Jan 14

SPICE GIRLS – “Wannabe”

Popular220 comments • 15,063 views

#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.



  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.

  7. 7
    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.

  8. 8
    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

  14. 14
    @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.

  31. 31
    morwen on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #27 – “Virtual Insanity” is unashamed about using the “Rope” trick, though.

  32. 32
    Pete on 3 Jan 2014 #

    The first time I heard it was on a bus, I believe Mark 7 Lard were sitting in for Chris Evans, and made this there single of the week which I thought was mind boggling. But I remember liking it instantly but thinking in the boyband heavy 90’s who on earth would buy it? I got a little obsessed with it for a week or so, and then I go equally obsessed with the video* (INSIDE ST PANCRAS!!!)

    Until the wheels fell off the Spice Wagon (Geri leaving I guess), I was with them all the way. I think Spice World is remarkably under-rated movie, the run of hits are pretty solid and the whole project was exactly what I thought pop needed. It certainly led the way for the current female domination of the pop charts. Its a 10 from me.

    *Whilst it is one take there is a bit where the whole thing is slowed down to get them back into sync, or possibly to allow Geri to run around the back of the camera to get into her final position.

  33. 33
    ciaran on 3 Jan 2014 #

    I also thought this was going to be a 10. Surprising there hasnt been at least 1 in 95/96 so far but there’s still time.That said I was expecting more than 3 ‘1’s up to now.

    Wannabe is a strange one.In one ways a perfect fit, in others an unwelcome nuisance. The link of video and audio is key here. Girls having a laugh in a boarding school or slumber party kind of way.A much needed kick up Barlow’s wimpish back-side. It looks like a great fun if your a teenage girl,less so if your a stalinist oasis/blur head.

    You would hear that intro about 4/5 times a day during its reign and by the third time it was onto another station to get away from it.I grew to hate it after a fortnight.Luckily the video had that 1-minute arsing-about intro so you could turn over before the music started.

    The relentless commercialism was another black mark against it.The almost brady-bunch/Famous five themed this-is-us story of ‘wannabe,absurd wonder woman-esque videos with the girls as martial arts experts, Pepsi, Nelson Mandela, Beckham (who made his breakthough at the expense of Neil Sullivan at the same time), the American success, the seemingly obvious planned months-in advance-single release dates, the scarcely believable character names of the girls,Track 1 Side 1 of Now 34 just after its release, The Brits and the Union Jack dress, even Emmerdale getting in on the act!

    Besides Becks these things now look a lot less annoying than they did then.The same I can say for Wannabe. The break-up has meant its not as played as much as it was even if it’s place in history is assured and none the worse for it.It wouldn’t be something I would have root out on itunes/spotify but I admire it much more than I did. A 180 degree change. Much more enjoyable now and worthy of a high mark.8.

    Even us male folk would have a good time of it later in the year.#b——sgonnaworkitout

  34. 34
    Tom on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #30 The Madness song it calls to mind for me is “Our House” – which also ends with a rap! (sort of)

    & yes they were *all* “scary”!

  35. 35
    thefatgit on 3 Jan 2014 #

    My daughter was 8 years old when Spice Girls first appeared. And for the next year or so, anything with a Spice Girls logo on it had to be bought. Anything from duvet covers to dolls, pencil cases to skateboards and all things in between. Oh yes, my wife and I consumed like good citizens we were.

    For me, Spice Girls felt like the shot in the arm pop music needs every now and then. A genuine phenomenon, like Adam & The Ants and before them, the Bay City Rollers and before them, the Beatles.

    The Girl Power tag was deliberate, but in hindsight cynical. But if I follow the feminist route in discussing the Spicies, I’ll have to check my male white privilege, so I’ll save that discussion for somebody much better qualified than myself.

    Sticking to “Wannabe”, it’s a clattering oaf of a debut, knocking over everything and shouting loudly to gain your attention. If you heard this on the radio before ever seeing the Spicies on TV or in Smash Hits, you’d be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about, because Bananarama and The Go-Go’s had done stuff like this before hadn’t they? . All those hooks sound great and made “Wannabe” earwormy, exactly the opposite of Barlow’s “Forever Love”.

    But I didn’t hear this on the radio first. Like most other people will recall, it was Our Cilla who introduced us to Spice Girls on “Surprise Surprise”. Cilla Black, the original Spice Girl, the first Wannabe?

    Five girls, five contrasting images. Which one did you notice first?

    Emma Bunton – Baby Spice. Blonde pigtails, pink babydoll dress and impossibly high platform trainers.

    Geri Halliwell – Ginger Spice. Dyed red hair, drag queen make up, ample bosom and tottering on high heels.

    Victoria Adams – Posh Spice. LBD, cheekbones and pout with a severe bob cut.

    Melanie B – Scary Spice. Animal print catsuit, impossibly high heeled boots and Sideshow Bob hair.

    Melanie C – Sporty Spice. Liverpool replica top, joggers and trainers. Severe make-up under scraped-back “Croydon Facelift” ponytail.

    These represented girls you knew: your big sister, your brother’s new girlfriend even maybe a glamorous auntie. Easily relatable. Simon Fuller knew exactly what he was doing.

  36. 36
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 3 Jan 2014 #

    a sneering piss-take version in the back of my geography exercise book

    ^^^blo-o-o-og i-i-i-it!

  37. 37
    AMZ1981 on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #29 beats me to it but just picking up on Tom’s footnotes the nicknames (Sporty, Ginger, Baby, Scary, Posh) were conferred by Top Of The Pops magazine and stuck – they weren’t part of the group’s own marketing strategy.

    At the time I was a fifteen year old gay teenager torn musically between twin musical poles of 80s rock and the guitar bands of the time; five females bouncing around hot pants screaming `girl power` was never going to appeal to me. As a pop record viewed away from the Spice mania that followed it’s not as bad as I would like it to be – I’ll leave it at that.

    Why, seventeen years on do I still want to hate it? Events last December reminded me of the Spice Girls most tasteless moment when, at the height of their success, they were introduced to Nelson Mandela and Geri Halliwell compared her `fight` for women’s rights with Mandela’s battle against apartheid. Incredibly she got away with it.

    Finally a 7 week reign does allow for a number two watch. The Fugees held on for two weeks before Robbie Williams was held at bay with Freedom (a blow because Barlow had at least hit the top and Williams needed to do the same), then the Macarena (shame we don’t get to discuss that really – I do like the bassline) followed by 3T duetting with Uncle Michael, George Michael’s magnificent Spinning The Wheel and Kula Shaker’s Hey Dude.

  38. 38
    @poohugh on 3 Jan 2014 #

    SPICE GIRLS – “Wannabe” | Popular – http://t.co/eePRhtEpnC incl. “Girl Power” as “Mod” analogy. Great comments too

  39. 39
    Izzy on 3 Jan 2014 #

    The Spice Girls don’t loom large for me at all, certainly not in light of the outpourings above – I moved abroad pretty much as this hit no.1; all I really know of them as phenomenon was a small colour photo in the local press of them launching the UK’s fifth television channel.

    When I returned a year later to be met with the first single from their second album (never realised ’til just now that they’d had two) they were already clearly burnt through, even if momentum did carry them more or less as far again. The proper lineage for me is from Frankie Goes To Hollywood, another group with little musical legacy (though much better records) but a ton of fun, and I wouldn’t dismiss the idea that that’s getting things the right way round.

    Anyway, I never really see or hear the Spice Girls played or discussed nowadays – Popular must move in a different orbit to me. I did happen to hear this at random a month or two ago and was a little appalled at how shoddy it sounded; the critique here made a second listen more friendly just now. I dislike Mel C’s voice though and wish it’d been mixed down – instead she seemed to become more prominent as they went on. I’d stretch to a (6).

  40. 40
    Kat but logged out innit on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #37 I rate the Macarena as one of the best dance tunes of the 90s. It’s chock full of disconnected noises that shouldn’t work together, but somehow stretch and combine into a track with tons of momentum (despite being quite slow!)

  41. 41
    Tom on 3 Jan 2014 #

    The main difference w/Frankie (aside from bigger global success for longer) is that FGTH were in many ways the last hurrah or culmination of a pop wave. The Spice Girls are at the beginning of theirs – before them you have to go back to SAW to find young women making pop as a prominent chart force: after them, the deluge, and it’s never really gone away.

    The question of how much the Spice Girls caused this or just caught a wave, and how much “legacy” their specific moves, ideas and songs had, is a very interesting one – but this is the first of seven or eight #1s (I forget) so we’ll have plenty of time to talk about it.

  42. 42
    Tom on 3 Jan 2014 #

    It is a shame we don’t get the Macarena, tho I look forward to Lena’s piece – one of Mark S’ favourite points to make is that Britain really doesn’t “get” Latin rhythms at all, and here’s another datapoint to that theory :)

    (I am far less upset not to be discussing Kula Shaker, particularly the execrable “Hey Dude”)

  43. 43
    swanstep on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Wonderfully persuasive essay Tom – well done! You’ve got me paying more attention to the track and its video than I ever have before and think that perhaps at last I *get* it. The punctum here (I’ll be interested to know whether Marcello agrees) is the re-introduction of ‘Slam your body down and wind it all around’ after the shouted ‘Slam Slam Slam Slam’ in the final chorus. The vid then fixes on Baby and Posh (sorry, in the US, as I was at the time, we stuck with the nicknames a lot longer, indeed I don’t think they ever went away) who go into a series of rigidified poses staring into camera as the other spices fall in around them. Now I can see it, it’s a great, chill-giving, ‘is that a tear in my eye?’ moment; in its loopy way a real moment of ‘envisioning female equality’ (the way people used to have bumper stickers urging people to just ‘envision world peace’). I’m pleasantly surprised to find myself agreeing that this is a solid 9 and with the vid. that it feels important the way the imagery from the beginning of A Hard Day’s Night does.

  44. 44
    Andrew Farrell on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Hah, I am not sure I’d want to live in a world where Sporty is a more positive appellation than Ginger!

  45. 45
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 3 Jan 2014 #

    SPORTY IS THE BEST SPICE <– science fact

  46. 46
    Tom on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Sporty is positive because it’s the only one which assumes the girl is proactive and might have interests – the other nicknames are all either purely descriptive at best or, in Scary’s case, about the effect she is presumed to have on other people, which is even worse.

    It’s interesting which ones have stuck – the Melanies and Geri moved away from their nicknames quite quickly, you still see Emma introduced as Baby occasionally, and Victoria Beckham will be Posh to the grave, I think.

  47. 47
    Tom on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #26 blog it! – but also, yes, important to note that a lot of the people who really detested the Spice Girls (their biggest haters, in my groups of friends) were young women. Which will be useful to remember when we start getting to their records that edge more towards trying to ‘speak for’ people outside the Spicenexus.

  48. 48
    Cumbrian on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #45: Victoria Beckham will be Posh to the grave, I think.

    Some are born Posh, some achieve Poshness, and some have Poshness thrust upon them.

  49. 49
    23 Daves on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #37 – I think you’ve reminded me of other reasons why Geri Halliwell was a guilty (rather than straightforward) crush of mine – more so than any of the others, she frequently used to spout a lot of nonsense. While other members appeared to be having more fun, she was at times almost going Kevin Rowland/ Adam Ant on our asses and asking us to absorb a new manifesto. I was never sure what to make of that.

  50. 50
    Erithian on 3 Jan 2014 #

    They were ubiquitous all right. On the way home from work one night I was asked by a girl of about ten sitting on her garden wall, “who’s your favourite Spice Girl?” I think she might even have been doing a survey of passers-by for a school project or something. I gave her the short answer – “Emma” – although I suppose the full answer might have been Emma as the prettiest, Mel C for a night out and Mel B for a night in.

