Suraj Hallan talks The Spice Girls legendary debut album, an empowering milestone in pop culture feminism
In the early-to-mid 1990s, the global music market was heavily saturated by boy-bands, groups like Take That, Boyzone, Boyz II Men and The Backstreet Boys just to name a few were the bands dominating music. Many record labels identified this boy band domination and decided to form girl-groups. However, only one managed to achieve success, and that group was none other than the legendary Spice Girls, who would go onto become the biggest and most successful girl group to ever walk the planet. Their debut-record Spice, which was released in 1996, is now a landmark album in the advancement of ‘girl power’, feminism and female domination.
Spice opens with the iconic and ultimate girl power anthem, ‘Wannabe,’ which served as the groups’ first ever single. With its catchy and energetic rap opening, the song became instantly likeable, with its powerful catchphrases and chants, the song gave people everywhere a sense of empowerment and feel good energy. The highlight of ‘Wannabe’ is the third-verse rap which sees the lead vocalists Mel B and Geri Halliwell introducing themselves and fellow band members as it summarises their personas. Each Spice Girl had their own facades ‘Ginger,’ ‘Baby,’ ‘Sporty,’ ‘Scary’ and ‘Posh.’ This gave fans a sense of acceptance and relatability as the personas showed there was a Spice Girl for every personality!
‘Wannabe’ sits as one of the biggest-selling singles of all time and is the biggest selling single by a girl-group in history. Research by the University of Amsterdam and the Museum of Science and Industry also revealed that ‘Wannabe’ is scientifically the catchiest song of all time, now that’s some serious girl power as it cements them as one of the most powerful music forces ever! ‘Wannabe’ also reached number one in a record breaking 37 countries. The Spice Girls reached number one in the United States with ‘Wannabe,’ even The Beatles didn’t achieve this with their first single, girl power had arrived and was ready to revolutionise the world.
Following ‘Wannabe,’ Spice slows down at pace but still retains an energetic sound. ‘Say You’ll Be There,’ the groups second single was also another global success. The girls sing about a love interest who does not seem to want to commit to their relationship, and sees the girls using R&B light sounds whilst still maintaining their pop authenticity. The highpoint in ‘Say You’ll Be There’ is Melanie C’s high notes and the harmonica instrumental which gives the listener chills. Arguably, this is the best song on the album and best of the Spice Girls’ numbers.
We then move on to the ballad ‘2 Become 1,’ which became the Spice Girls’ third UK number one and first Christmas number one. In fact, the Spice Girls in the years 1996, 1997 and 1998 had three consecutive Christmas number ones each year, tying them with the record originally set by The Beatles. ‘2 Become 1’ is the best of the ballad on the album, the smooth vocals, relaxing sounds and harmonies makes ‘2 Become 1’ good listening. They also manage to throw in a safe sex message in the song, Spice Girls to the rescue!
‘Love Thing’ follows from ‘2 Become 1’ and the girls are back with their energetic and pop sound. ‘Love Thing’ is a hidden gem from the Spice Girls’ impressive music catalogue as it is a noteworthy song, but never served as a single. It shows the girls that they value friendship more over love and has similar themes to ‘Wannabe,’ of girls uniting. Another of the hidden gems on Spice is ‘Last Time Lover,’ a song which is R&B and hip-hop heavy with low tones from Mel B. It resembles a TLC style song with the R&B influences and sensual sounds.
The most emotional of the songs on Spice is, ‘Mama.’ This song taught young people and adults the importance of relationships between mother and child. The girls sing about how now they are older and look back, their mothers’ support, advice and guidance was the best! Additionally, ‘Mama’ was released as a Double A Side with ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ as the comic relief single in 1997. This Double A Side became the groups’ fourth consecutive number one and they were first group to ever reach number one with their first four singles. ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ gives listeners a refreshing and uplifting sensation with its disco sounds.
The final three songs, ‘Something Kinda Funny,’ ‘Naked’ and ‘If U Can’t Dance’ all have an R&B and soothing sound. ‘If U Can’t Dance’ which concludes the album shows Mel B singing in her Leeds accent showing off her Northern roots, additionally, Geri Halliwell also sings in Spanish embracing her Spanish heritage. This shows the girls promoting who they are giving a feeling of relatability to fans who are Northern or are of mixed heritage.
It is accurate to say that Spice is the musical reflection of girl power, with its themes of friendship, female unity and feminist lyrics. Spice became the best-selling album worldwide of 1997 selling over 18 million copies in just 12 months. It is also the most successful album by a girl group in history with overall sales of 31 million. The important themes on Spice are pivotal, they helped to create a headstrong generation of people unafraid to be themselves.