Jan 14

SPICE GIRLS – “Wannabe”

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#743, 27th July 1996

WannabeWhat they had going for them, at the start, was instinct. The label – and manager – wanted a more street-smart first single: the group insisted otherwise. The band came up with the pell-mell structure of “Wannabe”, the tumble into rap at the end, and a nonsense-word that turned out to be a rocket-fuel hook. Every choice the right one.

But that first foot-down moment is the most important. The record label saw launching the Spice Girls as launching a band – something everyone involved (except the 5 women in the group) had done tens of times before. The group saw launching the Spice Girls as launching an idea, potentially far more powerful. And far more lucrative, of course. For that, the first single had to be a manifesto.

The more fans “Girl Power” reached, the more money it might make, and the more lives it might change – but this is true, in potential at least, of any music. What’s undeniable is that the combination of slogans and success guaranteed the band astonishing scrutiny – even among those who dismissed them, the Spice Girls were taken seriously in a way no pop band had been for years. People wanted ammo (there was plenty to find.) Picking apart the consequences and contradictions of the Spice brand became a critical cottage industry. Here I am, a 40-year-old man, and I’ve been lured aside by it in paragraph three.

Like most rock critics, I’m not a girl, and I don’t need any more power. Don’t trust me on this stuff. But it seems to me that “Girl Power” was about surviving – with a degree of independence and pride and fun – in the world as it was. It was never a Utopian project (like punk or sometimes rave) but it wasn’t purely an aesthetic one either (like Britpop). It was closer, perhaps, to Mod – celebrating economic strength, friendship and style in a world out to reduce you. It was grilled relentlessly, of course, because the marketing of it was so flagrant and successful and because the intended audience were small girls.

Was “Girl Power” an attempt at pop and personal transformation or a cynical plan to sell a remarkable amount of dolls? Both, obviously. We live in a world where women get to be the protagonists of adverts far more than of stories: the default way popular culture lets you reach a truly mass female audience is by selling to them. Once the Spice machine got going, there was plenty to sell. But to imagine that the Spice Girls – or any star since – must have unsullied motivation to have positive impact would be to imagine that young girls are a) uncritical idiots and b) not already used to constantly negotiating a world in which every pleasure or statement of independence is someone else’s weapon against them.

In the end we can only listen to the record, and see whether it hits its goal. Which was – simply – to refresh British pop music. Whatever happened next, does “Wannabe” sound and feel different enough to back up any claim it might make for itself? Absolutely, yes.

Generally speaking, the slicker the Spice Girls got, the less compelling they got. On “Wannabe” they are far from slick – they have a ragged chemistry, an obvious hunger and a song that’s a pile-up of hooks. They make nods in the direction of professional propriety – moving their best voices (Mels B and C) to the front and relegating their worst to a hollered “Slam, slam, slam, slam!”. They also have a production team tying the song together with a knees-up piano riff which adds Madness to the list of Spicecestors. They have the one-take video, which is inspired – it cements the idea that all this is somehow spontaneous, and also that this is an origin story.

Which it is – one of the most assured origins in pop culture, the strongest intro to a group since Fantastic Four #1. The actual work of character-building doesn’t happen much in “Wannabe” – or anywhere else in record – being mostly a marketing and branding thing and not always very helpful for what’s on record. Here the solo introductions are kept to a garbled one liner in Mel and Geri’s rap – the thrust of the song is its theme: power through friendship and fun.

So “Wannabe” starts with call-and-response – a riddle which seems annoyingly like a tease. What’s a “zig-a-zig-ahh?” – the point is that you only know if you’re one of the gang, and the rest of the song is laying that out: prove you’re part of the friendship circle, and maybe we’ll let you in on it. But you won’t find out just by asking. There’s a lot of other lines in the song you might take and hold on to as yours – “If you want my future, forget my past” – but the core of it really is as simple as ‘friendship never ends’.

There’s a few reasons why they pull it off. It’s urgently effervescent – under three minutes, from the opening footsteps and laughter to the final echoed “lover”, and the economy makes it a peep at a world you want to spend more time in. Great pop songs about friendship – girls’ friendships in particular – are rare enough that making a fuss of it helped “Wannabe” stand out. The group re-discovered the bubblegum tweenager audience – I think Britpop helped the Spice Girls enormously, by giving the impression of a world of celebratory, hooks-first pop then veering rockwards just as the next generation of fans wanted to play.

