What the Spice Girls Gave the World

A walk down memory lane as silly song 'Wannabe' turns 20

The year was 1996. The place: Britain. The United Kingdom was in the midst of an identity crisis, trying to shrug off a fuddy-duddy image and replace it with something known as “Cool Brittania” — a newer, hipper Britain for a more modern age. And nothing was cooler, or more modern, or more British than the Spice Girls.

The group’s groundbreaking first single, “Wannabe,” hit the shelves 20 years ago last week.

“Wannabe” holds the record for the all-time best-selling single by a female group. Those first three seconds — when we hear Melanie Brown’s footsteps and her raucous laughter — are the most recognizable in the past 70 years, according to a 2014 study by Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry.

People can actually identify “Wannabe” within 2.29 seconds — half the time it takes people to recognize most popular songs. This makes the pop hit the catchiest song in music history, according to The Independent.

Part of the song’s allure is that it doesn’t sound like a traditional pop song from 1996, when the biggest hit was the English-language version of “Macarena.” It features call and response, rap, some complete nonsense lyrics (“zigaziga-ah,” for example), and a lot of in-jokes.

[lz_third_party includes=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJLIiF15wjQ”]

Do you support individual military members being able to opt out of getting the COVID vaccine?

By completing the poll, you agree to receive emails from LifeZette, occasional offers from our partners and that you've read and agree to our privacy policy and legal statement.

“It’s quite anarchic,” co-songwriter Richard “Biff” Stannard told The Telegraph. “There are a lot of critics who consider it a punk record because it’s quite wild, and the way it was recorded and written was like a punk song. It was in no way a contrived, crafted pop masterpiece that we sat down and specified.”

The song is about friendship and equality — much like its creators. Victoria Adams (Posh Spice), Melanie Brown (Scary Spice), Emma Bunton (Baby Spice), Melanie Chisholm (Sporty Spice), and Geri Halliwell (Ginger Spice) had a clear vision for their group and an outspoken ethos that stood out against the barrage of prefabricated boy bands.

When a lazy magazine editor christened them with monikers, they took them and ran with them, according to Melanie Brown in an interview with The Huffington Post. The different outfits and styles became iconic, inextricably tied to the band’s identity.

Alice Jones, in an article for The Independent, described them as “trailblazers” despite being a manufactured girl band. “They performed like pros but were never too slick — always singing and talking over one another, often falling out of their clothes and with each other … They were also nakedly ambitious and greedy for success.”

A 1998 BBC article went so far as to refer to them as “Britain’s most successful band since The Beatles.”

Posh Spice proudly proclaimed they wanted to be as much of a household name as certain laundry detergents (Posh, now a fashion icon and part of a celebrity power couple with soccer superstar husband David Beckham, has probably succeeded). Prime Minister Tony Blair bragged he could name more Spice Girls than his Conservative opposition.

The five women even starred in their own movie, 1997’s “Spice World,” which featured “The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s” Meat Loaf and Richard O’Brien, as well as Alan Cumming and James Bond’s very own Roger Moore.

The Spice Girls’ meteoric rise was abruptly halted in 1998, when Geri Halliwell left the group. Though the remaining four members continued touring and recording, the magic was gone. The group was criticized for “selling out” with numerous merchandising deals pushing the Girls on girls. And there were plenty of people who saw them as little more than frivolous, irrelevant, and annoying.

The group went on indefinite hiatus in 2000, reuniting for a tour in 2007 and performing in the 2012 London Olympics closing ceremony. Rumors have persisted that at least three members (Scary, Baby, and Ginger) might return for another tour.

Today, the Spice Girls are best remembered for their impact on pop music. Singers such as Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Lady Gaga owe a debt to the Spice Girls for promoting “girl power” and female individuality. A “Wannabe” remix was even the subject of a recent viral video for the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Empowerment campaign, shown below.

[lz_third_party includes=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZQ2RUFd54o”]

Join the Discussion

Comments are currently closed.