Writer: Holly G! (Holly Golightly)
Pencils: Holly G!
Inking: Rudy Lapick
Lettering: Bill Yoshida
Coloring: Barry Grossman
Original Publication: Cheryl Blossom, No. 21
Cover Date: April, 1999
Length: 11 pages
Although I have the original issue, I’m reviewing this story from the digital edition.
This is the beginning of a new era for Cheryl Blossom. There’s a new writer/artist: Holly K. Golightly (better known as Holly G!). It was her stories that really made me fall in love with Cheryl. You can see her artwork right away on the front cover (whereas Dan DeCarlo drew the covers for Dan Parent’s run on the title), assisted by longtime Archie artist Henry Scarpelli.
Also, Rudy Lapick is back as the inker, having previously inked the stories in two of the miniseries.
The indicia indicates new issues were not released in January or July, meaning this issue likely came out in February, making it the first issue of 1999. Musically, the Britney Spears era had only recently begun – with the “…Baby One More Time” single released on September 28 of the previous year and the …Baby One More Time album released on January 12. I’ll have more to say about the music scene in a bit, since this story is all about music from this particular moment in history.
Anyway, let’s get into it:
Cheryl is reading a music magazine (in her dad’s study, for whatever reason) and is like “Holy fucking shit!” at what she reads. Her dad asks about it, and Cheryl tries to downplay her reaction as just being to news that the new CD by Backstreet Boys knockoffs has been delayed.
Clifford asks her if she doesn’t think there are more important things to fret over. She agrees but is silently relieved that she didn’t let on about what really got her psyched: an audition for a new Sugar Girl after Ginger Sugar leaves the band.
Okay, I admit I wasn’t a Spice Girls fan. I had heard “Wannabe“, of course (it was inescapable), but I was never really interested in the band. I’ve always been late getting into music. I first got into 1980s music during the mid-1990s, and I started checking out 1990s music later. Only now am I taking an interest in current music.
Anyway, the Spice Girls were fucking huge. I cannot overstate this. They were everywhere. In doing research, I was surprised to discover they had basically kicked off the girl group craze (surprising, considering the existence of the Bangles, the Go-Go’s, and Bananarama). Apparently, before that, the general feeling was both males and females would be intimidated by girl groups. The Spice Girls changed that in 1996 (and spawned numerous copycat groups as a result as record labels searched for “the next Spice Girls”). Unlike previous girl groups, whose members went for a homogenous look and whose music was primarily bought by males, they focused on a female audience with an unabashed “Girl Power” fierceness and rejected a homogenous group identity in favor of their five distinct personalities and styles, which encouraged fans to identify with one member or another. And they were a massive hit. Like, seriously. Spice became the best-selling album by a girl group of all time. They followed up on that success with Spiceworld in 1997 (1998 for U.S. wide release) and the Spice World movie. They are the second-best-selling British group of all time, behind only the Beatles. They are the best-selling girl group of all time, claiming in excess of 100,000,000 album sales. The second-best-selling girl group of all time, the Supremes, claims only 50,000,000-100,000,000 album sales, and they had 29 albums. The Spice Girls beat their record with only 3 albums. Geri Halliwell announced her departure from the group (through her solicitor) on May 31, 1998; it was a shock and became one of the biggest entertainment news stories of the year, making entertainment news headlines the world over.
Yeah, this issue actually came out around 8-9 months after Ginger’s departure, but the story is treating it as a current event. This isn’t the only time that Archie Comics has been behind the times and treated something old as something current (or even the most extreme example of it), but I actually don’t blame Holly for using it for her story. After all, she had just taken over the title, and there really wasn’t any other comparable situation in the world of music. Plus Cheryl being a replacement for Ginger (another redhead) was too perfect to not do anything with. In real life, the Spice Girls never added a replacement member; they simply continued on as a quartet. But let’s see where this story goes.
So Cheryl plots to audition in secret. I guess she hopes to convince her dad to let her join the group after the fact? By the way, Cheryl has blue eyes in this story.
It turns out that the auditions start today at 4:00 PM. That’s certainly not much advance notice. A panicking Cheryl calls for the car.
Soon, Cheryl is arriving at the Sugar Girls’ very own studio, the Sugar Factory, in her red limousine (covered with blossoms and inscribed with her signature). We’re introduced to Cheryl’s chauffeur, Jamie, a young woman with short brown hair. Cheryl has Jamie let her off here, so she can make her “big entrance”, convinced that her “elite beauty will part that sea of plain Janes”.
Before we move on, I have to ask: What the fuck? The Spice Girls are a distinctly British group. Even this fictional version is British, judging by a phrase used by one of its members. So why the fuck is their recording studio within driving distance of Cheryl’s house? And don’t say “Because Cheryl is the protagonist.” This is a common problem in Archie Comics: a lot of stuff involving famous people unrealistically happens within the main characters’ stomping grounds, solely so they don’t have to travel far. So, yeah, the “world search” for the new member of a British girl group is happening in Pembrooke or Riverdale.
A local news reporter is covering the event and is excited when “our very own Cheryl Blossom” gets out of the limo. The four remaining Sugar Girls are watching Cheryl from a second-floor window of the Sugar Factory. They’ve got the same nicknames as the Spice Girls (and conveniently refer to each other by those names). They’re already impressed by Cheryl: she’s “totally phat” and “definitely has the Sugar style”. I mean, really, I’m not that impressed by Cheryl’s weird multi-colored coat, but the blue boots are nice.
I’m already noticing a change in the panel layouts compared to Dan Parent. There are more double and even quadruple panels (as well as small insert panels).