But most of all “Wannabe” convinced because the Spice Girls honestly sounded like friends. A group that’s cool is useful in pop, but what’s even rarer and more effective is when a group feels like they’re having more fun than anyone else in the world. What British pop bands from the Beatles to One Direction have realised is that you win the opportunity to transcend your moment by camaraderie as much if not more than by breaking ground. Innovation can be owned – and that way lies splits, lawyers and footnotes. Cameraderie belongs by nature to the group, is harder to fake and a lot more difficult to copy. The Spice Girls, at first, knew that better than anyone.



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  1. 1
    Tom on 3 Jan 2014 #


    “Once the Spice machine got going, there was plenty to sell.”: I interviewed for a publishing job in the early days of Spicemania, putting together cash-in fact-file books for stocking-fillers. It became very clear very quickly that I didn’t have the experience needed and we just had a half hour chat about how great pop music was. Probably my most enjoyable job interview!

    “constantly negotiating a world in which every pleasure or statement of independence is someone else’s weapon against them”: to some extent this applies to all young people – in fact you could argue boy self-consciousness about this is the founding problem of 80s and 90s alt.culture, which might make the Spice Girls the first post-Gen X band.

    “the slicker the Spice Girls got, the less compelling they got.”: you could carry this insight too far – first out of the Spice imitator blocks were the astonishing Vanilla, the living opposite of slick, whose “No Way No Way” is one of the most aggressively shoddy singles ever to crack the Top 40.

    “the list of Spicecestors”: obviously, in the wake of the Spice Girls, plenty of people queued up to point out they didn’t invent Girl Power. The Ike Turner to their Elvis was Shampoo, who had put out an album called Girl Power the year before. The Wikipedia page on “Girl Power” – as is the way of Wikipedia – spends a lot of time painstakingly establishing the credentials of a Trevor Horn produced girl group called the Mint Juleps. Kathleen Hanna has the best claim, perhaps inevitably. If you’re visiting from the parallel universe where I gave “Rebel Girl” a 10 in the 1993 lists, say hi.

    “since Fantastic Four #1”: Power Rangers is a closer and more contemporary fit for the kinetic, colourful, greater-than-the-parts way the Spice Girls actually moved, but I’ve never seen their origin story. I am an old nerd, forgive me my indulgences.

    “mostly a marketing and branding thing”: The Spice nicknames are a problem with the group from the start, and probably the worst thing about them, for all that they obviously worked as a way to make group members distinct. They limit the band, turn them into a more of a cartoon than they were. Also, the only one you can hold up as an unequivocal compliment is “Sporty”, and calling your only black member “Scary” is a disaster. At this point, though, they weren’t part of the plan or the execution – they originated with Top Of The Pops Magazine during “Wannabe”’s run at the top.

  2. 2
    lonepilgrim on 3 Jan 2014 #

    seeming to come out of nowhere and yet feeling simultaneously inevitable – the breathless rush of energy and the slamming together of disparate styles reminds me of Roxy Music and Virginia Plain but without the art school pretensions- but then that’s me showing my age

  3. 3
    @junglebarry on 3 Jan 2014 #

    @ElleBBrooks –> “@peteashton: Mr @tomewing writes eloquently about Wannabe. http://t.co/CrmbGzVp6C”

  4. 4
    Mark G on 3 Jan 2014 #

    “Kicking, squealing, Gucci little piggy”, no-one’s really saying, are they?

    Other foot notes: The whole image seemed like it got radically revised not far out of the starting blocks. References to liking ‘it’ on an ‘e’, and ‘in her face’ seemed like girly in-joke smut that got brushed under the carpet and ignored not long after, much like how the Beatles’ second single about requesting oral moved onto holding hands..

    But this is a different world to 1963. For a little while, the spiceys would acknowledge that plain speaking was important. (I would give an example, but that will have to wait until next time)

  5. 5
    Billy Hicks on 3 Jan 2014 #

    And BOOM. Welcome to my era. My first one, anyway – there’s another in the late 2000s/early 2010s that soundtracks my uni/clubbing years – but I see this as kickstarting my personal childhood musical landscape that runs until, erm…hmm, let’s say an obscure one-weeker #1 in December 2001, nothing majorly end-of-an-era but the last time what I would call “my” music hits the top spot for a good few years.