    The nicknames were a stroke of genius, even if they did come out of a magazine feature rather than the record label’s masterplan. Not sure I’d go along with the idea that calling the only black member “Scary” was a disaster – it seemed very much a case of judging not by the colour of her skin but the content of her character, and a trait she played up to. As you say, it helped to make the group members distinct from the outset, and set a trend (remember the James lyric “she likes the black one, he likes the posh one, cute ones are usually gay”?)

  51. 51
    enitharmon on 3 Jan 2014 #

    The sound of 100 years of feminism crashing in flames. Dismal and depressing. Sorry folks, this was the biggest backward step that pop took in my lifetime.

    Next stop, the wave of pastel pink that has flooded the shops ever since.

  52. 52
    Andrew Farrell on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #46 rubbish sporty interests though!

    (she is of course the best Spice – which is why she has the best post-Spice single)

  53. 53
    thefatgit on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Posh was the exact halfway point between Holly Golightly and Anna “Nuclear” Wintour.

  54. 54
    Tom on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #51 None of them wore pink! (OK, Emma sometimes maybe)

  55. 55
    Matt DC on 3 Jan 2014 #

    It feels like their era went on for ages but looking back on it their imperial phase was over remarkably quickly – it lasted 18 months max, maybe?

  56. 56
    enitharmon on 3 Jan 2014 #

    I never suggested that they were directly responsible, Tom. But they (or at least their marketing handlers, because no act before or since has been been more blatantly a marketed commodity, I suggest) were responsible for the rise of the cult of “girliness” and female passivity.

    They also mark the most obvious onset of middle-age for me. I was going out with somebody who had a teenage daughter, and found myself asking “who are the Spice Girls?”

  57. 57
    Andrew Farrell on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #51 What’s your alternative? Which other trend would have eventually broken exciting feminist* women into the top reaches of the charts?

    * point taken of course that their success required that they had to deny feminism before the cock crew – I was a little surprised not to see their declaration of Thatcher being the first Spice Girl reappear at the obvious point last year.

  58. 58
    Steve Mannion on 3 Jan 2014 #

    I do think the nicknames were awful all in all (lazy at best, insulting at worst) and limiting in a way that each member’s image felt freer from (how different the girls were from each other beyond this never felt as clear – they all wanted to be pop stars if not just rich famous MegaBabes after all). Show don’t tell basically. It’s funny that their debut outfits are what have stuck in people’s minds (apart from Geri’s being replaced by the flag frock) and they could never quite surpass the impact of this debut in the end (not that later singles weren’t as good if not better).

    At least with ‘Posh’ it’s not something she really tried to play up to (as opposed to nouveau-riche) – iirc an anecdote in the press about them labelling Kula Shaker with this same tag backstage at TOTP or similar.

    Not convinced Mel B ever really acted the ‘Scary’ part either. Any sense of intimidation the girls gave off came as a group, and this combined with their variety felt broadly positive and I’d have thought the basis of any counter-argument to any alleged anti-feminist effect, especially as this was also still the time of many visible alternatives (although successful bands featuring more than one women may have started to decrease).

  59. 59
    flahr on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #42 “Macarena” and “Hey Dude” are equally good and for many of the same reasons, BUT I REFUSE TO REVEAL HOW GOOD THAT IS BWAH HAH HAH

    Careful consideration* since my last comment reveals this is actually a 7 after all, by the way.

    *imagining how I’d treat it if it was a Bananarama song

  60. 60
    Tom on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #56 I’m not disputing your diagnosis of the underlying cultural trend at all, but the Spice Girls seem a very odd group to pin it on – a band that fired their manager at the height of their success and presented themselves before and after that as anything but “passive”. The politics of Spiceworld – especially its rapacious commercialism – are definitely open to criticism, and received a lot – but meekness was never on the agenda.

    It’s interesting that people assume the Spice Girls had no agency in their career – not just you, Rosie, there are plenty of dismissive mentions of Fuller etc. upthread – something that was assumed right from the off with not a huge amount of evidence. It’s like people see colossal commercial success and decide it had to be the “management” or the “marketing” (which, as with the nicknames, was adaptive more than machiavellian) behind it. Girls have to be either completely autonomous or puppets – no middle ground.

    The Spice Girls were so successful that there was a NEED to believe it had to be manipulated, it couldn’t be even slightly down to them and their decisions. I think if we let them own the shit decisions – and there are plenty to come – we need to let them own the good ones too.

  61. 61
    James BC on 3 Jan 2014 #

    The only nickname of the five that was an accurate description was Sporty.

    Did anyone see Mel C on Jools’s Hootenanny, by the way? Apart from Charlie Wilson, I thought she stole the show.

  62. 62
    Izzy on 3 Jan 2014 #

    I was a little surprised to learn they formed in 1994, given that they exploded straight-from-the-box while managing to look charmingly amateurish doing so. What were they doing in the intervening two years?

  63. 63
    Cumbrian on 3 Jan 2014 #

    56: I would say that the original Hannah Montana incarnation of Miley Cyrus could stand toe to toe with the Spice Girls and possibly beat them in the stakes of blatantly marketed commodities. Certainly in the USA. Disney seems to try this sort of stuff with their female teenage actors on a regular basis, though I don’t think Selena Gomez or Demi Lovato got the same sort of marketing/product based push that Hannah Montana got.

    Although Tom’s point at #60 is a good one too.

    Is Cyrus a bunny? For that matter, is Hannah Montana a bunny?

  64. 64
    Steve Mannion on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #60 But the boybands (edit: Well all teenpopsters got it of course) got this too – the ‘manufactured/everything decided by one middle aged businessman in his suit and tie’ complaint that is. Perhaps it really was ramped up here because they were young girls though (plus ca change re Britney and so on).

  65. 65

    […] Ewing arrives at Spice Girls’ “Wannabe,” a single whose impact in America paled beside what the […]

  66. 66
    ciaran on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Up to 60 comments already. Another ‘No Charge’ on the cards!

    Tom I would also argue that the wave of girl groups has not necessarily been a bad thing if the Spice Girls are responsible.Not that I believe its just down to them.En Vogue and Salt ‘n’ Pepa for instance before hand had their moments and as we will soon discover here, and indeed from Gary Barlow, most of the Girl Groups and Solo stars dont go straight for the ballads.If I’m right the next 2 different girl group Number 1’s are very different from the playful Spice Girls.

    Also Wannabe is the only song since 1991 comfortably in the Readers Top 100.Plenty of time for that to change.

  67. 67
    enitharmon on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #57 They hadn’t got a feminist bone in their collective bodies. That’s the problem. Apart from that I was rather of the opinion that punk thrust feminist women into the upper reaches of the charts, if one can put aside the whining machismo of some of the more publicised exponents. Kate Bush did it. In the context of an earlier decade I could make the case for Sandie Shaw although she may seem rather tame these days (and anyway was not best represented by her chart material). Alison Moyet and Annie Lennox did it in the early 80s. None of them resorted to the “you can have power over men by wiggling your bottom at them”. As for the role-model effect of Victoria “never read a book” Beckham, words fail me.

  68. 68
    Cumbrian on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #66. Not just En Vogue and Salt ‘n’ Pepa but there was also Eternal – though they are bunnied I believe. On that score though, I would argue Louise Nurding/Redknapp as the proto-Victoria Beckham.

  69. 69
    punctum on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #43: The Punctum Popular policy (a.k.a. the Direct Inject Anti-TPL-Bunny Ray Gun) is not to comment on any singles which also appear on a number one album. So you’ll have to wait until TPL reaches 1996 to hear what L & I have to say about the Spices*.

    *I admit that as TPL is currently still wading through the treacherous treacle of 1983 this may take some time.**

    **and is of course dependent on our still wanting to do TPL by then. Blog currently subject to rolling year-by-TPL-year review + existence of spare time to write it as currently planning GIANT DOUBLE MUSIC BOOK ONSLAUGHT.***

    ***in which event I’ll probably slope back here and say something about it.****

    ****WHY DON’T YOU JUST SAY IT NOW MC I have a genius for making things difficult for myself.

  70. 70
    Patrick Mexico on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Never heard of ’em. Sorry. A few thoughts for now..

    1. This is so much of its time I’ve no idea how to rate it musically apart from sounds like Buffalo Stance being repeatedly kicked hard in the face – a bit like the England football team wrecking those Hong Kong plane TVs (an event of its time nobody seems to talk about anymore, as well as the Atlanta Olympics, seen as a horrendous tribute to the worst parts of global imperialism even before the bombings. And on a lighter note, that “Tonight” show on Tyne Tees TV with such iconic, Breaking Bad-rivalling features like the “What’s On Cafe.”)

    2. “Mel C sounds like an alright person to me. At least she never acted like an imperialist in America, unlike John Lennon” – Mark E Smith

    3. There’s a great home video of my sister and her friend dancing to this at the time, but we won’t see it again unless she gets married – here’s hoping the wedding guests react better than Christopher Moltisanti’s family did to Cleaver

  71. 71
    ciaran on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Was this one of the 10’s you would have given for 1996 Marcello?

  72. 72
    punctum on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Yup, I’ll tell you that much.

  73. 73
    @DrewLichtenberg on 3 Jan 2014 #

    “one of the most assured origins in pop culture, the strongest intro to a group since Fantastic Four #1” – http://t.co/Iqbln8V4I9

  74. 74
    lockedintheattic on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #45 – presumably Posh has stuck partly because it’s so familar as part of the phrase ‘Posh & Becks’, and partly as it fits better in tabloid headlines than ‘Victoria’ (whereas all the others have shorter names than their nicknames)

  75. 75
    weej on 3 Jan 2014 #

    I think I might have a lot to say about this but need some time to formulate it, so for now please enjoy the clip that introduced me to the band – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2s_Lxn1MCA

  76. 76
    Chelovek na lune on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Off the top of my head, I’d suggest that Mel C had a part in not just the best post-SGs single, but quite possibly the three best post-SGs singles, if not more than three, subjective as this may be.

    EDIT: well, three of the four best post-SGs singles, anyway

    I might also posit the existence of a positive correlation between the mediocrity of a post-SG musical career and the period of retention in popular usage of the performer’s SG nickname.

  77. 77
    Billy Hicks on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Baby/Emma was not only my grudging favourite (she seemed the ‘nicest’ out of the lot when I was a kid) but released possibly my fave post-Spice track, ‘Maybe’ in 2003 which sadly charted five places too low to be on Popular.

    Saying that Mel C definitely had the most consistently good run of tracks, looking forward to revisiting her 2000 bunnies.

  78. 78
    Tom on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Someone upthread asked why the Spice Girls took so long to happen, given they formed in 1994 – what were they doing?

    Well, partly they were doing what every other band does – rehearses, gets material together, shops around for a deal, etc. Even if you assume the band were “manufactured”, that doesn’t mean “identikit” – once you have these particular 5 people you and they work on tracks that fit them.

    A lot of it is timing – it’s easy to say all this in hindsight but other launch dates mightn’t have worked. Summer of 1994 – too soon, the band and material wouldn’t have been ready. Summer of 1995 – Britpop dominated everything, there’s no room for any other story to cut through, and Britpop at that point still has a swagger. At this point, though, the swagger is gone, Euro 96 is over, the biggest Britpop bands are resting between albums, Take That have broken up – it’s as good an opportunity to push something new through as there’s ever been.

    But the third reason for the delay, I reckon, is that people were very wary and unsure that the group will sell. Other labels were launching new pop acts – we’ve got one coming up right away – but they aren’t girls, they’re very much new twists on the Take That model. The Spice Launch isn’t late, it’s EARLY – a gamble (which in this case probably IS down to Fuller) – and you can tell it’s a gamble because nobody else had anything else ready to go for close to a year. The Spice Girls were remarkable in having basically no serious competitors for 18 months – no other big pop success has had anything like that clear a run.

