‘Girls5Eva’: Exploring the False Allure of ‘Girl Power’ Pop Stardom

"I look back [at] the era of 'Girl Power'... if you look at the power structure behind them, it's not so female. They have very little power," said series creator Meredith Scardino.
(l-r) Busy Philipps as Summer, Renée Elise Goldsberry as Wickie, Sara Bareilles as Dawn, Paula Pell as Gloria -- (Photo by: Heidi Gutman/Peacock)
Heidi Gutman/Peacock

Peacock’s “Girls5Eva” is a joy to watch. The series, focused on four women who were part of a ’90s girl group reuniting as forty-somethings, is perfect for anyone who grew up idolizing the pop stars of the era. But for the cast and its creator, it was an opportunity to talk about a variety of feminist topics that weren’t exactly addressed during that time period.

Series creator Meredith Scardino wanted to dive into two places she was exploring in her life. She was creatively drawn to situations that require strangers to be thrown together, and at the same time she noticed the reunions of numerous groups from the 1990s and 2000s, like the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys. The ideas started clicking from there, with Scardino seeing the landscape of music as fertile territory to talk about being a woman — as opposed to being a teenager when you’re often drawn to situations that might be problematic in hindsight. “You see your [20s] as such a high point in your life,” Scardino said. “But then you look back and say, ‘OK, maybe some of that stuff was a bit toxic.”

Singer, Tony winner, and actress Renee Elise Goldsberry, who plays the group’s diva Wickie, certainly identified with the concept. “It [was] kind of kismet because I was in a moment in my life where I was trying to write an album and imagining what landscape, and what audience, was there for me at this age,” Goldsberry told IndieWire. She said the pilot lovingly hurt her feelings a bit, but inspired her to do exactly what the women of the series are doing: Use your voice and recognize that it will connect with the people it should connect with.

“Girls5Eva” is eerily prescient, especially as audiences are confronting the way we’ve responded to the likes of Britney Spears, Monica Lewinsky, and others. For Busy Philipps, who plays the daffy Summer, it was a grand example of art reflecting on life, her life specifically. Philipps was one of several young actresses of the early 2000s who has been vocal about the sexism and misogyny she’s experienced in the industry.

Busy Philipps, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Sara Bareilles, Paula Pell

Scardino said she didn’t set out to imitate or duplicate other stars of the era, and neither did Philipps — even though Summer feels like the closest to Spears or Jessica Simpson. Instead, the actress said she drew on her own history. “The first year I was on Dawson’s Creek I had a general meeting with the head of some big film studio [for a teen horror movie],” Philipps said. “[They] said to me, ‘Unless you make it into the Maxim Hot 100 you can basically forget the deal.” Philipps would end up posing for one of those magazines — she forgets which one — and still didn’t get the movie.

The need to conform is also evident in the landscape of sexuality in music, and a key subplot in “Girls5Eva” is how the character of Gloria (Paula Pell) deals with her younger self hiding that she was a lesbian. “When I was little we had such a dearth of gay content,” Pell said. “Being a lesbian [you] cling to that one thing,” whether that be a serial killer in the “Basic Instinct” mold or an overly masculine FedEx driver Pell explains, citing the musical “Fun Home.” The writer and actress said she noticed when the Spice Girls became big there was a heavy amount of subtext with regards to Sporty Spice’s (aka Melanie Chisholm) sexuality.

“I would kind of look at her in a different way,” Pell said. “I looked at Sporty Spice and was like, ‘Oh, that’s code.'” Doing the flashback episode of the series whenGloria’s younger self, played by Erika Henningsen, has to lie about her sexuality — it got to Pell. Pell said it brought up when she had her first girlfriend — a fact she had to hide — and when the two broke up she couldn’t share the heartbreak.

Philipps said she’s happy we’re reevaluating women. “I’m grateful that there’s been a reckoning,” she said. “It’s not going beyond illegal behavior. It’s that you don’t get to be an asshole just because you’re smart, or creative, or make a lot of money.” Ultimately, Scardino wanted “Girls5Eva” to look at stardom and see how much of it was driven by the wrong people. “I look back [at] the era of ‘Girl Power’… if you look at the power structure behind them it’s not so female. They have very little power,” Scardino said.

Hopefully that power dynamic — at least in the world of “Girls5Eva” — is changing.

“Girls5Eva” is now streaming on Peacock.

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