    Back in 1996 I hated it. They were ‘girls’. They talked about ‘girl power’ and I was a seven/eight year old boy and couldn’t think of anything more ridiculous. But had it charted, say, one week at #3 and then slowly slipped down the chart it would have perhaps just remained a random nostalgic guilty pleasure. Instead, much like a #1 in early 1999 that will almost certainly get a 10 from me when the time comes, this song became so big it seemed to become the soundtrack to pop *itself*, truly a time when the words ‘number 1’ meant a great deal for once. My parents gleefully tell me how much they remember ‘Grease’ in 1978, my mum loving it and my dad hating it but both knowing every single line of those two #1 hits. The same goes for me with this.

    If I had to choose any one song that summed up simply the decade ’1990s’? It’s this one. No question. And if the eight year old me read this – the one who stormed out of his primary school’s Year 3 Christmas Party in disgust when this started playing and all the girls ran onto the assembly dancefloor – he’d be pretty horrified, most probably.


  6. 6
    Kinitawowi on 3 Jan 2014 #

    The summer of 1996 was the embodiment of “interesting times” for me. A time of massive upheaval, of familial breakdown, of the death of a parental relationship, of the building of a new one… “friendship never ends” was right now a complete load, and “slam your body down and zig-a-zig-ah” was never an intractable, exclusive only to the In Crowd; it was blatant and, at the time, uninteresting.

    In terms of social import it clearly meant something to the world; in terms of musical merit it is as nought; in terms of personal significance it’s an irrelevant cipher. It was number one on my 16th birthday; too old and too male to be sold on the Girl Power project. My sister loved it, though. There’s far better to come. 4.

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    wichitalineman on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Marvellous stuff, Tom. Shampoo as Ike Turner. Lovely.

    When I told my friend Pete this had gone in at no.3, before I’d actually heard Wannabe, he moaned “Oh no, that hasn’t worked, has it?” So I guess he thought the manifesto element was pretty heavy handed.

    I was confused by the ramshackle, amateurish sound of Wannabe when I did get to hear it. I couldn’t work out if it was brilliant or awful. This is almost always the ‘tell’ of a genuinely great record for me. A strong 9.

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    flahr on 3 Jan 2014 #

    The Spice Girls, of course, are the first band I remember my sister liking, although out of the big three Bands My Sister Liked I don’t think we ever went to see them live (more on that as we get there, of course).

    I feel like the record lets the song down here somewhat, actually – I remember listening to it, ooh, a year or so ago? and being incredibly disappointed by the production. Listening back I’m not entirely sure why (the hook is magnificently front-and-centre) – perhaps it could do with being a bit less flat. Anyway, there are SG records I like better, and perhaps we’ll meet them. 6/7? 6, I think.

  9. 9
    taDOW on 3 Jan 2014 #

    i can remember reading the presskit for ‘…baby one more time’ when it came out and britney saying she had been a big fan of sheryl crow and blues singers ‘like otis redding’ but then pop came back (her words!) and she went in this direction instead. pop had never actually gone away – hi dere la bouche – but by 96 the stuff that had dominated since nevermind/the chronic/the bodyguard ost was starting to get old and give way – beck and no doubt on altrock radio setting the stage for third eye blind/smash mouth/sugar ray/a dozen forgotten skacore bands the next year fbofw, fugees in a way doing the same for missy and pop puffy, mariah’s ‘fantasy’ being a decidedly different kind of hit than ‘one sweet day’ or ‘hero’. pop had really never gone anywhere in europe, i can remember having to describe tons of ‘tacky’ eurohits that never remotely broke in america to friends cuz youtube didn’t exist yet but this changed (eventually)(dramatically) w/ spice girls. i fell in love instantly, will always always have time for an act worthy of its own action figures. a friend and i each bought the album and took great delight in confirming that yes the lyric really was ‘a zigazig ah’. at the same time i can remember specifically seeing the video in a bar and talking about how great they were and how weird it was that they were never going to break in america, that they were probably never even going to be released in america (as most of the heirs weren’t). suffice it to say i was wrong. they had others i liked more and others that meant a great deal more to me but this is the monolith. 9.

  10. 10
    @basementgalaxy on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Trust me, this is one dissection of Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” that you have to read. http://t.co/vpng4hmmGw

  11. 11
    Chelovek na lune on 3 Jan 2014 #

    This was, undeniably, both unavoidable, and more or less, and despite the mega-hype, irrestible. Tom explains very well why – the comparison with Mods is a particularly insightful one…

    Though I can’t help wishing that the Belle Stars (who combined some of the characteristics that the Spices brought to life – both the sense of being a group of friends, and of a certain independence of mind) had made it to Popular status first (their music was better, too)….Possibly early Bananarama (in the living in squats days) might have been a sort of precursor to the Spices, too.