  79. 79
    Billy Hicks on 3 Jan 2014 #

    When we get to 1998 there’s an astonishing shift into a majority of female acts hitting #1 all year, helped by two new girl groups, a few surprise returns of past megastars, a new teenager on the block and a sinking ship. SPOILER – the Spices are still there too.

    After the mostly male-dominated 1990s it’s somewhat of a hint of things to come in the new century, given that most of the biggest stars of the last few years have been women.

  80. 80
    Tom on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #78 – oops, wrong about the next No.1 being a new launch, as I’d forgotten his earlier (also bunnied, to my subsequent horror) hit a few months before.

  81. 81
    Auntie Beryl sans login on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #63 Yes and no.

  82. 82
    @jayasax on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Pretty much exactly why I listened (h/t @unbornwhiskey) http://t.co/Nuz1LosQwB

  83. 83
    Chelovek na lune on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #80 not a new launch for the talentless singer, but nonetheless a new launch for a (co)-songwriter who has gone on to inflict much misery upon music-lovers (quite a bit of which you will have to endure here) ever since. As I discovered to my surprise. There’s a party over there. I strongly advise not going to it.

  84. 84
    Andrew Farrell on 3 Jan 2014 #

    I know this is slightly unfair, but now that I know it’s Rosie, the sight of Enitharmon suggesting the kids should have taken inspiration from acts who hadn’t hit the top ten in a decade is quite funny – we’ve made a punk of you yet!

  85. 85
    Pixie_Solanas on 3 Jan 2014 #

    “enitharmon on 3 January 2014 #
    The sound of 100 years of feminism crashing in flames. Dismal and depressing. Sorry folks, this was the biggest backward step that pop took in my lifetime.

    Next stop, the wave of pastel pink that has flooded the shops ever since.”

    Oh how distressingly formulaic of you. I think the fault lies not with the product itself, but with an audience attempting to find larger meaning in such product. They couldn’t have been more obvious and self-aware, why were you not privy to the game being played?

  86. 86
    iconoclast on 3 Jan 2014 #

    This is the last paragraph of a longish essay (more of a rant, actually) which I was going to throw into the discussion but decided against for several reasons.

    While an unqualified success as marketing, “Wannabe” is clearly no masterpiece by any artistic standards; indeed as an actual song it’s only Just Good Enough, although it’s thankfully far from the aesthetic disaster it could have been. The A section (the notorious “What I really really want”) has, by its third appearance, long outstayed its welcome, and the B section (“If you wannabe my lover”) is really quite slight and distinguished only by its lyrics about the power of female friendship (to which the Girls contributed, it should be said). It is lifted out of mediocrity by the Girls themselves, whose personalities
    and performances are strong enough to give the song character and even some likeability, most notably at the the end when both sections come together for the one moment when the song threatens to catch fire. And it earns another extra point for being over and done with in under three minutes – less than a third the length of an overblown dregs-of-cocaine-addled-Britpop bunny from the following year. SEVEN.

  87. 87
    enitharmon on 3 Jan 2014 #

    When I was 14 I took quite a lot of inspiration from acts that hadn’t been in the top ten for ten years and more. Is that different? I took inspiration from films that came out when my dad was 14. What is your point Andrew Farrell @84?

    Where in the concept of “girl power” is the notion that you, too, can be an astrophysicist, a computer whizz, a hedge-fund manager, an airline pilot or generally an achiever in your own right as opposed to being dependent on men? As opposed to, wiggle your bottom provocatively and you can get a rich, if dim-witted, husband? Polly Harvey is active and Amy Winehouse is just around the corner. Much better value as independent, sassy women don’t you think? Not that I’m suggesting Amy as a role model, that would be unfortunate.

  88. 88
    Kat but logged out innit on 4 Jan 2014 #

    There is a big difference between being bombarded with bottom-wiggling women from all angles (and this being presented as the ideal/norm), and 5 women suddenly appearing from nowhere as a noisy island in a sea of hairy dudes and srs bsns Polly Harveys, who for all their waily singing and important songs, never got their message across to me because I’d never bloody HEARD their songs at that point – I spent my pocket money on Just Seventeen, not Melody Maker. I listened to Capital FM, not John Peel. I watched the Big bloody Breakfast and did my homework and went to swimming training and was an uncool nerd more interested in growing my fingernails than playing the guitar, and I STILL knew exactly what Geri Halliwell thought about Margaret Thatcher, and so did all the girls at school and all the girls at my swimming club. I think that was the first time I’d EVER heard a woman on the telly state a preference for any political party. So with all due respect for your 14-year-old experience and influences, there might just be a possibility that the Spicers had an impact on 90s feminism and deserve a bit of credit.

  89. 89
    hardtogethits on 4 Jan 2014 #

    On the subject of nicknames, I was recently playing a quiz-based board-game with someone whose memory is fading away. You know the score.

    I read out the question “What was the nickname of the Spice Girls’ Mel C?”

    The reply came “Mel C. Obviously.”

    Oh how we laughed. It’s not what was on the card, but it’s right, isn’t it?

  90. 90
    Andrew Farrell on 4 Jan 2014 #

    Of course it’s different – discovering stuff from the vaults, particularly if you feel like it is speaking right to you, is a great feeling, but feeling like it’s speaking to you and a million other people at the same time is something completely else.

    As regards the second question, the notion is wedged between the words “Girl” and “Power”.

  91. 91
    MikeMCSG on 4 Jan 2014 #

    #88 But which one is the best role model ? Non-singing clothes horse ? Deranged fame-chasing former nude model ? Notorious Manc slapper ( I worked for someone who knew her )? Failed actress willing to base her image on paedophilic fantasy ?
    The answer’s going to be the vaguely likeable scally but it’s not a great choice.

  92. 92
    Andrew Farrell on 4 Jan 2014 #

    Is it Notorious, Manc, or slapper that’s supposed to be the insult there? Either way, taken in bulk with the rest as they trip off your tongue, they all seem like badges of honour.

  93. 93
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 4 Jan 2014 #

    from mel c’s wikip entry: ” She has 11 tattoos on her body which her parents allowed”

    ^^^I totally salute this fact and the person who wrote it :D

  94. 94
    Alan on 4 Jan 2014 #

    On reflection this song may have steered me back from an indie-and-dance high zag to a chart-pop zig. Ah, I distinctly recall trying to excite my work/office colleagues about this, and using the NME’s ‘guide to the spices’ which I *think* had subtly different nicknames to the now-canonical spice-roster. An absolute attention-getter of a song — video aside. They were THE dead cert on my ‘end of decade’ 90s compilation.

    Because they were so successful and ubiquitous the weight of a wider-culture’s expectation on this pop band was always going to be too much. When half the world is making fun of the lightweightness of “zig-a-zig ah”, expecting them carry a wave toward a feminist utopia seems as unreasonable as expecting any band, Oasis say, to have already completed the project. There are certainly, after this, all-women acts that cut no lineage from them that are less successful and way more problematic through conventional feminist critique . And before this… Bananarama? Excellent and successful in their time, but no better or worse than the role models here and lacking a PR-gimme attempt at being positive. And they WERE trying to be positive, which gives them some points, even if it encompassed Thatcher-spice. :-(

  95. 95
    Chelovek na lune on 4 Jan 2014 #

    Ah, and here; the ‘political’ interview (with Simon Sebag Montefiore!), in the characteristically playful style of the Spectator, and some proposed alternative ‘alter egos’:

    Mel B as Claire Short; Emma as Barbra Castle; Mel C as Edwina Currie; and, now, for some gender-bending….: Victoria as Bill Cash; and Geri as John Redwood. ! ! ! ! !


    Hmmm. I guess they were right about the euro, for one thing.

  96. 96
    Kinitawowi on 4 Jan 2014 #

    Spice Girls on politics sounds like the sort of fake soundbites the Sun attributes to its Page Three Girls.

  97. 97
    Tom on 4 Jan 2014 #

    Behind all the smirking – I say fellows, it talks! – the Spectator interview is probably pretty close to one of Phillip Gould’s famous/notorious focus groups for New Labour, which he’d have been conducting around this time. Sebag isn’t a great moderator – and doesn’t need to be, he’s canny enough to know soundbites will sell the interview – so we don’t go any deeper.

    Two slightly more generous (and dare I say interesting) interviews from the first phase of Spice:

    http://www.theguardian.com/music/2012/dec/11/spice-girls-classic-interview – a reprint of a Big Issue piece that came out around the time of the Spectator one. Has a set of soundbite definitions of ‘Girl Power’.

    http://creaturesofcomfort.tumblr.com/post/18437270949/kathy-acker-interviews-the-spice-girls-for-vogue-in – Kathy Acker’s interview with the Girls for Vogue in early 97 (before “Wannabe” went to #1 there) – interesting reading given the arguments upthread, this is a feminist writer trying to work out where the group sit in relation to feminism.

    All of these interviews are fascinating for the inter-group dynamics and remind me how interesting and infuriating Geri in particular was at the time – every interviewer (kind or hostile) works hard to set traps for her and her strategy was always simply to charge straight into them and then shout her way out of them.

  98. 98
    Andrew Farrell on 4 Jan 2014 #

    The straight text of the Spectator interview, still bearing the justification hyphens from its original print form, does make it sound like it’s being conducted on and by Daleks – one in a Union Jack paint job, one with pigtails, etc.

  99. 99

    Here’s the Kathy Acker interview in a slightly more readable typeface :D http://ilovecatparty.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/stealing-this-vogue-gym-was-pivotal.html

    Kathy actually lived in the London — I knew her a little — from the mid-80s to her death, which I think helps an interview in a US publication be a bit more grounded about the UK than usual. It was re-published in Guardian G2, and I have a copy somewhere in the house which I was planning to dig out. She’s better at digging into the complexities and contraditions and naivities of their ideals and impulses because a. she’s not just an elegantly misogynist dillweed; b. she is actually interested in what they think (and when and why they don’t); c. she’s very well aware of the generational (and other) fissures and fractures in feminism and far from pious about radical political institutions (this is very much on background here, it is after all Vogue magazine, but it informs Kathy’s approach).

    Sheryl Garrett was of course editor of The Face — and has written very funnily and perceptively elsewhere about the voracious and demonic energies of fandom, having been a Bay City Rollers fan herself in the 70s: the important element being that, even pre-internet, it was the fans that collectively set the tone of the reception of the item of worship, whose contribution was almost irrelevant. Fandom is very much not passive, and has often taken proto-feminist or proto-political forms (though I think it’s needed the internet to create spaces for these to turn into anything with lasting heft and lastingsocial presence — albeit largely mocked heft still, as far as many outsiders go).

    (ps I nicked the internet/politics point from artist/musician Karen D. Tregaskin: “It’s interesting to me, though, the association of talking about the Spice Girls with the advent of INTERNET THOUGHT. Because the Spice Girls were the first band where basically all of my talking about them was mediated through the internet. I got online in about 94, 95 or so, but all of the bands I discussed with early internet Fandoms were bands which had arisen Before Internet, and I just met other fans there. Everything about the Spice Girls (seeing the movie for the first time, in Texas of all places, with 4 other girls I had met solely through the internet) was addressed, discussed and digested through this new tool. The Spice Girls would rise – and bicker and whittle down – and fall. But it was the new tool for discussing music that would become inescapable.”)

  100. 100
    punctum on 4 Jan 2014 #

    #91: misogynistic and potentially actionable comment.

