Well our slack timing has done us a favour here. Because all things Spice are knocking around again, and we aren’t completely succumb by nostalgia to justify its position. And has history been kind to the Spice Girls, and to Who Do You Think You Are in particular? Well, I can’t speak for history, but recent journalistic summaries of the Spice Girls first coming have been pretty damning on WDYTYA. A song notable for being the last release off of Spice, and a double A-side with the not all that good Mama, but many reviewers seem to think it was bland and by rote.
Well, yes, in comparison to Wannabe, Who Do You Think You Are does seem a little more like a standard girl group number. Unless you consider it in its historical setting. Nothing the Spice Girls, nothing anyone else has done, has ever really sounded like Wannabe* – as a girl gang stomp of naked ambition and sisterhood it stands alone. Whereas girl bands since have borrowed the sleek chassis of Who Do You Think You Are, with its watered down attitude and its aerobic chorus ever since. All the “just good” Girls Aloud stompers are the children of Who Do You Think You Are, and as a piece of lego songwriting the three distinct parts of the song can be reassembled into countless Atomic Kitten, Sugababes and Pussycat Dolls tracks ad infinitum. Indeed take out the stomping chorus, and it becomes an almost vulnerable stab at pathos.
Of course it was a double A side with Mama, and the Comic Relief single – usually enough it its own right to push it down the dumper. So as defacto fourth/fifth single off of Spice we were itching for the new. All this paring showed us was the competence of the album. I actually think Who Do You Think You Are is better than that, but it is interesting to see why others might think it isn’t.
The pop girl group (as response to Boy band) did not exist before the Spice Girls, so they are aloud to make the generic track, because they sort of invented it. Perhaps hindsight doesn’t treat the song well for people who despise what the Spice Girls wrought. But to me it still sounds like what it was sold as, the sound of the future (a future which they let others provide – cheers Xenomania). But bear in mind they came out of the traps with a bizarre sounding shouty concoction, a hyper-sexualised mid-tempo love song and a swoonsome Christmas number one ballad. Mama and Who Do You Think You Are could be seen as a bit staid in comparison. But actually as the last single it brings the Girls full circle back to Wannabe. While it is less openly aggressive than Wannabe it is still more accusatory that 95% of the rest of the pop charts at the time. Who Do You Think WE Are – the Spice Girls were asking at the end of nine mental months: the tabloids had already decided, christened and set their personalities in aspic. But the song (with its stupidly cheap video which still trounced the horror of the Mama video) is actually asking us, the audience who we wanted them to be. We, sadly, sided with the tabloids, happy with the cartoon spices until we got bored. But as the end of phase one of the Spice Girls it is the perfect ending to a vital moment of pop history.
Wannabe got them noticed. Who Do You Think You Are confirmed to me that they were more than just some kind of superstar.
*OK, C’est La Vie by B*Witched has something of Wannabe‘s WTF sass. But it also has a Riverdance breakdown which puts it beyond the pale.