    It strikes me, too (and thinking, by way of comparison, of the preeminent five-member girl group of the 2000s) that the Spice Girls never wasted our time with pointless or mediocre cover versions (or, indeed, cover versions, full stop). Which is a further point in their favour. Not least as the lyrical demands that we (or, at any rate, an unidentified and presumably male listener) not waste their time are part of the backbone of both this and their second single (of which more in due course).

    As we shall see, they probably did make better records than this one, but as a way of saying ‘nous sommes arrivées’, ‘Wannabe’ is hard to beat. It’s fun, it’s pacey, and it’s in your face. Poppy but not over-polished, and with oodles of character.

    Manifesto is pretty much the right word for this, and with some ups and downs (as we shall see), one they more or less stuck to – at least if we close our eyes to their ill-advised reunion, which, among other things, blemished their hitherto almost perfect chart record (one no 2, everything else no 1), and tactfully overlook (except where we have no choice but to submit, willingly or otherwise) some parts of the ensuing solo careers.

    Much more fun than Shampoo and Silverfish put together.

  12. 12
    mapman132 on 3 Jan 2014 #

    In the summer of 1996, my knowledge of what was happening on the UK charts came from two main sources: what we would now call blogs by James Masterton and another guy whose name I can’t remember. My favorite radio show, UK Chart Attack, had been dead for 18 months, and there was no Youtube, so unless a song got a US release, pretty much descriptions by these written chart commentaries was all I had to go on (thus my confusion about what the deal was with Babylon Zoo). So for that reason my knowledge of the Spice Girls’ existence predated actually hearing them by at least six months.

    Masterton’s commentary was easily the more definitive of the two, and lo and behold, I can still reread my introduction to the group that would briefly be considered the biggest thing since the Beatles: http://www.masterton.co.uk/2007/06/revamped-spice-2/

    Amusingly, I actually remember the “bobbysox, lycra shorts and cropped tops” line. Anyway, the full writeups of the song and group were rather intriguing, and a couple weeks later when the competing commentary started polling whether one’s favorite girl was “Scary, Baby, Ginger, Posh, or Sporty”, it was clear a full-blown phenomenon was underway.

    But of course in America, we were still doing the “Macarena”(*) in 1996, so it wasn’t until “Wannabe” materialized at #11 the following January (a very high debut for a new group at the time), that we got our full dose of Girl Power. Ultimately it would be #1 for four weeks in the US and lead to the biggest selling album of 1997 to boot. I don’t know if Spicemania in the US was quite as big as in the UK, but it was pretty darn big. Everyone had an opinion for good or for bad, and even my grandmother could namedrop them in casual conversation. Of course, in the US, hype backlash will always set in eventually, and when the Spice Girls fell in the US, they fell hard, arguably taking the entire 30+ year pipeline of UK pop to US audiences with it. But we’ll get to my theories on that later. For now, I’ll give “Wannabe” a 7/10, which probably seems low to many here, but like I said: there’s US hype backlash and sometimes it affects me too ;)

    (*) Speaking of backlash, it’s notable that thanks to the SG’s, the UK was just about the only major Western country where “Macarena” didn’t hit #1. Almost seems worth a thread of its own….

  13. 13
    @TheRichardEric on 3 Jan 2014 #

    The Popular UK #1s project by @tomewing has reached the song I’d consider the start of “my era” and given it 9/10 http://t.co/MoZH3I1mJy

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    @TheRichardEric on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Can I just also state that the footnotes in the comments here also see Shampoo likened to Ike Turner http://t.co/MoZH3I1mJy

  15. 15
    MikeMCSG on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #11 Re the lack of covers. The same is true of S Club 7 so you can perhaps give Fuller some of the credit there. As the Girls never wrote a song without considerable professional help you could say all their hits are partial covers.

    As you may have already guessed I’m not a Spice fan. I did like this for a couple of weeks especially after Barlow’s discomfiture but then the marketing kicked in and I was repelled.

    Tom’s piece is actually more measured than I was expecting so the lengthy defence of the claims of The Go-Gos and Bananarama isn’t necessary for now.

    I was as depressed by their success in music in much the same way as that of MU in football so the tie-up seemed strangely inevitable.

  16. 16
    Cumbrian on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Has there been a history of 90s British music pointing out that Oasis and The Spice Girls are odd mirrors of each other? Or is this idea something that I have invented out of whole cloth myself and totally got the wrong end of the stick with?