  101. 101

    Actually surely one of the ways that the Spicers were “like punk” is that their most important effect may have been a promise for change that couldn’t really be followed through on in the form it manifested: certainly I know quite a lot of youngish feminists (and also vigorous anti-sexist activists who crossly don’t identify as “feminist” despite surely being precisely what others would consider feminist)* who’d been big Spicer fans as kids, and who retain enormous affection for them as inspirations and such, while (perhaps) tracing their own entry into political awareness as a coming to terms with what was flawed abt their beloved SG, while still being fond of (and retroactively loyal to) what was, if not right exactly, then exciting and entertaining.

    *(cf generational and other fractures and fissures mentioned above — and I well realise I don’t really have standing to adjudicate what is good and what is bad feminism; that way lies mansplaining and this is EXACTLY not the thread for that…)

  102. 102
    Mark M on 4 Jan 2014 #

    There’s a pretty good Miranda Sawyer interview with the Spice Girls in the November 1996 issue of The Face (Ewan McGregor is the cover star – other coverlines show mixed lasting relevance: The X-Files, Tupac, Steve Coogan, Alexander McQueen, Space, Amsterdam’s Chemical Church Hits The UK. There’s also a piece on five hot movie starlets: Anne Heche, Fairuza Balk, Alison Elliot, Reese Witherspoon and Rachel Weisz).

  103. 103
    MikeMCSG on 4 Jan 2014 #

    # 100 Which one ? I don’t think there’s any shortage of evidence regarding Mel’s pre-fame behaviour in Longsight and her subsequent adventures hardly disprove the proposition. Typical that any criticism has to be immediately tarred as misogynistic.

  104. 104

    It wasn’t “any” criticism, it was quite specifically your poisonously misogynist contribution. “Role models” aren’t at all a smart way of looking things, but the answer to your question — as per Andrew upthread — is that ALL FIVE of them are better rolemodels than you, you mediocre bigot.

  105. 105
    MikeMCSG on 4 Jan 2014 #

    # 104 It would be interesting to know how you would define the purpose of a teacher if the “role model” concept has no value.

  106. 106
    tm on 4 Jan 2014 #

    Can you imagine if it was a man you were talking about? “Robbie bedded hundreds of women before he joined the band”. I don’t think slapper would be the word anyone (except maybe Mark E Smith) would use.

  107. 107
    enitharmon on 4 Jan 2014 #

    @106 But it does speak volumes about a pernicious social attitude that nobody from Bessie Smith through to the present day via the Spice Girls has succeeded in puncturing, alas.

  108. 108
    tm on 4 Jan 2014 #

    Yeah, it’s crap: men call women slags for enjoying casual sex then complain when they don’t want to sleep with them. I think a certain self-loathing underpins it: “We’re awful people so anyone who wants sleep with us must be a slag etc”

  109. 109
    weej on 4 Jan 2014 #

    This is still the best critique of the Spice Girls I’ve come across, although reading that spectator article is a fairly effective one by itself. I wonder if they’d have different ideas if you asked them now.

  110. 110
    tm on 4 Jan 2014 #

    Seems as good a time as any to mention Richard Herring’s routine about the Spice Girls representing the five different types of women (“not just two like you and Skeletor think, Stu”) Apparently Lee and Herring met the Spice Girls and Mel C told them they were fans and had heard L&H done a sketch about them. Mel C was ‘ugly women who can jump’ which Herring truncated to Women who can jump in her presence…

  111. 111
    Erithian on 4 Jan 2014 #

    Similarly, sadly, Frank Skinner, who got quite a laugh with the line “Spice Girls – why the ugly one?” Presumably meaning Sporty and reflecting the idea that you can’t be both athletic and attractive, which hopefully has been seen off by the likes of Jess Ennis. Leave alone the fact that Mel C has arguably the best voice and the warmest personality of the lot.

    Mel C is also the only Spice Girl I’ve seen live – she did a short set to the happiest crowd imaginable, the crowd in Trafalgar Square in 2005 that had just heard London had been awarded the Olympics.

    Totally agree with tm and Rosie above too.

  112. 112
    Cumbrian on 4 Jan 2014 #

    #108: Called to mind. “Son, I’m 30, I only went with your mother ‘cos she’s dirty, and I don’t have a decent bone in me”. There’s possibly an element of truth in your comment. It could just be old fashioned double standards too tho.

  113. 113
    Job de Wit (@JobdeWit) on 4 Jan 2014 #

    Als je dit weekend maar één stukje over popmuziek leest, lees @tomewing over „Wannabe” van de Spice Girls. http://t.co/ACJy24ET8n

  114. 114
    tm on 4 Jan 2014 #

    Re 111: to be fair to Richard Herring, his routine was written in a spirit of comic irony, meant to make his onscreen character look like a blundering buffoon. But that always was a problem with post alternative comedy: they wanted to have their ladish cake and eat it ironically.

  115. 115
    MikeMCSG on 4 Jan 2014 #

    #106 I fully agree that it’s unfair that there isn’t an equivalent word for men. I’ve no time for bedroom boasters male or female. I refute the misogyny tag ; my antipathy to the Spicies is class not gender-based. They’re obnoxious people who’ve got too much money for people who left school at 16 and with due regard to the Mels being able to sing are not obviously talented. I’m fine with people taking a pot at me over that.

  116. 116
    @foxbasegamma on 4 Jan 2014 #

    SPICE GIRLS – “Wannabe”

  117. 117
    tm on 4 Jan 2014 #

    Read the Spectator piece. I never realised they were so Tory. Obviously I knew about the ‘Thatcher was the original Spice Girl’ quote but I’d assumed nthat was out of admiration for her rise to power in a male dominated world. I never knew they had such strong views on Europe, the monarchy etc. In truth their views are no more peurile than a lot of musicians’ more left leaning attitudes but I always find it depressing to hear pop stars saying ‘I’ve worked hard, why should I pay taxes?’ It just seems so tawdry and petty coming from people who are meant to be the brightest and the best of us.

  118. 118
    taDOW on 4 Jan 2014 #

    wow the vapors the spice girls can generate – who knew??? loving these clutched pearls!

  119. 119
    Mark G on 4 Jan 2014 #

    Well, it’s good to find out antipathy to the spicies can be class based. And that’s better than being gender based.

    I’m going for a coffee. I may be some time.

  120. 120
    @johanlif on 4 Jan 2014 #

    Det här (på bloggen som recenserar alla nr 1-singlar i UK) var bra skrivet om Spice Girls. Tyckte jag. http://t.co/g2oKEnZ5Wt

  121. 121
    wichitalineman on 5 Jan 2014 #

    Re 117: From memory, The Face interview doesn’t peg them all as Tories. Maybe Geri and Victoria, with a couple of ‘don’t knows’ and one socialist? As I said, that’s from memory, but I only re-read it a year or so ago. That they didn’t have a Spice Girls party line is quite refreshing, at least.

    Re 119: Good idea. Step away.

  122. 122
    glue_factory on 5 Jan 2014 #

    Re: 122, you remember correctly


    “An anarchist, a labour, two conservative and one who couldn’t give a fuck”

  123. 123
    AMZ1981 on 5 Jan 2014 #

    If memory serves it was Geri Halliwell who was the most pro Tory, pro Thatcher, anti Europe (in 1996) and she subsequently appeared in a Labour Party political broadcast – probably for the 2001 election although I might be wrong.

    This is a music thread not a political one so I don’t insist upon what follows – Geri’s `defection` might indicate that it was William Hague’s approach as leader that cost the Tories the youth vote for a generation.

  124. 124
    enitharmon on 5 Jan 2014 #

    In 1996 very few people were admitting to being Conservatives. I remember making hay with the revelation that Bristol Young Conservatives (me being Chair of Bristol West Labour Party that year by the way) was reduced to just one member.

  125. 125
    23 Daves on 5 Jan 2014 #

    #123 – After hearing the news of Thatcher’s death, Geri trotted out the “original Spice Girl” line again on Twitter, mentioned something about admiring her, then promptly deleted her comment (and apologised) after getting a wave of abuse.

    I do find it surprising she supported Labour at any point, really, though that may be more indicative of Labour’s drift rightwards than anything else.

  126. 126
    Izzy on 5 Jan 2014 #

    What was the apology supposed to be for, exactly?

  127. 127
    iconoclast on 5 Jan 2014 #

    I have to get this out somewhere, and this looks like the best place to do it. So, with a deep breath and no little nervousness…

    Few would argue that the increase in the representation of women in the music charts is anything but a Very Good Thing. It’s just unfortunate that it had to happen during the era following the death of the third and final great upsurge of creativity in British popular music, an era in which a once vital artform became dumbed-down, blanded-out, and neutered into a Blairite focus-group-driven marketing exercise in artist-branded loyalty and aural comfort food. Along with the rise of the Internet, reality TV, and a sea-change in the way music was “consumed”, it led to a simultaneous rerun of the pre-Beatles Sixties and the era of St*ck-A*tk*n-and-W*t*rm*n, during which artistic considerations were gradually sidelined, ignored, and eventually forgotten. In slightly modified form this state of affairs is still with us and, depressingly, it shows no sign of ever going away. It’s a sad irony that, unremarkable as it is a song, Wannabe” is still better than the vast majority of what it would go on to inspire.

    Right, I’ll go away and lie down for a bit, until you’ve all stopped laughing hysterically and picked yourselves off the floor.

  128. 128
    Mark M on 5 Jan 2014 #

    Re: 121/122: just for the sake of historical tidiness, that was a different feature from the one I mentioned earlier – the clarification of their political positions was in an interview with Chris Heath, which was the cover story of the March 1997 issue of The Face. (The Spices are in bikinis on the cover and in the pics with the interview – I think that was an uncharacterically poor editorial decision by the team then running the mag).

  129. 129
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Jan 2014 #

    #127 – I’m afraid I didn’t maintain a straight face past “final” – which of the verses in Exordium and Terminus are you speaking to us from?

  130. 130
    AMZ1981 on 5 Jan 2014 #

    #125 I suppose you can admire Thatcher’s stubborness, determination and the fact that she made it in a man’s world without subscribing to her politics. I also believe Geri Halliwell’s main reason for leaning towards the conservatives was on anti EU grounds.

    I’d argue that more than any other solo Spice Geri Halliwell courted the gay market; in 2001 it wouldn’t do to be associated with a party which was taking quite a homophobic line (and to be fair, I think we can reasonably assume that whatever her other opinions Geri is a social liberal).

  131. 131
    23 Daves on 5 Jan 2014 #

    #126 – Only she could answer that! Her follow-up tweet said something along the lines of “Sorry if I offended you”.

  132. 132
    tm on 5 Jan 2014 #

    I don’t buy this Jaggeresque ‘social liberal, fiscal conservative’ BS: “I just want everyone to be nice and tolerant and decent and be free to do what they want and have nice lives” “Are you prepared to make any sort of sacrifice to support any sort of movement to the utopia you describe” “Fuck no, hands off my stack, commie”

  133. 133
    Patrick Mexico on 5 Jan 2014 #

    Loaded by Primal Scream just had a colossal improvement!

  134. 134
    Tom on 5 Jan 2014 #

    #132 – I think Geri would probably have said she was LEADING the Movement!

    Re Pop Star Politics in general and Geri’s all-things-to-all-people interviews: this is sort of what I meant upthread about Philip Gould and focus-group politics. The surface of politics is a froth of statements phrased in such a way that most people would agree with them – ideas about freedom, hard work, independence, fairness, tolerance, prosperity, social justice, all of which sound jolly good in a common-sense sort of way. The actual business of politics, obviously, involves enormous amounts of compromises, trade-offs, paying favours, trimming against events, etc. etc. But generally parties will have rhetorical themes they go on the offensive on and others they end up on the defensive over.

