Credited with spearheading the pop music revival of the mid 1990s, England’s oft derided Spice Girls took not only the United Kingdom by a blinding blitzkrieg-like storm but the world as well with their infectious bouncy bubblegum pop, which not only fired up their rabid fans but critics and album sales as well.
According to the All Music Guide’s Stephen Erlewine, the vast appeal of the Spice Girls was due to the fact that they “used dance-pop as a musical base, but they infused the music with a fiercely independent, feminist stance that was equal parts Madonna, post riot grrrl alternative rock feminism, and a co-opting of the good-times-all-the-time stance of England’s new lad culture. Their proud all-girl image and catchy dance-pop appealed to younger listeners, while their colorful, sexy personalities and sense of humor appealed to older music fans, making the Spice Girls a cross generational success.”
The feisty party of five known as the Spice Girls came into being in early 1994, when the various members
Members include Victoria Aadams (Posh Spice); Melanie Brown (Scary Spice); Emma Bunton (Baby Spice); Melanie Chisholm (Sporty Spice); Geri Halliwell (Ginger Spice, left group May 31, 1998).
Group formed in London in 1994; signed to Virgin and released Spice, 1996; released Spiceworld, 1997; released Spiceworld, the movie, 1997.
Awards: Platinum status for Spice, 1997; platinum status for Spiceworld, 1998.
Addresses: Record company —Virgin, 338 North Foothills Rd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.
responded to an advertisement in the Stage magazine. The advertisement was looking for “streetwise, ambitious, and dedicated” young women. The successful applicants were being assembled by their would be manager Chris Herbert, who was hoping to create a female version of the popular British boy pop band Take That.
In June of that year, five of the applicants, who had known each other from showing up at the same auditions in the greater London area, were selected to form the band Touch. The women who were chosen included: Victoria Aadams, Melanie Brown, Melanie Chisholm, Geri Halliwell, and Michelle Stephenson. Stephenson ended up leaving the group the following month because of an illness in her family and because she desired to go to college. In September, Emma Bunton was picked as the replacement for Stephenson.
Touch changed its name to the Spice Girls, in the autumn of 1994. Throughout the rest of the year and into early 1995, the Spice Girls lived in a rented house in the Maidenhead area of west London. While they lived there, they rehearsed and collaborated with numerous songwriters. During this time, the Spice Girls were becoming increasingly disenchanted with their manager. Their primary complaint was that Herbert and his father, who helped him co-manage the group, would not listen to what they had to say. By March of 1995, the Spice Girls had dismissed the Herberts as their managers.
The Spice Girls subsequently signed with Simon Fuller’s 19 Management company. Fuller then put his new charges in touch with some of the songwriters who were associated with his company and they began collaborations with the Spice Girls, which would lead to their debut album. Throughout the summer of 1995, Fuller contacted various media outlets, record labels, and music publishers extolling the virtues of the Spice Girls.
It was at one such meeting with the British teen magazine, Top of the Pops, that each of the individual Spice Girls acquired her distinctive nickname. Top of the Pops editor Peter Loraine explained to Chris Heath of Rolling Stone, that “we [Top of the Pops’ editorial staff] decided that they were the kind of group we could have a lot of fun with. We thought we could make up some stupid names.” Thus, each member of the Spice Girls was ascribed with a nickname and identity based on her appearance and personality. Aadams, who was raised in a wealthy household, became “Posh Spice.” Brown, who loved rap and hip hop music and had a pierced tongue was dubbed “Scary Spice.” Bunton, the newest member of the bunch was “Baby Spice,” while Chish-olm’s love of athletics earned her the name “Sporty Spice.” Halliwell, who was known for her provocative outfits and an earlier stint as a nude model, was originally called “Sexy Spice,” although it was later changed to “Ginger Spice,” due to the color of her hair.