    Tom, in his Some Might Say review, said that Oasis were the most inescapable band he’d come across. I’d say Spice Girls were similarly inescapable for a while – and it’s interesting that the same sense of ubiquity that Oasis had helped produce negative reactions for both bands. Depending on your tastes, there’s probably only 1 or 2 of either band that you would describe as talented (Geri = Bonehead? Willing to sound off in interviews but not that good. Makes Victoria the Tony McCarroll equivalent. Not happy with Emma as Paul McGuigan as it doesn’t really fit – but this is not a perfect analogy). Massive moments swathed in the Union Jack for both. Tom described Oasis as “rolling with belligerent confidence”. I can see that in Spice Girls too.

    What I think got up some people’s noses (typically men in my experience) was that these points of similarity were being delivered by women, in pop as opposed to by men, in rock – hence my idea of them as being mirrors of one another. I am probably being too pat and doubtless ignoring a whole load of stuff that contradicts my thesis but I think that there is something there.

    This is pretty decent but, for me, is let down by the “introducing the band” section – an affectation that annoys me whenever it is employed, almost as much as my other least favourite pop trope to “put my hands in the air and wave them like I just don’t care”. The fact is that, in Wannabe, you don’t need to name and introduce the band – the track is already telling you the most important things about the group and the marketing that followed soon let us all know what the perceived personalities of the group should be. Other than that though, it works well, gets in and out quickly, is hooky and certainly memorable. 7 or 8 dependent on mood/how much I am currently down on that introduction section.

  17. 17
    Tom on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #16 re Spices/Oasis – back in the day I used “The Spice Girls are Britpop” argument quite a lot to troll USENET posters and start pub arguments. If I’d come up with your comparison it would have been even better.

    (Actually last night I was thinking about a Spice Girls/Oasis parallel later on, but I’ll get to that when I get to it – it’s a few SG singles down the line.)

  18. 18
    Magnus Anderson (@TriffidFarm) on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Blimey – one of the most commented-upon songs of the last 30 yrs and @tomewing finds something new to say about it http://t.co/mLZa7yMO64

  19. 19
    Matt DC on 3 Jan 2014 #

    I had been assuming this would be the first 10 of the 90s. Guessing now that there won’t be one at all.

  20. 20
    Tom on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #19 I went to the marks list and guess what it told me, guess what it told me.

  21. 21
    CarsmileSteve on 3 Jan 2014 #

    I know of one Spice cover, but it’s some way down the line, and even then , only a b-side…

  22. 22
    morwen on 3 Jan 2014 #

    The video is even more impressive when I was 16. It just keeps going, off to new bits of St Pancras every few seconds. Spice Girls pop up and do their solo bit, and then the camera swings around to the next set of Spice Girls messing around with the next group of people. And then they drive off in a bus at the end!

    The dancing isn’t particularly elaborate or technically perfect, but that just adds to the camaraderie. It was all done in one night. Obviously there were several takes, but this was not a massively well-rehearsed routine they were doing: the fumbles and slight mis-positionings are real. Doing this sort of complex long take in drama is difficult enough, but you can fudge a little bit by cueing people based on other people rather than have them all running on a timer. Doing it in a music video, where the entire point of the exercise is syncing to an external track, it’s amazing.

    I had a little look at other one-shot music videos done around the same time. Nothing even comes close: “Head Over Feet”, “Milk” and “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” are all just the singers against background, with very little camera movement. “The Sweater Song” is someone with a camera wandering round the band performing it mostly standing on their marks.

    I wonder if the Spice Girls knew how quite madly ambitious it was.

  23. 23
    hectorthebat on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Sample watch: the drum part comes from “hot pants” by bobby Byrd

  24. 24
    @saxonb on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Via @kierongillen, a great blog by @tomewing on “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls: http://t.co/0miQ0eDpvr

  25. 25
    Will on 3 Jan 2014 #

    A brilliant write up, Tom.

    My first memory of Wannabe was, like a lot of people, the TOTP the week this went in at Number 3. Instinctively I hated it. The next morning I found myself whistling it on the bus. By the time I had seen the video on Saturday morning’s Chart Show and it had gone to Number One the following day I was a confirmed fan.

    Two other points – part of the reason for SG’s success in the wider market was the fact they were such a breath of fresh air compared to Oasis and the other uptight blokish adherents to Noelrock. Mid 96 was a worrying time when you’d see Ocean Colour Scene posters in the pages of Smash Hits.

    It very nearly didn’t happen. Wannabe was mixed four times unsuccessfully before Virgin turned to Spike Stent who duly transformed what could have been a caterwauling mess into the defining pop single of its era.