    But in a focus group people will happily think any or all of those ideas are good at once, and the job of the moderator is partly to get underneath that to work out which way they will actually jump. But at this point the Tories were so moribund and discredited that Gould (and other Blairites) realised you didn’t have to go underneath – you could bundle up ALL of the common-sense good things and grab them all at once under the magic “new” rubric. (And they may well have believed they could deliver on that politically, too)

    So it isn’t exactly surprising that Halliwell had gone over to Labour by 2001 since the entire project of New Labour was to create a party which believed in everything – tho of course “rightward drift” was how that actually shook out in terms of many policy decisions.

    Actually along these lines I wonder if Posh played a part in the 1997 landslide – an awful lot of Tory strategists must have read that Spectator interview and been immensely cheered at her playback of the “Labour can’t be trusted on the economy” line. “Look!” they must have thought, “The young people aren’t fooled!”

  135. 135
    tm on 6 Jan 2014 #

    Re: Geri, yeah I’d bet she would! UN Goodwill Ambassador, self-described peer of Mandella, those kids books with Posh Princess Vatoria as the villain. A monstrous and entirely unjustified ego on the rampage: Alan Partridge in a Union Jack minidress. Still way more sympathetic than she should be. Maybe that’s just because I fancied her for many a year…

    Unfair of me really to peg Jagger with that sort of wooly minded flip-flopping. The Stones are fairly straight up libertarians: do what you gotta do to get through but don’t come looking to us for advice if the trip turns sour.

  136. 136
    Tom on 6 Jan 2014 #

    #127/129 – Andrew is being a bit unfair IMO – I basically agree with iconoclast that this is a big shift (or rather, this is a good marker of a big shift): I spent a lot of the Three Lions entry saying “we’re at the end of something” after all. If you even wanted to talk about generational shifts I wouldn’t disagree. There really are big changes going on.

    I don’t agree with him that these changes are terrible and that “artistic considerations” were “forgotten”.

    What I do think is that a particular narrative started to fail at around this point, and it has taken quite a long time for people to notice it had failed. It was a bit similar to the way the narrative around rock changed in the wake of punk. As Bob has pointed out in his book, if you look at the way some people narrativised ‘rock history’ just before punk it’s very much a story of increasing complexity, artistry, proficiency and respectability: an artform growing up. And within those terms of reference punk was a disaster and ruined everything – that story suddenly had a rather sad ending. Plenty of people still resent and don’t accept what happened with punk and after.

    But then a different story came in to replace it, and the story was one of increasing freedom, experimentation, discovery, and novelty. Different parts of the first history looked more important in the second story, others looked a lot less important.

    I think what iconoclast is describing is the idea that this second story also ends up having a sad ending – the one described in eg. Simon Reynolds’ Retromania, which is the source of a lot of this line of thinking. The story of pop as a story of constant forward motion ends with pop not seeming to move forward any more.

    People can and have disagreed strongly with this ending on the story’s own terms, arguing that forward motion hasn’t stopped (just as plenty of people who liked the first story didn’t agree punk had ended it). But when I thought about the Retromania idea I didn’t entirely disagree but I did wonder, is this a story about pop failing or about a set of ideas about pop failing? In the wake of punk there was a reframing of notions about what pop did well or was good at doing. What might a similar reframing of pop’s “third act” look like? What are the terms on which it might see itself? What did the ‘progressive’ story of pop miss?

    (The answers might not be pleasant or interesting ones, of course!)

    (BTW I don’t think “poptimism” or w/ever is the answer, exactly.)

    (And the even more interesting question is – if this nebulous third framing started in the mid-90s, when/how does it fail and what replaces it?)

  137. 137
    swanstep on 6 Jan 2014 #

    @tom,136. I’ve only read a precis/reviews of Retromania but does it really date collapse of a sense of forward motion in pop music to 1996/1997 (as opposed to characterizing, roughly where we are now)? I mean, 1997 is OK Computer/Come To Daddy/Homogenic which seemed pretty progressive and, moreover, if anything, the cultural vibe I get from all that stuff *isn’t* internal to music rather it’s relating much more broadly to the temper of its time. 1997 was the height of economic growth in the west – anyone who wants a job can get one etc. – perhaps immediately before we head into true bubble territory. It’s peace and prosperity as far as the western eye can see; exuberant, buoyant times. And in perfect counterpoint to all this suddenly lots of ominous, inward music emerges and finds an audience (very like all yer modernist prophets of doom emerging in 1922 just as the 1920’s start to roar and the new technologies of cars, phones and radio really take hold).

  138. 138
    Ed on 6 Jan 2014 #

    I wouldn’t disagree with a lot of this, but isn’t it a bit odd to date the death of originality in British pop to a record that sounded like nothing that had gone before it, made by a group that were talking about ideas never before discussed in an equivalent pop context?

    I also have a lot more sympathy with Iconoclast’s point @127 given the qualifier about the death of creativity in *British* pop. American pop was at this point just entering what I think of as its true Golden Age, which you might also call the Last Hurrah of progressive pop: the avant-R&B explosion of the turn of the millennium, when you had Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Pharrell Wiliams and many others creating the best music of their careers.

    (There was also Destiny’s Child, who will of course be troubling Popular later, but not for their second, and best, album, The Writing’s on the Wall, recorded in 1998-99. I would love to know whether the Spice Girls were one of the models they had in mind when they wrote it. Going back to the thoughts about the SGs being like punk, and the impossibility of their demands, in Bills Bils Bills and Bug-a-Boo Destiny’s Child talked about what emotional and financial independence might mean in the most practical ways. So I guess you could say they were the Clash to the SGs’ Pistols.)

  139. 139
    Andrew Farrell on 6 Jan 2014 #

    I think I’m being quite fair, in that I’m restricting my mockery to the idea that this is the end of the third *and final* golden age.

  140. 140
    tm on 6 Jan 2014 #

    An aside: can we have the Spice Girls on the avatar. Or ‘Waysis. Or Prodigy. Ta.

  141. 141
    Tom on 6 Jan 2014 #

    Spicers on their way – the flurry of activity over New Years meant the writing got ahead of the layout!

  142. 142
    Mark M on 6 Jan 2014 #

    Re 136 etc: A friend of mine (who I can guarantee has never read a word Simon Reynolds has written) was saying the other day that he had realised with some shock that Madonna’s Holiday was 30 years old, and then with a further shock that we were as far from 1983 as ’83 was from the pre-rock’n’roll era. His argument (with due reference to Back To The Future) followed that if you played Holiday to an average radio listener from 1953, they would find it impossibly alien, but you could play today’s top 10 to a pop fan from 1983 and it would broadly make sense to them.

  143. 143
    swanstep on 6 Jan 2014 #

    Rewinding to Rosie’s challenge that any alleged feminism of the SGs is decidedly small beer… I wonder whether Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Want To have Fun’ is a useful precedent for ‘Wannabe’. On the one hand, it’s hard to point to anything especially novel, let alone high-brow lyrically about GJWTHF, on the other other hand, particularly in the context of Lauper’s performance in the vid., it did feel like a really forceful, vibrant statement of basic female agency and solidarity/friendship. Lauper wasn’t The Raincoats or Lydia Lunch or…but none of those figures were ever going to influence the playground as it were, so it still made sense to appreciate and credit Lauper’s small beer feminist pop (and later Madonna’s). Isn’t that how it works with the SGs? They’re not Kathleen Hanna or L7 or Liz Phair or.. and in fact their particular entry point – their battleground in pop – is much younger and broader even than people like Alanis Morissette, who was selling by the truckload in 1996, or the all-gal touring music festival, Lilith Fair that was big business at the time, at east in North America). This is Kat’s point at #88. And thinking about the props that Lauper got for her anthem (seemingly rightly – we await Lena’s verdict on it some time in 2015?!), I tend to think that the point’s good and entirely general: when it comes to chart-toppers we use a different set of standards for assessing political moment.

    If one isn’t in the right mood it can seem wishful or even preposterous to detect political micro-tremors in the designed-to-sell-millions-to-kids, but, at least when one’s feeling generous, as we riffle through the #1s and think through associated history in their light, what might otherwise seem like small differences can feel legitimately huge.

  144. 144
    anto on 6 Jan 2014 #

    I knew girls at school who were in the Spice Girls fan club, but I also knew girls who were well aware of P.J Harvey. Also a mention to two groups with outspoken female singers – Garbage and Skunk Anansie – both very, very popular at this time with both boys and girls. Can we not fall into the trap of assuming ‘the kids’ are or were all of one mindset.

    Re Retromania – One of the reasons the book is not quite as persuasive as it should be is that it goes down a bit of a cul-de-sac in its mid-section working out ‘where it all went wrong’. Also Simon Reynolds seems unwilling to delineate between rock music that is genuinely retro(gressive) and sounds that are contemporary but still informed by the past – which are inevitable and not undesirable. For instance The Jam are marked out as culprits for their Carnaby Street affectations which seems unfair to me because Paul Weller is one artist who could never be accussed of not knowing when to move on.

  145. 145
    Kat but logged out innit on 6 Jan 2014 #

    #144: I was into Alanis! And Skunk Anansie! I had their albums, played them all the time and still had no idea who either would have voted for in a general election :) To me, the world of pop music (or indeed post-grunge) seemed completely separate from what was on Newsround (i.e. actually worth my attention). I could be wrong – Jayne Middlemiss might well have asked Skin about politics on The O-Zone – but as per #143 it’s the broad reach of the Spicers that was their key difference.

  146. 146
    punctum on 6 Jan 2014 #

    #115: You’re just digging a deeper and deeper hole for yourself, pal. “too much money for people who left school at 16”? That’s probably the most classist piece of right-wing tosh I’ve ever read here. Who the hell are you to say what people should do and how much they should earn if they leave school at 16 (which in the case of at least some of the Spice Girls wasn’t actually the case)? “obnoxious people” – you know them, do you? You’ve met them and have first-hand evidence of how they behave? You’d prefer sending them back up the chimney or down the mines? Perhaps the Mail Online comments section would be more up your street.

    Would anybody be saying any of this about East 17?

  147. 147
    Tom on 6 Jan 2014 #

    #137/138 – yeah, there isn’t a break point between narrative frames (as handily provided by punk) – I don’t know exactly when Simon R suggests that innovation declined into stasis (because erm I didn’t finish the book either), as Swanstep says he’s diagnosing current culture tho. The SGs begin fresh but end up leaning very heavily on pastiches of older styles at times, but that’s a conversation for later #1s.

    I said “started to fail” tho – different areas of ‘innovation’/progression started to fall away at different times – so marking it to this point is as much about British indie and rock and the Oasis effect as it is about the Spice Girls.

    And it’s about a way of looking at and valuing pop more than about what ‘actually’ happened – don’t want to say too much at this stage but Destiny’s Child (and Beyonce in general) are a very interesting case – their kind of R&B fits into the ‘progressive’ narrative frame, as Ed says, but is that the best way to think about it?

    Basically we’ve reached a point in 2013 where the story of pop as a story of pioneers and inventors has almost nothing to tell us about why the most successful/interesting current artists (like or dislike them) – Kanye, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Drake, Daft Punk, Miley et al – might be good or important. So the question for me is – is that a failure of pop or a failure of the story? (It might be both).

  148. 148
    Mark M on 6 Jan 2014 #

    Re 147 etc: The r&b as more adventurous narrative goes back at least to 1986, when it seemed patently clear to me at least that what Jam & Lewis were doing on Janet Jackson’s Control was vastly more sonically daring than anything being done by (to pick some ‘alternative’ guitar flavours then available) The Shop Assistants (who I loved), The Dream Syndicate, The Cult or The Replacements.

