The 2016 Summer Olympics may invoke the Carnival-ready rhythms of Rio de Janeiro, but one thing’s for sure: We’re still reeling from the star-studded explosion of British pop that saw the return of the Spice Girls and One Direction zipping around an arena on a flatbed truck at the 2012 Olympics in London, and Rio’s going to have a tough time measuring up to that.
Katy Perry didn’t parachute out of the sky to sing “Rise” for the Olympic’s kick-off event or anything — but that’s not a huge deal. The performance component of both the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics traditionally celebrates the styles, artists, and songs that put the hosting nation on the musical map, so it was perfect to lead with a ceremony that put a spotlight on the sounds of Brazil with performances from Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Anitta, and more last night at Maracana Stadium.
“Rise” isn’t scheduled to get the live treatment for Rio’s closing ceremony on August 21, either, but even if it did, there’s no way it would be able to pack the same pop heat of its predecessor.
While the 2012 closing ceremony brought forth memorable moments from Ed Sheeran, Annie Lennox, George Michael, Jessie J, Taio Cruz, and a handful of rockers born and bred in the United Kingdom, there are two performances that strike a super nostalgic chord in 2016: The baby-faced boys of One Direction singing “What Makes You Beautiful,” and the Spice Girls performing a brief medley of some of their biggest hits.
To watch this clip of “What Makes You Beautiful” (fast-forward to just before the 24:00 mark) pulls at the heartstrings of Directioners everywhere, as there was no indication back then that the guys would be calling it quits by the time the next Summer Olympics rolled around. Harry’s hair is still swooping in that adorable bob, Zayn’s got a few less tattoos, Louis was just a dude (and not a dad), and they were still the sweethearts of The X Factor before adulthood creeped in and creative differences had the gents splitting off in, erm, different directions.
It’s stranger still to think that four more years would pass before rumors of a Spice Girls reunion tour would be taken seriously (even though we’re totally against it). Spice fever is seeing a resurgence thanks to this year marking the 20th anniversary of their debut, so it’s the ideal time to revisit this 2012 reunion, which had Scary, Sporty, Baby, Ginger, and Posh singing through “Wannabe” and climbing atop their own LED-bedazzled black cabs to roar through “Spice Up Your Life” without skipping a beat.
Between these two show-stopping sets, Fatboy Slim DJing in the middle of a giant inflatable octopus (seriously), and Noel Gallagher performing Oasis’s career-defining hit “Wonderwall” with his band Beady Eye, it’s safe to say that the closing ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics is the stuff of legend for pop fans and quite possibly the best closing ceremony, at that. Your move, Rio.