  26. 26
    Kat but logged out innit on 3 Jan 2014 #

    I utterly loathed everything to do with this.

    By this point I was well into my snobbish teenage years, where boybands (and the pencil case hysteria that went with them) were ‘dross’ and overtly-marketed pop such as this was the absolute WORST. It didn’t feel aimed at me, a 14-year-old girl – this was clearly for 9 or 10 year olds who were too stupid to know better. At least with Take That there was the heteronormative excuse of lusting after them. And the music – to me ‘Wannabe’ sounded like the theme to a wacky St Trinian’s style boarding school comedy shown in the Mike & Angelo slot on CITV, with custard pie pranks and frogs in teacher’s desk (this programme may even exist! Who knows). Why would anyone listen to this by choice?

    I loathed it so much that I made sure I watched every telly programme the Spice Girls featured on (they seemed to be on the Big Breakfast 3 days out of 5), to keep abreast of their movements and know my enemy. I watched the video carefully to detect every single flaw (POSH DOESN’T SING OR DANCE PROPERLY!!!11!). I learned the lyrics so I could write a sneering piss-take version in the back of my geography exercise book. I looked at the liner notes on T’s copy (with appropriate disgusted look on my face) and thus was fully prepared when my nemesis at school declared that they were proper artists because ‘they wrote the lyrics’ – hadn’t she heard of change-a-word-get-a-third? It all signified the decline of the top 40 (lol etc!) and I wanted no part of it. I bought a poster of Kurt Cobain smoking a joint and stuck it up in my bedroom.

  27. 27
    James BC on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Great write-up and nine is right, though I was Against It at the time.

    #22 Virtual Insanity is another one-take video (more or less) from around this time. It’s also brilliant, in a very different way.

  28. 28
    anto on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #16 – While we’ve been sifting through the various works of first wave Take That it struck me that the Spice Girls/Oasis narratives combined would come a lot closer to an update of Beatlemania than Gary, Robbie and co. (that’s the last we’ve heard from , surely- oooh that’s what you think).
    Wasn’t there a TOTP premiere of ‘Wannabe’ where they were miming in front of the pyramids? It seems like such a long time ago now.
    I think this caught on more through constant, constant replays rather than first impact – a firework that took a minute or two to take off but then….

  29. 29
    snoball on 3 Jan 2014 #

    In July 1996 I was on the verge of graduating from university. The first time I heard/saw this song was on TV in the student house where I lived. Our general reaction was this was a manufactured group, although much better manufactured than the rest (especially the endless series of boy bands who followed in the wake of Take That). The Spice nicknames always made them sound like characters from a mid 90s videogame, which I suppose is inevitable, since they were decided upon by TOTP magazine, and pop magazines of the time had a lot in common with some of the videogame magazines of that era.

  30. 30
    23 Daves on 3 Jan 2014 #

    I was just utterly bemused by this when it came out. “But… they sound like Toto Coelo!” It didn’t sound new to me, more like a concept that had been bubbling beneath pop music since the early eighties and had only just realised its moment. I wasn’t the only person to make the Toto Coelo/ Belle Stars observation at the time either, several music press journos and pop stars of the day made similar baffled comments. Why was this working AT THIS MOMENT when it never really did before? (You could cite Bananarama, and people did, but they felt different somehow – less chaotic, more symmetrically styled, impeccably fashion college cool in comparison).

    And I never did get into “Wannabe”, I’m afraid. Where Tom hears a Madness piano line, I always mentally heard “Summer Nights” instead. And it irritated me in the same way – too many catchphrases, an overload of hooks, always moving on to the next interjection or idea. Built up over a long run at the top, what seems faintly irritating to begin with can rapidly become extremely frustrating.

    The Spice Girls themselves were an entirely different matter. Some of their songs, even the ones people deem to be among their worst, are a cut above most of the pop that emerged in the early to mid nineties. The video for “Wannabe” began a long-term guilty crush on Geri Halliwell for me (guilty because she didn’t seem like somebody a right-on spotty student should fancy, or this was my logic at the time). But the concept and the hype did become very irritating very quickly, and I’d agree they seemed inescapable in the same way that Oasis were.

    And there was something faintly threatening about them as well, in a way I don’t think we’ve seen much in pop music since. You could actually see fear in the eyes of the interviewers dealing with them at the time, not quite sure if their live link or studio chat was going to go hellbound. If I’d been dropped into the middle of a room with all five of them at the time, I would have found it daunting.

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