  149. 149
    punctum on 6 Jan 2014 #

    That’s a variable and not really comparable set of guitar groups. Also, what does “more sonically daring” mean? You’re as well saying Art of Noise were more “adventurous” in 1983 than the Smiths.

  150. 150
    Tom on 6 Jan 2014 #

    (BTW as is probably obvious I’m on the side of “the story failed” rather than “pop failed” – “sonically daring” as the go-to yardstick for pop quality became inadequate to describe the situation on the ground.)

  151. 151
    Tom on 6 Jan 2014 #

    & as a descriptor for R&B it tended to privilege the producers over the singers, which had obvious problems – this is all stuff we’ll discuss in a lot of detail in the 00s of course…

  152. 152
    MikeMCSG on 6 Jan 2014 #

    #146 To answer each point calmly. There’s a promise made at school that if you stay on there’ll be a premium for that later in life – as someone of more or less the same age you must have been told that too- I don’t see it as right wing perhaps just very naïve to expect a delivery on that. Now obviously from Wayne Rooney to Alex Higgins and there are especially talented people who have to be rewarded outside of that framework ; I’ve yet to be convinced that the Spice Girls clear the bar.
    In your temporary retirement piece on TPL you referred to not receiving any writing commissions as a result so I guess you’re not immune from making “right wing ” connections between work and reward ?
    If I’m wrong about any of their school leaving ages I hold my hand up and apologise for the misassumption.
    There’s plenty of examples from others upthread about obnoxious behaviour though I concede it’s mainly Geri and that perhaps she’s over-coloured my perception of the others. I don’t know any of them ; the original comment on Mel came from a black 40 year old female from the same area of Manchester so I presume she knew what she was talking about (NB she also had some interesting tales about The Jacksons’ stay at The Britannia in 77 where she worked as a room-maid but they’re definitely not repeatable here).
    Chimneys and mines and Mail. No.

  153. 153
    punctum on 6 Jan 2014 #

    Para 1: Didn’t apply to me. I was earmarked for university from about age four (child prodigy innit) on the understanding that as long as I passed the appropriate exams I would get in. But what I also learned is that to get into university and STAY there you need to have the patter and not just the grades – you need to demonstrate that you’re going to be able to function in a societal framework completely different from rote-learning school rather than find out you’ve made a horrible mistake and drop out halfway through year one at the taxpayer’s expense (and that’s not Mail editorial time, since there’s nothing socialist about wasting public money). Equally though there are people from Branson to Sugar for whom school clearly didn’t work and they had the patter to make themselves successful in other ways – perhaps they did better because they wanted it more.

    School is essentially not about education, it’s about getting children ready for the five-day working week, hence the emphasis on punctuality and unquestioning obedience of authority. Some people just aren’t going to be able to do that. Since most of the Spice Girls went to STAGE school (after or concomitant with secondary education), however, it was always clear that they had a fairly exact idea about what they wanted to do in life. What’s wrong with that?

    “I’ve yet to be convinced that the Spice Girls clear the bar” – it’s not up to you, nobody’s waiting for your judgment.

    Pare 2: “Right wing” connections? What are you talking about? A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay? That’s the basis of socialism, petal (that and all the stuff about owning the means of production etc.). All I’m saying is that on TPL I’m doing a hell of a lot of work with no material return, and yes it would be nice to be paid for writing it since the money would come in handy, I’m not going to bullshit about that. It would also be nice if a publisher could take a chance on turning it into a book but nowadays you have to jump through several hoops just to get an agent, never mind a publisher. Then again, you’re effectively asking the world: “I would like the chance to prove I’m a great writer, but risk somebody else’s money doing it” which absolves the writer from responsibility – a very dodgy field in which to get marooned.

    Para 3: These “examples” are personal opinions based largely on anecdotal evidence – and I’m not going to knock anecdotal evidence in and of itself; it’s all most people have to go on – but if you’re going to use a loaded word like “obnoxious” then you need to provide quantifiable evidence (“I presume” isn’t going to cut it) to back the description up, since otherwise you sound like you’re sneering at “uppity working-class girls” (and this persists when applied to women in the media in general; witness the kerfuffle over PJ Harvey’s editing of the Today show last week. Do you think there would have been a hundredth of the “controversy” raised if the same guests had been on but the editor had been Billy Bragg?).

  154. 154
    MikeMCSG on 6 Jan 2014 #

    I’m sorry you didn’t like university- maybe you picked the wrong one ? Hard to imagine you struggling for any sort of “patter”.
    If the Spice Girls went to stage school maybe what I found objectionable wasn’t real anyway.
    Course it’s just my opinion. Same goes for you or anyone else here.
    You wouldn’t find many Tories disputing the “fair day’s pay” concept – it’s not a uniquely socialist idea. I’m certainly not criticising you for wanting a return – good luck to us both on that.
    Can’t comment on the PJ Harvey thing – completely unaware of it. I don’t sneer at Cheryl Cole, Jo O’ Meara or Sandie Shaw; it must come down to not liking the music.

  155. 155
    Ed on 6 Jan 2014 #

    As Tom says, plenty of time for all this later. But… I do want to defend the “progressive” narrative a bit. The implication is that it’s applying the value system of King Crimson and Jethro Tull to Kanye West and Miley Cyrus. But the shock of the new is a vital part of pop; probably the most vital part.

    As somebody (Wichita?) said upthread, one of the ways you could tell Wannabe was great was that when you first heard it, you thought “what the hell is that?”

    Of course, delivering the shock of the new to today’s kids and to a 40-something music geek may be rather different endeavours….

  156. 156
    punctum on 6 Jan 2014 #

    #154: Hang on a minute, where did I say I didn’t like university? I had a brilliant time there, so brilliant I went to two of them. Hence my concern; if you’re misreading me here, it raises the question of whether what you think you’ve seen and heard the Spice Girls do, you’ve seen and heard well.

  157. 157
    MikeMCSG on 6 Jan 2014 #

    “drop out halfway through year one ” ? How does that square with “a brilliant time “. You’re right – I am confused.

  158. 158
    punctum on 6 Jan 2014 #

    Please note the rhetorical use of the second person plural in that particular passage. I knew many people at university who did end up in that situation. I myself did not. Nowhere do I refer to “I” or “me” or “my” in that context. Hopefully that is now clear.

    Please make sure that you read what I actually do write, as opposed to what you THINK I’ve written.

  159. 159
    Tom on 6 Jan 2014 #

    I think I’ve muddied the waters a bit – or perhaps my explanations weren’t too clear to begin with!

    I foolishly used the word “progressive” to mean the post-punk value system I grew up with – where the story of pop was essentially one of consecutive discoveries/revolutions/innovations. But of course progressive is a loaded word cos of prog, and makes people think of Crimson and Tull, who aren’t what I was talking about. If anything they’re part of the earlier narrative – which punk threw into question: one about increasing sophistication, proficiency and maturity. (NOT everyone believed in this narrative or would have held up prog rock as a great example of it, of course.)

    What I was calling the progressive narrative – is nicely defined by “the shock of the new is a vital part of pop, probably the most vital part”. So maybe it should be the shock-of-the-new narrative! This is absolutely the pop value system you and I and most of the people on Popular grew up with. And the question I’m asking is – how specific to a particular era is that value system? How useful is it in describing pop now? If it isn’t so useful, what takes its place?

    “Wannabe” has the shock of the new, to an extent, but remember it also has the shock of the familiar to a lot of its fans – here are people like me having the kind of fun I want to have and saying stuff that matters to me. And this kind of double standard – the way judgements of newness might override the representational content of music – becomes more and more acute, it’s there in discussions of R&B, hip-hop, grime, teenpop, etc etc.

  160. 160
    punctum on 6 Jan 2014 #

    The stories of King Crimson and the Spice Girls are actually more closely interlinked than people tend to think. I will be getting back to that in greater detail on TPL.

  161. 161
    MikeMCSG on 6 Jan 2014 #

    # 158 OK thanks for the clarification.

    # 159 I think I agree with that. Perhaps the potency of “shock of the new ” declined with the contraction of the weekly music press to one title and the Radio One blitzkrieg. When “new” music went straight onto Trevor Dann’s playlist rather than it taking 4 or 5 singles to move from John Peel to Simon Bates it couldn’t be “shocking ” any more.

  162. 162
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 6 Jan 2014 #

    cf their still-unreleased collaborative single “Spice THRAK” *high fives entire audience*

  163. 163
    thefatgit on 6 Jan 2014 #

    Deep in the mix of “Wannabe”, I hear the deployment of a Wah pedal.

  164. 164
    Jon (@octojon) on 6 Jan 2014 #

    This is a good write-up. ‘Wannabe’ is peerless pop-as-manifesto. RT @tomewing my Popular entry on “Wannabe” http://t.co/DcGqYW6EuG

  165. 165
    Alan on 6 Jan 2014 #

    the 6th member, Tarkus Spice

  166. 166
    Steve Williams on 6 Jan 2014 #

    Love the reference to No Way No Way by Tom back at comment one. I was at university at the time and we were obsessed with how hopeless Vanilla were, and when the follow-up turned up I had to record their appearance on Fully Booked for my flatmates because we couldn’t wait to hear it, though True To Us turned out to be disappointingly proficient.

    A couple of dull observations. I think this is one of the only number ones (the only?) of 1996 not to enter at number one which is odd when you consider how they seem to epitomise the concept of first week sales being all and bands being dropped if they don’t go straight in at number one. Also, note the sleeve just says “Spice” and I recall in their early appearances they were billed under that with the “Girls” being appended at the last minute.

    I’m afraid that I fell for the Spice Girls hook, line and sinker, I used to collect the stickers and everything, which was partly me being a wacky student trying to be funny but also because I found them genuinely entertaining. I think what really helped them was that they would go on the telly and be properly funny, they would faithfully go on the Saturday morning shows and join in with all the features which was very endearing.

    The VHS they released to go with the first album illustrates that, too, there are loads of bits where they just talk rubbish or say stupid things and tell crap jokes, however stage-managed it all was it certainly seemed very spontaneous.

  167. 167
    Tom on 6 Jan 2014 #

    #166 My feeling is that kind of knockabout spontaneity is one of the things that’s most difficult to stage-manage – groups either have it or they don’t and it’s generally painfully obvious when they don’t.

  168. 168
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 6 Jan 2014 #

    I was rewatching that very documentary on Sat Eve and what’s on-screen is certainly spontaneous and uncoaxed — and yes, very often very charming and funny. The editing room is where managerial decisions get made — what gets left out and such. They were pretty clearly pals who still hugely enjoyed each other’s company and the ride they were collectively on; even the drearier aspects (which they endure by making fun of).

  169. 169
    enitharmon on 6 Jan 2014 #

    [Rises nervously to feet, faces audience, shuffles nervously, looks at shoes, looks up, mumbles]

    My name is Rosalind and I like Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Kevin Ayres, (early) Soft Machine, Captain Beefheart, Neil Young, The Doors, (early) Fleetwood Mac and the Velvet Underground (this list is not exhaustive). Oh, and Green Day and Muse thanks to my daughter.

    But then I also like Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Edith Piaf, Dusty Springfield, Alison Moyet, Annie Lennox, Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith, PJ Harvey, Suzanne Vega, Garbage, Skunk Anansie, Feist and Nellie McKay (again not an exhaustive list).

    And I still can’t find it in me to like the spicers.

    So where do I stand?

  170. 170
    AMZ1981 on 6 Jan 2014 #

    #166 It was one of five (I think) that didn’t enter at the top – the others were Return Of The Mack, Ooh Ah Just A Little Bit, Ready Or Not, and Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

  171. 171
    James BC on 6 Jan 2014 #

    There was also Killing Me Softly and Three Lions climbing back to the top as they swapped places, so arguably seven non-new entries.

