Nov 07

The Top 100 Tracks Of All Time No. 49: Spice Girls – “Who Do You Think You Are?”

FT/10 comments • 15,148 views

spice-girls.jpgWell 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.


  1. 1
    Steve on 13 Nov 2007 #

    ha ha at non-smiling Posh

    their new one reminded me how rubbish they could be

  2. 2
    Kat on 13 Nov 2007 #

    I almost wrote up this one, as it’s one of my favourite tracks in the history of ever. It’s my favourite Spice Girls track – it’s totally their Relight My Fire: disco whirlwind that gives you a massive slap round the face and leaves you totally exhausted by the end. Dudes, this was the Union Jack Dress song! Gobsmackingly amazing.

  3. 3
    Andrew Farrell on 13 Nov 2007 #

    The pop girl group (as response to Boy band) did not exist before the Spice Girls

    I think you have to add ‘in Britain’ before this makes any sense, and I’m not sure that it makes a lot of sense even then.

    the tabloids had already decided, christened and set their personalities in aspic.

    Yes, certainly the girls did all they could to shake the Baby/Scary/Posh/Ginger/Sporty tags.

  4. 4
    Pete on 14 Nov 2007 #

    Clearly the phrase “the pop girl group did not exist before the Spice Girls” was there to take the rise, but I maintain it is broadly true. Even if we take Banararama as predecessors, they stumbled into their popdom via an early post-punk stumblings (they supported the Jam after all).

    Clearly elsewhere on FT we are talking about The Three Degrees, and girl groups existed in that context (and continued to via En Vogue and Destiny’s Child – though DC owe the Spice Girls something*), but the absolute power of the Spice Girls did basically invent the – OK British – model which would then be ploughed. But it also invented a potential international model.

    As for the “personalities”, the longest lasting upshot of that was that we did not have to remember their rather dull names (two MELANIES!)

    *Probably Independent Woman.

  5. 5
    Marcello Carlin on 14 Nov 2007 #

    I think you’ll find that the Andrews Sisters, perhaps preceded by the Boswell Sisters, invented the international model for girl groups some sixty years previously (and the boy band parenthesis also stands here since they were marketed as a direct complement to the likes of the Rhythm Boys).

  6. 6
    Pete on 14 Nov 2007 #

    I disagree and play the harmonies card.

    But yes, girls vs boys as ever.

  7. 7
    Marcello Carlin on 14 Nov 2007 #

    Define the harmonies card which I’m sure you’ve just invented.

  8. 8
    Pete on 14 Nov 2007 #

    If I do that, then you’ll find a loophole and then I’ll lose!

    (Mumble mumble, break out for verses, tight harmonies for chorus – not a selling feature of Spice Girls or (good) post Spice Girls girl band.)

    I could also play the lead and back-up card.

  9. 9
    Marcello Carlin on 14 Nov 2007 #

    Even on a nineties Brit basis, Eternal (Take That) and ZTT-era All Saints (East 17) precede the Spices.

  10. 10
    Pete Baran on 14 Nov 2007 #

    Eternal came from the US black music girl group mould, with the UK sensibility of why shouldn’t we have a white girl in the band (answer you won’t break America). All Saints were the reverse.

    It proves nothing, of course, but I may have to refer to the truthiness of what I was saying before admitting its a load of toss and wishing I’d let Kat write about the Union Jack dress, which would have been better!

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