglow of "Making the Band" fame, what happened to these ephemeral pop stars?
That question became the starting point for Peacock's "Girls5eva," a new musical comedy series by "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" writer Meredith Scardino and executive produced by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. Starring Sara Bareilles, Busy Philipps, Renée Elise Goldsberry and Paula Pell as Y2K one-hit wonders -- reminiscent of Dream or Eden's Crush -- the girls get the titular band back together two decades after their breakup, when their famous earworm gets sampled by a popular rapper named Lil' Stinker.
Now in her 40s, Bareilles' character, Dawn -- who was known as the "chill one" -- hears the chorus mid-mammogram, and rallies the other women to collect their royalty checks: Summer, the "hot one" is a mother in questionable marriage and an aspiring Real Housewife; Wickie, the "fierce one," has a lifestyle brand, or so-called "fempire"; and Gloria, the "always working one," is a dentist and one-half of the first gay couple in New York to get divorced. (Viewers learn that the group's fifth member -- Ashley, the "fun one" -- died in 2004 in a harrowing infinity pool accident and is memorialized with a sad park bench.)
In creating the show, Scardino fell down a rabbit hole searching online for some of the less famous girl banders who didn't wind up extending their careers as solo artists or reality show judges.
"I just think it's interesting, the dynamic of strangers thrown together, (who get) promised the world basically, and for a minute, that's what's happening," she said in a video call. "Some people have staying power, like the Spice Girls... but a lot of them are a blip, and then it's over. What do you do? How do you get your life together?"
In their heyday, Girls5eva had the familiar girl group tropes -- the girl who left to pursue a solo career; the girl who can't actually sing -- as well as a few idiosyncrasies, including "D'WASG," a word they coined for the "electric feeling" they get while singing together. (An insistent Summer told a skeptical Larry King in edited CNN archival footage that D'WASG had the right to be a word just like any other: "That's how words work; they're all made up, Larry!")
But the show isn't just millennial throwback references -- it also juxtaposes two decades together and explores what it's like to navigate both as the women age.
"A lot of the (show) is just remembering what it was like to be like a woman at 18 years old or 20 years old around that time," Scardino said.
Reframing the new millennium
The show arrives at a time when an early 2000s revival is in full swing, led by Gen Z (and perhaps now bolstered by the rumored return of Bennifer). Peep the "Y2K" hashtag on TikTok to see the return of tiny braids, glittery butterfly clips, pencil-thin eyebrows and inflatable furniture.
But in the time that it's taken for the rise of jeans to mercifully migrate above our belly buttons, the world has faced a reckoning over how female pop stars have been treated. There's been intense scrutiny, for example, over Kesha's long and public legal battle with her producer Dr. Luke, as well as the paparazzi-fueled culture that made every aspect of Britney Spears' personal life fair game for public consumption.
"Every toxic industry... used to be like, well, that's just the way it is; you hack it or you don't," Scardino said. "And now I feel like (we're) being led by the young people in the world (who are) saying, 'but it shouldn't be that way.'"
As the members of Girls5eva find their new voices as middle-aged women with kids and mortgages and anxiety and deeply entrenched habits, they've got plenty of work to do, both in their personal lives and on their new lyrics. Scardino believes the show's sentimentality for the era of shiny lip gloss and color-coordinated fashion comes with the territory, but it isn't the point.
"I didn't think about it (as) being a show that was about nostalgia," she said. "I just thought about it like, these are women who need to reckon with their past a little bit and where they came from in order to grow today."
The first season of "Girls5eva" is streaming now on Peacock.
Add to queue: Return to Y2K
Listen: "Right Back At Ya!" (2018-ongoing)
Actor David Lim and producer Joel Babbington throw it back to 2000s pop music in this podcast, which takes a deep dive into a different act in each episode. They recently covered UK girl group Sugababes as well as the Swedish ABBA-tribute quartet A*Teens.
Watch: "Spice Girls: Giving You Everything" (2007)
BBC aired this Spice Girls doc nearly 15 years ago, ahead of their much-awaited reunion tour, and it's available in its entirety on YouTube. Revisit it ahead of your next dose of girl power -- a new documentary is reportedly due out later this year in honor of the 25th anniversary of their first single, "Wannabe."
Read: "Open Book" by Jessica Simpson (2020)
The pop star-turned-billion-dollar-fashion mogul released this bestselling memoir last year based on the deeply personal journals she's kept since she skyrocketed to fame. Simpson bares her soul in her writing, including revelations on her recent troubles with addiction.
Listen: "Now That's What I Call Music! 5" (2000)
The international "Now..." series has relentlessly marched on for four decades, and the US version, which has now seen 78 volumes, began in 1998. Its fifth release in Y2K, featuring Britney Spears, Destiny's Child, NSYNC, Backstreet Boys and Mandy Moore, went quadruple platinum -- a rare feat for any album.
Watch: "Framing Britney Spears" (2021)
If you didn't catch the much-talked-about Spears' episode of The New York Times' docuseries, the 74-minute film details her meteoric rise and the cruelties that came with her celebrity, as well as her career-long struggle for agency, particularly in light of her long-standing court-ordered conservatorship.