    Surprisingly many to me, since my memory of that time is a new hit crashing in almost every single week.

  172. 172
    thefatgit on 6 Jan 2014 #

    #170, A piece of carrot falls unchewed from Bunny’s mouth.

  173. 173
    Cumbrian on 6 Jan 2014 #

    I’ve often wondered about the spoiler bunny. Is it related to the Rabbit of Caerbannog and known to Tim the Enchanter? Or is it more like Jive Bunny?

    Actually, it is clear which is the more terrifying prospect and it’s not the Python one.

  174. 174
    enitharmon on 6 Jan 2014 #

    @173 I’ve always though of it as more General Woundwort.

  175. 175
    flahr on 6 Jan 2014 #

    #142 “A friend of mine (who I can guarantee has never read a word Simon Reynolds has written)”

    would that I were so lucky ;_;

    (I actually left Retromania agreeing less with its central conceit than when I started – I felt pop music was looking back and being nostalgic more than I would perhaps value, but then I read sentences like “These out-of-time hippies were the most intriguing group of people at Brasenose College” and it was COME BACK UNORIGINALITY ALL IS FORGIVEN)

  176. 176
    punctum on 6 Jan 2014 #

    Yes, well, Brasenose, they let Jeffrey Archer in (for a year), shows you what standards they had…

    #169: it’s the Patty Waters vs Paris Hilton acid test!

  177. 177
    Tommy Mack on 6 Jan 2014 #

    I thought Simon Reynolds lost the plot in Retromania when he started bigging up Hauntology which, even in his enthusiastic description, sounds like some of the most ponderous consomme-thin musical gruel imaginable.

  178. 178
    Tommy Mack on 6 Jan 2014 #

    Re: the Spice Girls’ alleged obnoxiousness, aged 15, I would have definitely agreed: my reaction to this was ‘oh great, more idiot girls chattering, don’t I get enough of that at school?’ (I was a twat).

    Geri is definitely the obnoxious one. But in a weirdly charismatic way, like, as has been said upthread, the manic zeal of Kevin Rowland or Adam Ant. She is also a bit like Alan Partridge with her inflated ego, petty parochiality and absence of much talent beyond self-promotion. I genuinely don’t know what to make of her. I like her way more than I feel I should.

    SG as Sex Pistols: Geri is Johnny Rotten, Posh is Sid, Mel B is Steve Jones, Mel C is Matlock and Emma is Paul Cook.

  179. 179
    swanstep on 6 Jan 2014 #

    In case anyone’s interested, I just put µ-Ziq’s Throbbing Gristle-ish riposte to ‘Wannabe’ up on youtube. It was track 10 on µ-Ziq’s (comically prog-ishly titled?) Lunatic Harness (1997) album, which did not trouble the playground. Go three minutes in for the ‘punch-line’ if you can’t stomach the build-up.

  180. 180
    fivelongdays on 7 Jan 2014 #

    So, what did 14-year-old me think of the Spice Girls? Well, like many other boys of my generation, there was the fact that there was a girl group who – and get this – we could play the ‘which one’s your favourite?’* game with, as the girls had with TT et al.

    They were also an unstoppable juggernaut of pop, and to deny them would be churlish (even though 14-year-old me was slightly disappointed they kept Kula Shaker off number one**).


    *Victoria just edged out Emma at the time for me, although Geri was v popular, although her having Got Them Out may have had something to do with it.

    **Although it should have been Govinda, really.

  181. 181
    tm on 7 Jan 2014 #

    I meant to say also that I like the mod/Girl Power analogy: clean living under difficult circumstances, consumerism as a series of astute choices (esp. clothes) rather than stultifying torpor, intoxicants are there to keep you dancing rather than take you on a strange trip.

  182. 182
    tm on 7 Jan 2014 #

    One of the best points Simon Reynolds does make in Retromania is that pop’s not just about the shock of the new but the palpable sense of excitement that still comes across from people who knew they were on the vanguard of something new: in this sense, Wannabe scores highly.

  183. 183
    pink champale on 7 Jan 2014 #

    Wow, quite a thread. Aside from the socio political gender politics malarky, the one thing that’s always bothered me about the spice girls is the bus they go off in at the end of the Wanabe vid. Why that awful looking green and cream thing and no the “”””iconic”””” red London bus? Every time it seems jarring. Er, that’s it.

  184. 184
    swanstep on 8 Jan 2014 #

    @pink champale, 183. Still, getting *some* double-decker bus iconography in place from the beginning was a stroke of genius. It allowed the Spices to keep a common touch even as their new limo-lifestyle kicked in. I was living in Chicago in 1998 and was there in Jan when they visited to record an appearance on Oprah (and later – or was it earlier? – they held a press conf. at Planet Hollywood – remember those?). Well! They managed to just about shut down the city touring all around the Loop/CBD in a (red this time) open-topped, double-decker bus. Thousands of people piled out into the (freezing!) streets to greet/see them. I hadn’t paid much attention to the SGs at the time, but the news (helicopter etc.) coverage of the event really made me aware that they were massive (even in Chicago – a big music town but not much of a pop town I’d thought). And the *bus* was the visual key to the whole pleasurable insanity. I’m pretty sure they pulled similar stunts all over the world, and not requiring a pure Routemaster bus (which wouldn’t be available in many places) was essential for that to work.

  185. 185
    Erithian on 8 Jan 2014 #

    The other thing that got me about the video – being pointlessly horrible to that homeless bloke out the front. What was all that about??

  186. 186
    Rory on 8 Jan 2014 #

    I must have been on another planet in November 1996, when this began its 11-week run as the Australian number one, because I’d never seen the video before yesterday. (Ah, that was it: I was on Planet Wedding, which is a fair excuse for losing all contact with popular culture for a bit.)

    A few things struck me on these first few viewings. One was the disrespect for the homeless guy at the beginning, as Erithian mentioned; I hope it was at least a twenty that Emma Bunton slipped him before nicking his cap. Another was just how hard it was to watch the video without retrofitting my contemporary impressions of the performers into it: specifically, how strange to watch Victoria Adams dancing around in her little black dress as if she wasn’t half of Posh & Becks, surrogate royal couple of the 2000s. It’s even more odd to think that the 12-13 years I’ve been used to her as part of the UK cultural landscape far outstrips the preceding five years of the Spice Girls. Because her faltering solo career hadn’t registered with me, and I’m not one who pays much attention to the fashion world, seeing her actually singing and dancing on that screen just seemed… incongruous. I know that’s just a quirk of when I personally was paying attention, but it does mean that my response to the SG phenomenon, here and presumably over their subsequent hits, is and will be entirely uninformed by being caught up in their pop culture moment, because I wasn’t. “Best-selling female group of all time” and “most successful British band since the Beatles” (says Wikipedia) are daunting accolades, and it will be fascinating to see how their number ones impress me over coming months – or fail to.

    That said, I did know they existed and did know “Wannabe”. The video may have been escapable, but the music wasn’t, drifting in from passing car radios and in-store speakers, and there were certainly enough stories and photos in the press. I didn’t mind the song, but the phenomenon struck me as the female flipside to the UK lad culture being touted at the time; from that point of view, the comparison with Oasis seems spot-on. When I moved to Britain in 2001, that strangely plastic look sported by young women on Friday nights, all straight peroxided hair and orange skin, looked like the Spice Girls’ legacy, and it was hard to map it onto my Gen-X conceptions of female empowerment. But there will be many more opportunities to explore this particular minefield, so for the time being I’ll observe the “Achtung!” signs and keep out. (Here’s a contemporary take that’s worth a look.)

    The song itself suffers to my ears now in comparison with what came later from other groups, one or two brief generations down the pop line, and the contributions of each group member are mixed, but Mel B serves as a great backbone to both the song and the video (surely she wasn’t dubbed “scary” on the basis of either? Scary Spice, meet Timid Journos). The “so here’s the story/slam your body down” section sells me on the whole thing, really. I was swithering yesterday between 5 and 6, but today I think I’ll stretch to 7.

  187. 188
    Ed on 9 Jan 2014 #

    Tom @159: I’m sorry, I was being a bit disingenuous.i knew you didn’t really mean all progressive pop was seen in the same way as Crimson and Tull.

    I do think you’re making a bit of a mistake, though, in drawing such a bright line between value judgements before and after punk. Prog Rock also prized novelty: how else did it get to be called “progressive”? The groups were always trying new things: “let’s make a song last for a whole side”; “let’s record a concerto for group and orchestra”; “lets’s do an album using only household appliances”; “let’s do it on ice!” There were some pretty radical changes in sound and approach in the careers of King Crimson, Pink Floyd and Genesis between 1968 and 1975.

    The model was the Beatles, of course, who set a standard for speed of artistic evolution that is unlikely ever to be surpassed. But it also came from jazz, which was very big on novelty for a while – as in the “New Thing”. And it also came from modern classical music – which changed so fast it lost most of its audience – and from the arts in the West more generally, which have been using originality as a yardstick of value since at least the 19th Century. And not just the high arts, either. Houdini and Barnum both promised feats never before seen by human eyes.

    In the light of all that, I think you can certainly make the case that future shock-ism is not just a narrative that happened to dominate between the late 70s and late 90s, but actually appeals to something more fundamental in our culture, and perhaps even in human nature.

    (One difference pre and post punk was that there was no longer such pressure on fans to be faithful to individual careers. The innovation came from within the existing universe of performers: “what will Dylan do next?” After punk, fans were happier to ask: “what will music do next?”)

  188. 190

    The relevant history of the term “progressive” — other historians can jump in here and school me– seems to be this:

    i: “progressive jazz”: a fashion in post-war jazz in which (mostly white) college-trained composers (actually primarily stan kenton and dave brubeck) combined trends in up-to-date european composition with orchestral or small-group jazz — historian-composer gunther schuller would later dub this “third stream”, which was in effect a kind of limited precursor of fusion, and covered the likes of the modern jazz quartet (who weren’t white college kids)
    ii: several years gap
    iii: certain late 60s UK beat groups — savoy brown stay in my mind for some reason– being dubbed “progressive blues”, probably by critics with a memory (and even a working knowledge) of (i); the suggestion perhaps being that the blues, for all its virtues, was (like pre-war jazz?) a limited and even an unsophisticated form; how could bringing to it a knowledge of advanced jazz, classical and other musics not expand its address and improve its musicality? this (arguable not to say dodgy) notion of expansion was what constituted the “progress” (i talked a little abt the implied political utopianism here: of course “progressive” is also a term of art in political discussion, especially in the US)
    iv: as the blues became less obviously the shared root for everyone , the preferred term “progressive blues” became “progressive rock” — king crimson had blues-ish vocals and distorted guitar, and elp had keith emerson’s boogie-woogie piano now and then, but yes and genesis for example really had neither
    v: as the realisation of the 60s utopia seemed to retreat, the term as a critical cliche became (simultaneously) a little derisive and/or defensively affectionate: prog, a four-letter counter-and-cousin to punk…

    I think it’s absolutely right to argue that post-punk — which is also counter-and-cousin to punk — had a close affinity with prog (though i believe, and plan to argue at length elsewhere at some point, that the very different attitude to the blues is a telling distinction, with complex consequences)

    (in a sense, punk was to post-punk what the blues was to prog, the “limited and even unsophisticated form”, but it’s more complicated than that: prog and post-punk are neither of them simple sonic continua, for one thing; “limited and even unsophisticated” is actually not that smart a way of thinking about blues, as 60s musicians i think realised perhaps better than many 70s critics)

  189. 191
    enitharmon on 9 Jan 2014 #

    Mark @190

    In the late 60s “Progressive music” was what John Peel played on Sunday afternoons and contrasted with the commercial pop that Radio 1 played the rest of the time. Didn’t matter if it was Jethro Tull (Mick Abrahams period), Fairport Convention, Captain Beefheart or the Flying Burrito Brothers.

