Spice Girls, Wannabe, Spıce, Anniversary, Pop Culture, Feminism, Girl Power, Geri Halliwell, Emma Bunton, Melanie Chisolm, Melanie Brown, Mel C, Mel B, Victoria Beckham, Victoria Adams

Spice Girls, Wannabe

Wannabe is 25. This is the Spice Girls' enduring legacy

Wannabe is 25. This is the Spice Girls' enduring legacy

30/07/2021 11:35:00 PM

Wannabe is 25. This is the Spice Girls ' enduring legacy

It's been 25 years since the Spice Girls gave us Wannabe . Here's why the world’s biggest girl band has left a lasting mark on pop culture and a generation of young women.

Print text onlyPrintCancelPicking through the annals of pop culture, there are artists whose success spans generations. The Beatles? Sure. Dolly Parton? Absolutely.But there's not many whose stardom endures without continuous reinvention and releasing new music.

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Twenty-five years ago this month, the Spice Girls burst onto the music scene with their debut hit, Wannabe, introducing the world to arguably pop music's greatest mystery: what exactly is a zigazig ah?The track that the Girls wrote in half an hour and jumped through hoops to release as their debut single was a certified banger: it entered the UK charts at number three and swiftly climbed to number one.

It would go on to sell 7 million copies worldwide and top the charts in 37 countries. In Australia, it spent 11 weeks at number one.Their debut album, SPICE, followed in November 1996, and the second, Spiceworld, a year later. Their stratospheric rise was unlike any other group before them — except perhaps one. headtopics.com

"Not since four boys from Liverpool in the '60s has one group become so big, so fast," noted Stan Grant in a 1998 interview with the Spice Girls on their first feature film.The Spice Girls' brand was everywhere in the '90s, from barbie dolls to Polaroid cameras to Impulse body spray.

(PA/AFP)The fab five — Geri Halliwell, Melanie Brown, Melanie Chisholm, Victoria Adams and Emma Bunton, later dubbed Ginger, Scary, Sporty, Posh and Baby by the UK press — were everywhere.But the Spice supremacy was cut short in 1998 when Halliwell left the band, sending fans into mourning.

In the intervening years, various band members attempted reincarnations and while none quite reached the lofty heights of the Spice Girls' pre-millennium stardom, something about them keeps fans coming back.The Spice Girls are so cemented in British pop culture, they performed a special reunion number at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

(Reuters: Kai Pfaffenbach)More than two decades after the fivesome's last release, the group sold out a 13-date stadium tour in 2019, raking in $78.2 million and crashing ticketing websites.So why are so many still so obsessed with the Spice Girls? headtopics.com

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UK journalist and self-confessed obsessive Lauren Bravo wrote the book on Generation Spice. She says it's hard to pin down what makes the Spice Girls so special, but their influence is undeniable.When five become oneFor Bravo, the Spice Girls' very approach to the concept of "girl band" was new.

While their road to fame essentially began in a talent agency auditions room, they were very much behind the wheel for a couple of unconventional turns along the way.LoadingAfter responding to an ad seeking "streetwise, outgoing, ambitious and dedicated" young women for an "all-female pop act", the Girls spent months singing, dancing and messing about in the studio. But they soon gave their sluggish management team the flick.

The band famously absconded with the master recordings from their first sessions (including Wannabe) and set off around the country in Halliwell's Fiat Uno to find new managers. Eventually, they signed with Simon Fuller and secured a deal with Virgin Records. The rest is pop history.

The '90s were a huge time for boy bands, but few all-female line-ups had cracked the pop mainstream — with the notable exception of R&B acts like TLC in the US.While other artists were singing about being "everything I am because you loved me", the Spice Girls' debut was about friendship. The band co-wrote every song they released and fought hard with their record label to push Wannabe out as their first single. headtopics.com

In Bravo's book, she posits the Spice Girls gave a generation their first glimpse of the power of friendship.(Supplied: Lauren Bravo)"The Spice Girls were doing something that no-one else was doing. And that actually made it really hard for them to get signed," Bravo says.

"They were always being told, 'girls don't sell magazines, girls don't sell records'. And of course, they were just so determined to prove them wrong. Which they did."They were the first people to be doing that very mainstream, girl-focused pop."

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That mainstream success may have something to do with what Bravo sees as a dismissal of their music as surface-level, manufactured pop. Rolling Stone's Christina Kelly described their first album as "a watered-down mix of hip-hop and cheesy pop balladry".

But money talks. Further to its millions in CD and cassette sales, Wannabe alone has been streamed more than 600 million times on Spotify — that's more than 3,000 years of listening time."With the benefit of hindsight, I think we look back at that music and realise that actually, they were really brilliantly written pop tunes," Bravo says.

"I think they did kick off a big, definitive wave of girl bands through the late 90s and into the noughties."All Saints released their smash debut Never Ever in ‘97 and by the millennium, we had Sugababes, B*Witched, Atomic Kitten and Australia's own Bardot.

Australia's own Bardot — the product of a televised talent scout — was among the wave of girl bands welcoming in the 2000s.(AAP: Julian Smith)Bravo notes, "you can draw a direct line from the Spice Girls to Little Mix", arguably the UK’s second-biggest girl band export. Fast-forward to now, and it's easy to see the similarities between the Spice Girls' style of world domination and that of K-pop royalty BLACKPINK.