Scary has their manager, Marvin, bring Cheryl up here. Marvin seems to be a stand-in for the Spice Girls’ real-life manager, Simon Fuller. Cheryl is not surprised to be summoned.
I guess someone took her coat on her way upstairs. Anyway, the girls hit it off. Cheryl is put in the recording booth to see if she has “the Sugar sound”. Why not just sing in front of the others? Anyway, I guess Cheryl’s singing has improved, since they find her “not bad”. Sporty can help her with her dance moves.
Cheryl’s tryout went “fairly well”. She’s “a tad rough around the edges”, but they can give her “the ‘Sugar’ polish” that she needs. Cheryl is surprised and overjoyed. So overjoyed, in fact, that she actually exclaims “Squeal!!” So that’s it? They hire Cheryl without seeing any more people? The crowd outside is gonna be pissed. Marvin says they have to work out “the small stuff”, like her salary, starting date, and age. Cheryl hadn’t considered that last detail, so she decides to lie (rather unconvincingly, but they buy it, anyway) and say she’s 20. How could Cheryl have not considered this before? Wouldn’t the notification of the audition in the paper have specified an age requirement? Anyway, Marvin dubs Cheryl “Sugar Blossom”, and Cheryl is overjoyed. Um, no, that’s bullshit. There are contracts to sign, and Cheryl would have to provide a form of identification. There’s no way that “it’s set” (as Marvin says) just based on everyone’s say-so. Besides, Cheryl is a well-known celebrity in her own right. Remember the Beach House series that she hosted last summer? Everyone in America knows who she is. And they’d know her series ended, because the new school year started.
Anyway, it seems Cheryl is still a minor; otherwise, it would make no sense for her to lie about her age. Again, assuming she’s just on the cusp of turning 18 (which she probably isn’t, because she could have just went with that, but let’s use that for the sake of discussion), then she would have turned 16 (and thus been eligible to drive) roughly two years earlier, around the time that issue #1 of this ongoing series came out. Yeah, that would mean all of the Specials and miniseries came out before the “driving window”. I wonder if we should still consider them to be in continuity at this point – or just the ongoing series.
Back at the Blossom mansion, Clifford is watching TV while wondering what Cheryl is up to, because the house is “quite quiet”. The reporter from earlier comes on and announces the first Sugar Girls press conference. Clifford is vaguely aware that Cheryl likes the band. He’s shocked to see Cheryl on TV. She’s sitting in the middle with the band at a table. She cheerfully exclaims “Blossom Power!”, but Sporty elbows her and corrects her that it’s “Girl Power!” Sugar Blossom is introduced to the world by her nickname. Clifford flips his shit when he learns her alleged age.
Thirty minutes later, the group is in a dressing room, changing clothes for their next TV appearance, a knockoff of The Rosie O’Donnell Show. Marvin gives them a 10-minute reminder. Baby compliments Cheryl’s outfit but says she looks “way younger than 20”. Cheryl nervously bullshits about her habits. Why didn’t she say she was 18? Marvin tells them that it’s showtime.
The girls walk out on the stage cheering “Girl Power!!” Rosie questions “the new sugar cube in the bowl”. Cheryl gushes about her “dream come true”. Apparently, it’s been only 3.5 hours since Cheryl’s been made part of the group. No way could they go from acceptance to a press conference to a booked TV appearance that quickly. Anyway, Rosie jokingly says Cheryl is 13 years old, and Cheryl nervously insists she’s 20. How has no one informed the group that Cheryl isn’t 20 by this point?
They go to questions from the audience. Somehow, Clifford had managed to get into the studio audience and publicly busts Cheryl (and humiliates her).
The next morning, an upset Cheryl is having eggs benedict for breakfast. Jason tells her to stop pouting. Cheryl complains. Clifford tells Cheryl to “stop picking on” Jason. He tells Cheryl that she’s still famous; she headlined the Entertainment section of the newspaper. Jason is surprised. Cheryl is excited. Clifford shows them. There’s a photo of Clifford angrily pulling a crying Cheryl away by the wrist. The headline reads “Cheryl Blossom’s Sweet Taste of Success Ruined by ‘Sugar’ Daddy!” Jason laughs. Cheryl finds it humiliating.
This story was pretty dumb. I know that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for the new writer, but it really does feel like something that Dan Parent would have written: a highly improbable “instant fame” story where Cheryl is her own hinderance. Really, what the fuck was Cheryl’s plan? The group members were literally some of the biggest pop culture icons of the 1990s. There was no way that Cheryl was going to keep any of this quiet.
This really deserved to be an issue-length story – or even an ongoing storyline. Drop the age requirement. Have Cheryl’s parents be open to her becoming a pop singer and assign her a private tutor as other underage celebrities get. As it is, Cheryl just comes off as extremely stupid and short-sighted.
It’s a shame, because this really is almost the only time in history that this storyline could have been done (except maybe ripping off Pussycat Girls Present: The Search for the Next Doll in 2007). Girl groups aren’t really a thing in the West anymore. The focus is more on individual pop singers and occasional collaborations between them.
So what happened to the group in real life? They released their third album, Forever, in late 2000 and went on hiatus in December of that year after sales didn’t measure up to their previous two albums. They first reunited in 2007, and Ginger has been a part of all of their reunions. So it looks like Cheryl might not have missed out on much.
In the middle of the story is a page of Cheryl fan art (with entries from Arthur Bryan of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; Cheri Scott of Hartselle, Alabama; Kelsey Fenton of Prince George, British Columbia, Canada; Lindsay Kurty of Pittsford, New York; and Lynn Coleman of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania).
After the story is a 1-page Cheryl illustration titled “Cheryl Blossom Festival Fashion”.