The Spice Girls at 25: Here’s the story from A to Z

The Spice Girls were a sensation in the late 90s and early 2000s, and the group’s success, success, success! At the time, the Spice Girls were simply known as the Spice Girls—the official name of the British girl group was only revealed in 2000. In addition, the Spice Girls were the first British girl group to have a music residency in Las Vegas.

Are you a Spice Girls fan? Do you have a thousand questions about the band? Well, the five girls have been around for a quarter-century, and to mark the occasion we’ve asked them to share the stories behind each of their singles. We’ve prefaced the interviews with an introduction to give you an overview of each Spice’s life and career; read that first, and then you can jump straight to the interview!

Mark Savage
Music Reporter

 

He came out of nowhere. He changed the course of pop music. It was Wannabe, the brilliant first single by the Spice Girls.

The record company was concerned. Wannabe was too weird, too anarchic. They hated the video. Radio 1 refused to broadcast it. Chris Evans, DJ of the morning show, advised the group to return to children’s television.

But the girls knew better. This is non-negotiable for us, they said. Wannabe is our first single.

And when they decided to do something, it happened, said Richard Biff Stannard, co-author of Wannabe.

History has proven them right.

It was 25 years ago, on the 8th. In July 1996, the album Wannabe was released, which spent seven weeks at number one in the UK and four in the US. He turned five unknown girls – Victoria Caroline Adams, Melanie Janine Brown, Emma Lee Bunton, Melanie Jane Chisholm and Geraldine Estelle Halliwell – into global superstars.

This is the A to Z story of the band’s inception, fame, separation and reformation. So grab a cup of tea, do a wrap, and let’s go.

A for auditions

picture copyrightThe Stage

The ad where it all started, from The Stage in 1994.

On the fourth. In March 1994, 400 aspiring singers flocked to Dancework Studios in London after seeing an ad in The Stage newspaper for a new girl group.

They were divided into groups of 10 and taught to dance the routine to the song Eternal’s Stay. Then they each performed a solo number for the management team of Bob and Chris Herbert, father and son.

Mel B impressed with Whitney’s The Greatest Love Of All, Mel C chose I’m So Excited by The Pointer Sisters and Victoria chose My Lord by Cabaret.

A month later, they were asked back for a second audition – with only 10 girls. Geri was there too, although she missed the first audition because she got burned in Spain. She simply said she was ill and asked for an expedited examination, Victoria later recalled.

All four were selected for the band, along with 17-year-old Michelle Stephenson – the kind of girl you’d imagine in a snowflake commercial, according to Victoria – who scored highest in her audition.

The five of them moved to a house in Maidenhead where they took dance and singing lessons, but it soon became clear that Michel didn’t fit in.

Eventually Michelle was replaced by Emma Bunton, a former Pop School student who had been recommended by her singing mentor Pepi Lemaire.

Of course, I wish I was a multi-millionaire like her, Michelle told the Mirror. But as soon as I left the band, I knew I had made the right choice. It wasn’t my music, and they didn’t have the lifestyle I wanted.

B – Hacks and blow-up dolls

Image copyrightGetty Images

The band formed a close bond when they lived in the same house in Maidenhead.

After months of rehearsals, the five daughters of Bob and Chris Herbert are disillusioned and decide to part ways.

They didn’t sign, but their managers had a soundtrack of their songs Wannabe and 2 Become 1. So Geri made a plan to take the tapes and go with them.

I don’t know how she did it – it was a bit like Bonnie and Clyde, Victoria says in her autobiography Learning To Fly. She hid it in her panties, she said, in case Bob and Chris came looking for her.

In the backseat of Jeri’s Fiat Uno, the band begins to assemble a new team, eventually recruiting Simon Fuller, Annie Lennox’s manager. He immediately took them to the studio and started introducing them to record companies.

I’ll never forget the day they came here, Ashley Newton, associate director of Virgin Records, told Music Week in the very first article about the Spice Girls. They were a thrill because they had a crazy routine in the office, all talking at once, and were very funny.

He called his superiors and said: You need to see this.

On the day they were to sign with the label, the band sent five Ann Summers blow-up dolls in their place, and the driver was instructed to announce that the Spice Girls had arrived.

There were almost heart attacks, according to Geri.

If Virgin didn’t already know who she was dealing with, she did now, Victoria added.

Later, after they actually showed up and signed their contracts, the group dumped the dolls into the Grand Union Canal, where they remained afloat for several days.

