Spice Girl's Tour Divorce

"It was a shock to us, a complete shock," continues the self-consciously stylish Posh, a.k.a. Victoria Adams, 23 (at least in Spice years; some of their ages have been more hotly debated in the press than welfare reform). "But we've always said that if anybody was unhappy, they should leave. The most important thing is our friendship. Fundamentally, we're friends."

Even more fundamentally, the Spice Girls are a hugely profitable merchandising machine, one of the most successful marketing engines ever to roll off the pop-music assembly line. Not only have they sold more than 30 million albums internationally, signed multiple megabuck endorsement deals (with Pepsi, Sony, and Benetton, among others), and even made a spot of money with a movie (Spice World grossed $77 million worldwide), their names and likenesses have also been used to peddle everything from candy bars to bed linens to Barbie-like dolls. In England, epicenter of the Spice Quake, only Lady Di's face is plastered on as many T-shirts, posters, and buttons—and she never had a brand of potato crisps named after her. Globally, the group's total grosses so far have been estimated at $500-800 million—not including the $60 million they're projected to rake in from their mostly sold-out American tour.

What's made all this such a riveting spectacle—even for those old enough to remember a time when kids had a favorite Monkee—is how incredibly quickly the whole thing has unfolded. In just two short years, the Spice Girls have traveled the entire whirling circle of prefab fame, from the rush of instant stardom (photo ops with the royals, meetings with Nelson Mandela) to the sting of media backlash (gossip about lip-synching, fat jokes in the press). They've suffered internal power struggles (resulting in the firing of their first manager) and sex scandals (resulting in the firing of the second), endured public humiliations (getting booed off a stage in Barcelona) and premature obituaries (with Halliwell's defection provoking yet another round of fresh breakup rumors).

And now this latest gripping chapter: the Ginger Doesn't Live Here Anymore Tour, in which the group will play to packed houses in 40 North American cities with arguably their most flavorful member missing from the mix. "We didn't see it coming," says Sporty, 24, the always athletically garbed Spice (her real name is Melanie Chisholm). "She just said, 'Look, girls, I don't want to go to America for the tour.' We tried to change her mind, but she was set in it. And we respected her decision. We're all good friends."

"Obviously, it was a shock," says the pigtailed, lollipop-sucking Baby (also known as Emma Bunton, 22). "But she just had different ideas about what she wanted to do. And we've always been behind each other a hundred percent. Fundamentally, the Spice Girls are about friendship."

"She just wanted to move on and do her own thing," repeats Scary, 23, the Spice with the most piercings (her real name is...oh, like it matters). "We support her and say good luck."