  190. 192

    I’d forgotten that! Can you remember what year that show began broadcast? Pretty sure he began with a night slot, to continue “The Perfumed Garden”, which was his pirate radio show’s name (a name that haha affirms the thesis beyond that link). My guess is that the music was already being called this, rather than that he came up with that term — he was never particularly interested in jazz, and I don’t think Brubeck or Kenton would have appealed to him much. (My further guess would be that it came via Melody Maker — where prog, blues and jazz were all discussed side-by-side — but this may be completely wrong.)

    (And googling I find that Johnny Winters’ first LP — 1969 — was called The Progressive Blues Experiment, so it had independent traction in the US.)

  191. 193
    thefatgit on 9 Jan 2014 #

    #189 Defeated by Paywall, but I’m gussing the synopsis, if the mention of Thomas Kuhn is anything to go by, would it be that significant changes in music, as in science are “paradigm shifts” rather than any predictable linear narrative?

    I would need to read the full article, but with my (very limited) layman’s knowledge of philosophy, I’m close, right?

    Do I get a gold star?

  192. 194
    enitharmon on 9 Jan 2014 #

    Mark @192: Peel may well have had a night slot but I don’t think I listened to that. I know that his Sunday afternoon show (was it Top Gear or did that come later?) was in place by September 1968 because I clearly remember having it on while I was doing my history homework which involved reading up on the agricultural revolution and in one of those bizarre moments that stick in the memory I read the name of the inventor of the seed drill in the same instant that Peel announced the band that featured Mick Abrahams and Ian Anderson. I’d never hear of either of them at that point.

  193. 195
    admin on 9 Jan 2014 #

    ha ha, if you google “The_Structure_of_Musical_Revolutions” and click the first link (which is that page) it seems to get past the “subscribers only”

  194. 196
    lonepilgrim on 9 Jan 2014 #

    this dubious looking chart popped up on my Tumblr dashboard a couple of days ago professing to ‘visualise’ 100 years of ROCK

  195. 197
    pink champale on 9 Jan 2014 #

    #194 Would be interesting to trace the arc of yuks at the inventor of the seed drill. from amused schoolkids and blank teachers, to amused teachers and blank schoolkids. And soon, if not already, blank everyone. (even assuming the invention of the seed drill is still an important part of the curriculum.

  196. 198
    Jimmy the Swede on 9 Jan 2014 #

    I have nothing at all to contribute to the matter of the Spice Girls other than to relate a wee story about how I once had the great question of the day put to me by a female child of about ten years who was being escorted through the Customs Red Channel as an unaccompanied minor by a member of airport staff. I was, by calculation, in my mid thirties whereas the escorting “nanny” was probably the age I am now. “Who is your favourite Spice Girl?” Poppet asked. “Clodagh Rodgers Spice,” I replied, thus leaving the Cherub, in the words of The Bard, “to a bootless inquision”. Nanny snarled and snorted at me for my insidious “there’s no Santa” counter punch against an innocent, whilst I smugly bathed in my own wit. In a matter of seconds, though, I profoundly regretted being such an ass. This was a little kiddy being friendly and I was a stupid oaf in a uniform. I immediatley atoned by getting to know the names of all the Spice Girls so that when I was asked the question again I would have an acceptable answer: “Victoria.”

    By Jupiter’s cock, my judgement certainly hadn’t improved!

  197. 199
    The Edge of the Woods on 10 Jan 2014 #

    […] Tom Ewing on the Spice Girls: […]

  198. 200

    […] Tom Ewing on the Spice Girls: […]

  199. 201
    Patrick Mexico on 12 Jan 2014 #

    Sorry, I’ll be absolutely fucking boring and give this a six! It wouldn’t strike a chord with people like me in 1996 or now, and coincides with some very uncomfortable times in my life – especially starting at secondary school (Bowland High, Grindleton, back in Lancashire), with all the repeated tsunamis of confusion and dislocation for an 11-year-old going on 51 with Asperger’s. Due to that and doting parents, I lived a sheltered life and didn’t even know what most swear words meant back then, and in the “facts of life” talks I was one of the kids who needed to run out of the class to be sick. Which obviously didn’t get me off on the right foot making friends. In a short while, though, things would change radically.

    For the record, though my opinions on girls were extraordinarily platonic back then, Emma was my favourite back then, closely followed by Geri, the other three pretty “meh”, though I guess the rule of thumb says Mel C was obviously the one most of would choose for a night out with.. and this was a pretty sharp statement of intent as a pop group as a part of a crew and a group of friends. Their music and all-conquering impact where NOBODY COULD SPEND TWO SECONDS OF A CONVERSATION WITHOUT BRINGING THEM UP TENUOUSLY would soon become rancid though. And Ginger’s ham-fisted political bandwagon-jumping.. I ask you.

    I think I’ll probably be invalidated of an opinion on this chart run anyway, back then I remember watching a highlights show of a Sky Premier League match (a 0-0 draw between Sunderland and West Ham!) soundtracked by Kula Shaker – Hey Dude. I thought “Wow, this song’s brilliant, they really mean it, man – they’re going to be the next Led Zeppelin. I bet they’re going to stick around for a long, long time. The lead singer seems really sincere, gotta love a rough-and-tumble Mancunian.”

  200. 202
    Billy Hicks on 12 Jan 2014 #


    See also September 2012, which I’m already looking forward to discussing.

  201. 203
    DanH on 14 Jan 2014 #

    In early 1997, when this made #1, I was blissfully unaware of the song. Oh I knew of the Spice Girls craze, and I knew there was a “Wannabe,” but at that point I was an innocent 6th grader…living, drinking, eating Beatles, and completely out of the popular-music mix. By the middle of that year, I entered junior high, where it was much harder to escape popular music. *BUNNY ALERT* was on the radio by then, so I heard that before ever hearing “Wannabe.” It was a song I vowed to hate long before hearing, so my hate is nowhere as big as for “Macarena,”* or the bunnied Oklahoma brothers soon to follow. I do remember my brother hating it because it reminded him too much of a song he really liked (“Connection” by Elastica. Hmmmm…) However, as a chapter in U.K. pop music, it has its place, and I respect all its defense on the board. Maybe I ‘had to be there’…

    * Good work at keeping that dance craze at bay, U.K.! I can’t tell you how much I hated that craze. And how it popped up in music classes, P.E. classes, etc. I basically either snuck out of the room or hid against a wall instead.

  202. 204
    Tom on 14 Jan 2014 #

    Origin stories, via graemem on Tumblr http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/jan/14/spice-girls-annie-lennox-simon-fuller

    Not sure how much of this I buy into.

  203. 205
    lonepilgrim on 14 Jan 2014 #

    it woz Annie wot dun it.

    edited to say SNAP!

  204. 206

    […] via SPICE GIRLS – “Wannabe” | FreakyTrigger. […]

  205. 207
    David Sim on 23 Jan 2014 #

    Oh Christ. You’ve achieved the impossible. You’ve got me liking the Spice Girls. I avoided them back then, probably because of the hype or maybe out of some kind of internalised homophobia. But while reading this and your Say I’ll Be There reviews, I listened to the tracks. Damn, they’re GOOD.

  206. 208
    Kendo on 31 May 2014 #

    Tacky, simpering, arse pile of poop. (The piano is quite nice, though. Deserves a better song/artist.)

  207. 209
    Ed on 23 Aug 2014 #

    I have just been watching the excellent Kathleen Hanna doc, ‘The Punk Singer’, and there is some great archive footage from about 1991 of someone putting together a Bikini Kill fanzine. The cover line: “Girl Power”.

    It’s also good to see this fantastic Kathy Acker interview with the SGs (http://creaturesofcomfort.tumblr.com/post/18437270949/kathy-acker-interviews-the-spice-girls-for-vogue-in) mentioned by Tom @97. It was Acker who inspired Hanna to start a band.

  208. 210
    Ed on 24 Aug 2014 #

    I watched the clip from ‘The Punk Singer’ again, and it’s Hanna herself making the fanzine, so I guess she has as good a claim as anybody to be the godmother of Girl Power.

    What’s not clear, though, is whether any of the SGs or anyone in their team was aware of and consciously emulating Bikini Kill. Clearly what we need is a Greil Marcus type to trace the connections between militant punk in the Pacific North-West in the early 1990s and chart domination in Britain about five years later.

  209. 212
    Hofmeister Bear on 16 Dec 2014 #

    Irritating then – mediocre now! Little surprise then that it should become a rallying point for the poptimists. The era of Kula Shaker, Cast and The Seahorses may well have pointed to a desperately needed counter to this critical mass of backlogged shit, but ‘Wannabe’ wasn’t the answer that’s for sure.

  210. 213
    enitharmon on 1 Sep 2015 #

    Now – where are we going to mark the passing of the singer with the phenomenally successful girl band who married the England football captain?

    Here’s as good as anywhere. Farewell Joy Beverley (Jocelyn Chinery). If you never had a number one it wasn’t for want of trying.

  211. 214
    Girl with Curious Hair on 21 Mar 2016 #

    I was 5 years old when this song came out, and for what it’s worth I think you do a very good job (especially for a 40-year-old man) of articulating what was great about this song, and about the Spice Girls themselves. They were the cool older kids who didn’t seem to mind you hanging around with them.

    As I’m concerned (this is a general observation by the way, not a complaint!), the questions of whether Girl Power was a movement or a marketing spiel are kind-of beside the point. It’s no more relevant to me than the Beatles wearing suits or the Sex Pistols making videos. It doesn’t change what they meant.

    (In a funny way, though, it’s not easy for me to articulate what they did mean; I have no real memory of the world before them…)

    As an aside: English isn’t my native language. I spent way, way too much of my life thinking that “zigga-ziggah” was an actual English word…

  212. 215
    Cumbrian on 16 Nov 2018 #

    OK, here’s a question: was this band meant to be called Spice?

    Up there on the picture of the single cover, the word “Girls” is nowhere to be seen, yet by the time Say You’ll Be There is released, the name of the act is definitely Spice Girls. I have a hypothesis that the band actually was meant to be called Spice – but everyone kept introducing them as “the Spice girls” – i.e. here are the girls from the band called Spice – and someone at the record company thought “hmm, that has a better ring to it than Spice” but can’t find anything that corroborates this. I turn to you (ha!) Popular universe, for potential answers.

  213. 216
    Mark G on 18 Nov 2018 #

    The back of the sleeve has “Spice” on a gold ring, with “Girls” inside the ring.

    The front of the sleeve marries the front of the first album “Spice”.

    And, of course, the records/cd of the single has “girls”

  214. 217
    flahr on 18 Nov 2018 #

    It is true that the band were called Spice before they were called Spice Girls. The change occurred before any music was released.

  215. 218
    Cumbrian on 19 Nov 2018 #

    Cheers both.

    Not having the single, I wasn’t aware of the additional detail on it. The album does have the word “girls” helpfully emblazoned on the front, mind. Though I guess it was released after this single and, given the additional detail on the single Mark G points out, I’m now half supposing that the front sleeve for Wannabe might be someone sending some unfinished copy off to print.

  216. 219

    […] that good of a song? (Tom Ewing, whose Popular listing of all the UK number ones is a must-read, disagrees, however.) Now, “Say You’ll Be There,” that’s much better. Can we get […]

  217. 220

    […] that good of a song? (Tom Ewing, whose Popular listing of all the UK number ones is a must-read, disagrees, however.) Now, “Say You’ll Be There,” that’s much better. Can we get […]

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