By August of 1995, an intense bidding war had erupted over who would hold the rights to the Spice Girls’ publishing contract. A small not well known collective called Windswept Pacific eventually won the war for the rights to the Spice Girls’ publishing contract. Also around this time, Fuller signed the Spice Girls up with Brilliant!, who were responsible for plugging and promoting the group, especially on television. In September, Virgin Records beat out a number of the major labels to the right to sign the Spice Girls up for a recording contract. On their signing with Virgin, Halliwell told Paul Gorman from dotmusic that “we decided on Virgin because they offered us the chance to go our own way. We feel as though we’re breaking down a lot of barriers as women going up against the boy groups and against people’s expectations. There’s more to us than a lot of those other acts.”
In early 1996, the Spice Girls began making personal appearances at a number of music industry events and awards showcases, all the while increasing their carefully calculated exposure in the media. The video for their first single, “Wannabe,” was filmed in London in April. The following month saw the Spice Girls conduct their first print press interviews in both dotmusic and Music Week. Also in May, they made their first televised appearance on the English program Surprise, Surprise. They made their first public appearance at the “Clothes Show” roads how in Glasgow, Scotland, around this time as well.
The Spice Girls first single “Wannabe” was released in Britain in July of 1996. It debuted at number one on the British pop singles chart, where it remained for the next two months. Subsequent singles, “Say You’ll Be There” and “2 Become 1” also debuted at number one on the pop singles chart in Britain. Their debut album, Spice, was released later that year. Spice debuted at number one on the British pop albums chart. With the number one pop album position and number one pop singles position firmly in their grasp, the Spice Girls became one of only three artists, in the history of pop, to hold both the number one single and album positions in Britain over the coveted year end Christmas week period.
Chart domination by the Spice Girls was not a phenomenon solely confined to the British Isles. As the album was released in other nations across the globe, pop charts throughout the world became increasingly infatuated and inundated with all things spicy. Even the usually jaded isolationist America was not immune to the charms of the Spice Girls, when Spice was finally released there in early 1997. “Wannabe” eventually topped the Billboard top singles chart in the spring of 1997, while the follow up singles “Say You’ll Be There” and “2 Become 1” were top ten dwellers. Fuller proclaimed to Gorman that “the girls helped British acts abroad. Other countries look to the source and see an English act, management, song writers, record company, and publisher.” Gavin’s managing editor, Ben Fong-Torres, concurred, adding that, “they have helped swing the pendulum toward pop. It has moved away from rap, metal, alternative, and other negative sounds.”
As 1997 progressed, sales of Spice continued to climb to nearly 20 million copies worldwide. Combined sales of the Spice Girls’ singles were also on the upswing as they reached nearly ten million copies across the globe. The extremely lucrative marketing franchise known as the Spice Girls showed no signs of slowing the rather frenetic pace of goods and services bearing the “spice seal of approval” including Pepsi, Sony Playstation, Polaroid, Walker potato crisps, candy, and even the hallowed British Telecom. Dismissing the notion of mass media saturation and overkill, the Spice Girls launched into their next project, Spiceworld, the movie that was based loosely on a day in the whirlwind known as the life of a Spice Girl. The Spice Girls divided their time between work on their cinematic debut and their follow up to their smash debut album.
Spice Up Your Life” was the first single from the soon to be released Spiceworld album. The single was released in the autumn. While popular, catchy, and possessing a good dance beat, “Spice Up Your Life” failed to light up the charts as “Wannabe” had done. Critics viewed this as the inevitable media backlash but the Spice Girls remained undeterred. In early November of 1997, Spiceworld was released. Their sophomore album served as a soundtrack for the movie of the same name. Although selling a healthy 150, 000 or so copies in its first week or so of release, Spiceworldwas viewed as a disappointment in light of its predecessor’s phenomenal sales record.
Less than two weeks after the release of Spiceworld, the Spice Girls had fired their manager Fuller, who was also known as “Svengali Spice,” for his dealings behind the scenes. There were conflicting stories over why Fuller was fired. One account claimed that it was due to a nasty affair between him and Bunton, while another account said it was due to his 20 percent cut of all Spice Girls merchandise and goods. Halliwelltookoverasde facto manager until a suitable replacement was found.