C – forschematics

Image copyrightShutterstock

Image captionWannabe was named best single of the year at the 1997 Brit Awards.

Although Virgin was skeptical of Wannabe’s potential, it became an immediate commercial success, selling 73,000 copies in its first week.

Hoping the song would win first place, the group gathered around the radio on a picnic mat in Sister Geri’s backyard, champagne in hand, as the countdown began.

But their hopes were not realized: Wannabe entered the charts at number three and withstood the onslaught of Gary Barlow’s Forever Love (his only solo number one) and the Fugees’ Killing Me Softly.

However, it rose to number one the following week, becoming the first of six consecutive songs for the group.

D – Demonstration tyre

Image copyrightGetty Images

imageartionDespite the production label, the band had the copyright to all their songs.

The original Wannabe demo was released to mark the song’s 25th anniversary – and differs greatly from the final version, which is full of scratched records, 90s synths and quirky breakbeats.

The song was a kind of Frankenstein’s monster, Matt Rowe told David Sinclair for his 2004 Spice Girls biography.

They came in with all these different pieces, Rowe said. You don’t think about the chorus, the bridge, or what comes next where – you just think about all those singing, rapping, and chanting segments. And then we just sewed them together. It’s kind of a copy and paste thing.

Virgin, noting the popularity of girl groups like Eternal and TLC, wanted to give the song an R&B feel and sent it to American producer Dave Way for a remix. The result, according to Halliwell, was terrible.

Eventually, Mark Spike Stent, a producer who has worked with Massive Attack and Madonna, was asked to bring the song to life.

The problem was that the vocal balance wasn’t quite right, he told Sound On Sound magazine in 1999. It’s a very quirky pop record with very little fuss, and I focused on the quality of the vocals. It was pretty tiring, even though it only took six hours.

E – for equality

Image copyrightGetty Images

Image captionThe band’s first performances were irresistibly loud.

The Spice Girls have always had a loyal LGBTQ fanbase, and they even changed the lyrics of one of their biggest hits in recognition of their support.

The original version of the song 2 Become 1, which appears on his debut album Spice, includes the lyrics: Every deal we do / the boys and girls feel good about each other.

But by the time it was released as a single in December 1996, the line had changed: And again, if we try hard enough, love will bring us together.

In an interview with Gay Times, Emma Bunton said the change was made in recognition of her LGBTQ fans.

We changed the text at the hotel, she recalls. We traveled and thought: Absolutely, that has to change. We thought it should be more inclusive.

F – first impression

The Spice Girls were the prototype production group – and when they first got together, they couldn’t help but help each other.

I thought Emma was sweet, Vicky was snobby and Geri was a real chatterbox, wrote Mel B in her 1997 book Girl Power.

Emma, Victoria and Mel C said Geri was completely insane and called her out: She put her hair in a bun, put on a pink fuzzy sweater and said: Look, look, I’m a duck!

Geri, meanwhile, couldn’t help but look at Emma – she was very fresh and pretty, with a wide, doll-like smile.

G stands for Girl Power

Image copyrightGetty Images

The group has been number one in over 40 countries.

According to music writer Tom Ewing, Girl Power received a lot of criticism, mostly from people who weren’t girls and didn’t need more power.

It was Geri who promoted the concept and even developed the Power Pledge to be canceled when events called for it: I, in my right mind and in my new Wonderbra, solemnly promise to have fun, dance and zig-zag-ah. Ariba! Girl power!

But even though the parameters were a bit vague, the idea was powerful. The Spice Girls stood for freedom, confidence and rebellion – they inspired generations to stand up for themselves.

In 2017, Geri reflected on the legacy of Girl Power in an interview: Twenty years ago, when we thought of the word feminism, we thought of the protesters who burned their bras. She was rather harsh and unkind.

For me, Girl Power was a more descriptive way of putting it. But in reality, Girl Power is about more than gender. This applies to everyone. Everyone deserves the same treatment, regardless of race, gender or age.

I just said it in a very accessible way.

H – Homesickness

When the Spice Girls became a worldwide phenomenon, they were torn away from their friends and family for months. In fact, for tax reasons, they were living outside the UK in 1998, which added to their sense of isolation.

I cry every day because I want to go home, Victoria wrote in Forever Spice in 1998.

I called home the other day and my mom said: Her sister has just arrived with the baby! I heard baby noises and… EastEnders was on TV in the background and my dad came back from the chip shop with food for everyone. I was here alone.

