Few pop songs signal their intent as brazenly as “Wannabe.” Beginning with the patter of Mel B’s footsteps as she steps up to the microphone followed by a hearty laugh, the Spice Girls’ all-conquering debut single is 2:53 minutes of pure joy.
Ricocheting from girl-power declarations to vaguely suggestive rapped verses, there’s a loose zaniness to “Wannabe” that is still irresistible a quarter of a century later.
The anthem that ushered in Spice-mania turns 25 today — a milestone that will be celebrated by the release of “Wannabe25,” a 4-track EP out July 9.
As far as origin stories go, the Spice Girls is rather ordinary, by modern standards of assemblage. It all started with Heart Management placing an ad in U.K. trade magazine The Stage.
The firm decided to assemble a girl group and put out a casting call for young women, who were “streetwise, outgoing, ambitious and dedicated.”
A couple of lineup changes and a rebrand later (the group was briefly called Touch), the Spice Girls were born.
By 1996, the quintet was ready to take on the world. They just needed the single.
As with most things Spice-related, the recording of “Wannabe” turned out to be a happy accident. The newcomers bumped into songwriter Richard “Biff” Stannard at a showcase in London, and he invited them to a recording session with collaborator Matt Rowe. Together, they distilled the girl group’s raw energy into pop perfection. Inspired by the iconic handclaps of “Grease” classic “Summer Nights” and peppered with the girls’ own riffed lyrics (including the famous “zig-a-zig, ah” hook), “Wannabe” was recorded in less than an hour.
For the lead single of a manufactured pop product, “Wannabe” feels remarkably unforced. The Spice Girls’ girl-power philosophy, which has since been upgraded to the more inclusive “people power,” caught the zeitgeist, and their emphasis on friendship resonated with listeners of all ages. The group was fierce and forward-thinking, but also warm and approachable. That demographic-bridging appeal was emphasized by the joyously irreverent video clip, which somehow managed to be both raucous and wholesome.
“Wannabe” was unleashed upon the U.K. on July 8, 1996, and rocketed straight to No. 1. It spent seven weeks atop the chart and went on to sell 1.3 million copies. The feel-good anthem eventually arrived in the U.S. in January 1997 and topped the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks. By the end of 1997, “Wannabe” had reached No. 1 in 37 countries and sold more than 7 million copies as Spice-mania gripped music lovers around the globe. It made perfect sense in pop-loving territories like Europe and Asia, but was a wonderful anomaly in the post-grunge musical landscape of America.
The Spice Girls are celebrating 25 years of their debut single with “Wannabe25.” The four-track EP arrives on digital and streaming services Friday, with a vinyl and cassette release to follow on August 27. The nostalgic offering includes the original edit and the Junior Vasquez remix, which first appeared as a bonus track on the “2 Becomes 1” CD single. “Wannabe25” also boasts a previously unreleased demo of “Wannabe” as well as an unreleased track called “Feed Your Love.”
The latter, a sultry, soulful ballad, was actually the very first song the girl group ever recorded. Co-created by “Wannabe” writers Richard “Biff” Stannard and Matt Rowe, the song was ultimately shelved for being too mature (i.e., sexy). As a time capsule of late ‘90s pop and a welcome addition to the Spice Girls’ frustratingly brief discography, “Feed Your Love” is a treat for Spice enthusiasts the world over. “Wannabe25” is accompanied by the girl group’s #IAmASpiceGirl campaign, which calls on fans to share photos and videos of their Spice memories.
“We believe there is a Spice Girl in all of us, and we want you to join us on a trip down memory lane,” read an Instagram post credited to Melanie Chisolm, Geri Horner, Melanie Brown, Victoria Beckham and Emma Bunton. “We want to see you singing your heart out, showing off your best dance moves and hear how you’ve been inspired, influenced and excited by everything People Power.” Since social media was nascent, at most, a quarter-century ago, the past-and-present clips coming in may represent the first massive online documentation of just how “Wannabe” helped an entire generation of kids feel seen and empowered.