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.)
Flashback to Y2K with the parody pop group Girls5eva. Credit: Heidi Gutman/Peacock
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
“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.'”
In one episode, the women return to the mall that made them famous — only to find it had fared just about as well as their pop careers. Credit: Heidi Gutman/Peacock
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.
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