In the early 90’s boy bands that combined melodic tones were the stars of the music scene, with Take That leading the way. But in the heads of some London managers, the next step was clear: casting girls who could sing and dance and putting them together in a similar band called… Touch. When Mel B, Mel C, Geri, Victoria and Emma got together for the first time (after the expulsion of another girl who apparently didn’t fit in too well), they knew that Touch was not going to last long.
Do you wanna be my lover?
They didn’t want to make rhythm’n’blues in the Eternal style, but pop. Or punk, depending on how you look at it: ‘Wannabe’ was like nothing else that had come out up to that point. It was pure young rage, girl power, a rhythm that captivated everyone to this day. But of course, the song didn’t come out of nowhere. Well, it kind of did, actually. You’ll see.
Rob and Chris Herbert, the directors of Heart Management, who placed the famous classified ad in the newspaper that ended in the founding of Spice (the name they changed to after Touch), had an idea of what to do with the girls: it was their secret plan to change everything. They’d been practicing the same four songs every day for a year, and when it came time to impress the best lyricists and songwriters in the UK, boy, did they do it. In style.
So much so, that the Spice soon realized that Heart Management had not prepared contracts for them. And if there are no contracts, there are no albums and no songs. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: ‘Wannabe’ was one of the songs that were composed during three days of tests with different rhythms, lyrics and intentions. There was only a piano, a drum kit and the girls’ desire to sing. And to talk. It was Richard Stannard who, among the noise, was able to capture the phrase “If you wanna be my lover, you’ve gotta get with my friends“. The magic was born.
Taking parts the band had written before, adding other parts and setting it to the right music, ‘Wannabe’ was complete in half an hour, in a frenzied burst of creativity. Inside were inside jokes, words that meant nothing (“zigazig-ah”) and they automatically recorded it the next day, making it their first song ever sung in a studio. Twelve months of working together had finally paid off.
But not just musically: mentally too. The Spice had only recorded two songs (this and the Christmas classic ‘2 become 1’), but they knew they were good. So much so that, with no contracts in between, they decided to walk into Heart Management’s office at night, steal their songs, take everything that belonged to them and leave with a fresh breeze. From now on, they would represent themselves, and their offices would be Geri’s car, a Fiat Uno.
Wannabe’ was recorded in February 1995. In July they had already signed for Virgin, one of the giants of the industry: five albums for a million pounds. Almost nothing. They only asked for a change, and they accepted without any problems. They would no longer be Spice, but Spice Girls. And it had to work, because a million was – and is – an absolute mint. For their first TV appearance they pretended to be in a radio studio, which was paradoxical… because there was no one on the radio to play them.
But after playing it on TV, they started to program it all the time. And in February 1996, Virgin made the strangest decision possible: to change the single to ‘Love thing’, an RnB song that they thought would appeal better to mid-90s audiences. The girls were adamant: “It has to be ‘Wannabe'”. And it was. The music video, which was about to be shot in Barcelona until the last minute, said it all about the girls. They were bold, they were modern, they were authentic. And Virgin didn’t like them at all.
So much so, that they even thought of shooting another music video exclusively for America where they would be seen glamorous, like the girl bands of that time. But they were very clear: neither Mel B’s hard nipples nor the fact that they were wearing cheap clothes was going to stop them. This was their spirit, and that’s how it had to look. Soon, the video and the song would be number 1 all over the world.
In fact, it became the most successful debut single of all time, sold 6,500,000 units and went to number 1 in almost every country (except some like Taiwan or Iceland). It was only the precedent of ‘Spice’, their first album, which sold 31,000,000 records worldwide and became an icon at a time when the Spice Girls were absolutely everything. The time of separation and reunion would come. Not bad for a group that started in a newspaper trying their luck, right?