The Spice Girls movie, Spiceworld, was released in Britain over the Christmas holidays. It made its American debut about a month later over the Super Bowl weekend in late January of 1998. The biggest impact of the movie was that it managed to somewhat bolster the rather lacklustersales of Spiceworld, the album, which helped to keep the group firmly in the eye of the media and the public.
Explaining “girl power” manifest of the Spice Girls, Halliwell told Gorman that, “we want to bring some of the glamour back to pop, like Madonna had when we were growing up. Pop is about fantasy and escapism, but there’s so much bull…around at the moment. We want to be relevant to girls our age.”
On May 31, 1998, Halliwell left the group claiming irreconcilable differences. Determined to forge ahead with their “girl power,” the rest of the group is still committed to keep the band going. The remaining four do not feel the need to replace Halliwell. David Wigg of the British Express was quoted in People as saying, “they really don’t need one.”
Spice (includes “Wannabe,” “Say You’ll Be There,” and “2 Become 1”), Virgin, 1996.
Spiceworld (includes “Spice Up Your Life”), Virgin, 1997.
Entertainment Weekly, November 7, 1997; December 12, 1997.
Newsweek, November 10, 1997.
Rolling Stone, April 10-24, 1997.
“Spice Girls,” http://www.allmusic.com/cgi-win/AMG.exe?sql=2P_IDP (February 23, 1998).
“Spice Girls,” http://www.dotmusic.com/MWtalentspice.html (February 23, 1998).
—Mary Alice Adams
Spice Girls, vocal pop stars of the late 1990s. Membership: Mel “Scary Spice” B. (real name, Melanie Janine Brown) (b. Leeds, England, May 29, 1975); Mel “Sporty Spice” C. (real name, Melanie Jayne Chisolm) (b. Liverpool, England, Jan. 12, 1974); Victoria “Posh Spice” Adams (b. Hertfordshire, England, April 17, 1975); Emma Lee “Baby Spice” Bunton (b. Barnet, England, Jan. 21, 1978); Geri “Ginger Spice” Halliwell (b. Hertfordshire, England, Aug. 18, 1970).
One of the most popular English exports since the Beatles, between 1996 and 1998 the Spice Girls became a pop culture phenomenon. Their images were on girls clothing, Christmas ornaments, and tons of licensed products. However, like many other pop phenomena, the group quickly faded.
The group’s members had all been performing around London as singers or dancers since their preteens. They met at an audition, answering an ad for “lively girls for a pop act.” When that didn’t work out, they decided to form their own group and started writing pop ditties.
They took a house together in Berkshire and honed their act. Annie Lennox’s manager Simon Fuller signed them and in turn got them a recording contract with Virgin. The band was heavily promoted in the press. Their slogan “Girl Power” appealed to pre-adolescent girls everywhere, as did their colorful costumes. Their debut single, 1996’s “Wannabe,” with its incredibly catchy rap chorus of “tell me what you want, what you really, really want” debuted at #;1 in the English charts. They followed this with “Say You’ll Be There.” Their third single, “2 Become 1,” topped the English charts over the 1997 New Year. A month later, they broke in the U.S. “Wannabe” reached #;1 in just four weeks, and their eponymous debut zoomed to the top of the charts as well. They made their live debut before millions on Saturday Night Live. Soon, their videos were dominating MTV airplay.
The group followed their smash debut with a second album, Spiceworld, and the movie of the same name. Around this time they dumped their manager and decided to manage themselves. The movie Spiceworld opened to huge crowds over the 1998 New Year’s holiday. The hit “Stop” reached #;2 in the U.K., their first single to fall short of #;1. In the spring of 1998, Halliwell left the group to go solo, under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Only one single, “Viva Forever” has emerged from the band in her wake. Mel B cut a duet with hip-hop star Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliot, “I Want You Back,” which rocketed to the top of the U.K. charts. Halliwell’s solo debut, Schizophonic, was released in 1999. The singles “Mi Chico Latino,” “Bag It Up,” and “Lit Me Up” topped the U.K. charts; however, these songs barely made a dent in the U.S.
Spice (1996); Spiceworld (1997).