"Before the Spice Girls, it was really unusual for a mainstream pop act to not all be dressed the same. They would all be dressed generally in different versions of the same look," Bravo says."Whereas the Spice Girls kicked back against their managers and said: 'No, we want our five very distinctive individual style personas.'

"Little girls could look at them and say: 'Oh, that one's me, and that one's my friend. And we're different, but we're equal."The Spice Girls' 2019 tour (minus Victoria Beckham) sold out within minutes.()The platform-sized footprint on fashion

Bravo says all fashion is cyclical, but there are a few special '90s nods making the rounds today that are distinctly spicy."There is still a real power in wearing a really chunky trainer or a chunky platform boot. And it's a very different kind of sexy, because it just gives you that stomp and presence in a room," she says.

Besides the big shoes and tiny crop tops, COVID has heralded in a resurgence in athleisure — Sporty’s signature look. Bravo's also seen a real trend in exaggerated "costume" dressing.The Spice Girls each found their own distinctive style persona.

(Reuters: Jerry Lampen)"[The Spice Girls] weren't afraid to be a little bit camp, a bit theatrical with their looks," she notes.“I find it really exciting to see younger girls on Instagram and Tik Tok now who will do the whole head-to-toe pastels, like Baby, or loads of animal prints, and not be afraid to wear something that is maybe a bit extra.

"I think the Gen Zs are wearing [these styles] without even necessarily knowing that it's something that came from the Spice Girls."Of course, she notes, the Spice Girls were "a massive pick and mix of influences" themselves, drawing inspiration from the '60s and '70s and injecting some much-needed pops of colour into the minimalism of the '90s.

"I guess they were very instagrammable before it was a thing."Bravo says the Spice Girls' "iconic" 1998 film Spice World was a symbol of their brand: "It was always about the visual, the colour and the variety".()What about girl power?

For Bravo, the Spice Girls' lasting impact isn't their influence on music or fashion, but their message of empowerment:"That sense of: 'Yeah, girls can do anything. Girls are allowed to be loud and bolshie and outspoken. And they don't necessarily have to be the most qualified, the most flawless, they can have fun while they're doing it.'

"I think the fun element was really, really important. It was just giving us that confidence to be noisy, to ask for what we wanted. To never have to apologise for being who we were."Bravo says the Spice Girls did to feminism "something that was very '90s … they kind of repackaged it in quite a commercial way".

(PA via Getty: Neil Munns)Nobody's here to argue the Spice Girls invented feminism — Bravo notes even their famous catchphrase, girl power, was co-opted from the Riot Grrrl punk scene of the early '90s.But their unbridled and unapologetic celebration of girls and women took it to the mainstream, albeit in a simplified and commercialised way.

"I think it was the accessibility of the Spice Girls that made them so magical," Bravo says."The Spice Girls were really one of the first public figures presenting feminism in a way that was very mainstream and very accessible to people who previously would have been overlooked by the movement, or who would have felt that they didn't have a place in it, because they perhaps weren't educated enough, or edgy enough.

"It was squeaky and bubblegum and bright and colourful and fun and alluring to very young girls. And that was really special. Because it meant that it gave us a bit of a foothold into what then became feminism as we grew up."Bravo notes the Spice Girls' fanbase was young, but they've remained loyal.

(Reuters: Lorraine O'Sullivan)As for how that legacy holds up today, and what the Spice Girls' brand of feminism has evolved into, Bravo says it's quite rightly become a lot more inclusive."It's easy to look back and give them stick now for not being inclusive by modern standards. You look at them now and you think, ‘five thin, conventionally beautiful women, one of whom was mixed race, it doesn't feel diverse’," she says.

Bravo notes that's something the Spice Girls are now trying to update "in their own cheesy way". The tagline for their 2019 tour (sans Victoria Beckham) proclaimed: "We welcome all ages, all races, all gender identities, all countries of origin, all sexual orientations, all religions and beliefs, all abilities."

LoadingIn the same year, Sporty Spice was headlining Pride festivals around the UK with LGBTQIA+ collective Sink The Pink, and made a quick trip out to Brisbane's Big Gay Day in early 2020 before the pandemic brought live music to a skidding halt.

"Our perception of femininity has evolved, and we are much more flexible now with gender expression. Feminism … has expanded to include people who have different gender identities," Bravo adds."They've really sort of tried to step up and expand the definition of girl power."

Of course, there's room to grow. In an age of unfettered and immediate access to the digital mic, Bravo says young people are challenging the idea of who’s allowed to speak out and mess up and who's not."[The Spice Girls] were constantly making gaffes and mouthing off about things that they didn't 100 per cent understand. But they did put across that idea that you didn't have to be perfect before you were allowed to have a platform and allowed to have a voice," she says.

"I'm always careful to not pretend that everything the Spice Girls were saying was pure feminism. It was the kind of starter kit, it was like a set of training wheels."There was a way they boiled down the idea of feminism, really simplified it so that it almost became just being a girl, having fun with your mates. That was it. That was all you needed to do.

"As we've grown up, we've accepted there's so much more to it than that. We have to be fighting for rights, not just for ourselves, but for women across the world."After all, if the Spice Girls taught us anything, it's that friendship never ends.

Read more: ABC News »

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