Okay, we’re famous and we do what we want, but all I could think about at that moment was: God, I miss my family and my home! I miss the windows, the steam that comes out when Mom burns dinner and the chair blocking the door so the fire alarm doesn’t go off.

I’ve been strong for a long time, and we always say: Come on, come on, be strong, keep going. But I don’t want to be strong anymore. I just want to sit and cry… and have someone stand in front of me with a sign and say: I’ll protect you.

I – Istanbul

Image copyrightGetty Images

The group’s tournaments have raised more than $60 million.

The Spice Girls announced on the 12th. October 1997: Their first concert in an 8,000-seat basketball arena in Istanbul, Turkey.

Why Turkey? According to one popular theory, they chose to do this as far away from Britain as possible for fear of what the British press would make of their stage debut. But reality turned out to be more prosaic. Pepsi sponsored the tour, insisting on starting in a country where Pepsi had overtaken Coca-Cola.

The soft drink deal was announced at a press conference on the eve of the show. Posh, are you going to marry David Beckham? A reporter asked. That’s none of your business, she replied. But he drinks Pepsi.

According to The Guardian, the concert was a pop show like no other, with pyrotechnics, clever choreography and even a miniature roller coaster. And yes, adds the critic, they sang.

The Sun was slightly more cautious, calling the performance competent and capable, with plenty of room for improvement.

J – for journalists at risk

 

CaptionWarning : Third party content may contain advertising

Part of the appeal of the Spice Girls was their absolute refusal to play the media game. Interviewing the band was like being dragged into a Top Shop dressing room on the third day of a bachelor party. They tolerate no fools and take no prisoners.

They weren’t famous. They lifted everyone around them to their level, as their PR manager Nicky Chapman once said.

For example: When the Spice announced their first reunion tour in 2007, a disgruntled reporter asked if the group had had trouble performing dance numbers after having children.

You don’t look very thin either, exclaimed Mel B before stepping off the stage and unbuttoning her shirt to see if she had a six-finger belly.

But the absolute reference, the Spice Girls interview by Jamie Thaxton in 1997.

Come on, handsome, Mel B teased as the cameras turned, and it only got worse from there. Fortunately, someone put it on YouTube.

K for Kim Fuller

Image copyrightAlamy

picture captionSpice World The Movie was a critical failure, but a blockbuster.

Kim Fuller was a writer for the sketch shows Not The Nine O’Clock News, Spitting Image and The Tracey Ullman Show. He was also the brother of Simon, the manager of the Spice Girls, so he wrote the script for the first (and so far only) Spice World movie: Movie.

At the time, the girls were being courted in Hollywood and Disney offered them to star in the film, he told Vice in a 2018 interview. It was a little Disney-esque. I think it was the young single mother of one of the girls who was struggling to form a group.

The girls didn’t like the idea, so Kim asked if he could try.

The story, such as it is, is about the band preparing for a concert, but also battling unscrupulous journalists, aliens and a bomb on a bus (which mysteriously disappears). The film received critical acclaim and earned the stars five awards for worst actress at the 1998 Golden Raspberry Awards, but the £4 million budget was recouped 14 times.

The problem was that some of the fudge critics were so arrogant that they couldn’t see that it was a complete joke from start to finish, Victoria later wrote in her autobiography. We wanted to make a fun, campy, lor-lor-hokey movie. Frankly, I think you do.

L – driving licence

Image copyrightGetty Images

ImagesThe Spice Girls dolls are always in high demand on eBay.

Pop stars have often been cautious about sponsorship deals. But the Spice Girls didn’t have that problem.

In the first two years of their career, they named more than 100 products after themselves, including Walker’s crisps, Polaroid, Benetton and Fabergé cameras, Chupa Chups lollipops, Asda supermarkets, BT phone cards (ask your mum), Cadbury’s chocolate and even Impulse body spray (with lavender and vanilla scents for Baby Spice; with a Paduca wood scent for poor old Scary Spice).

They earned £500,000 for recording a commercial jingle for Channel 5 and produced their own pyjamas, beach towels, dolls, playing cards, beanbags, biscuits, beach towels and ties.

Today’s pop artists, starved of income by the streaming economy, often subsidize their careers along the lines of the Spice Girls – but for Simon Fuller, it wasn’t about the money.

He explained that the sponsorship deals were more about fame than money. I thought if we could convince Pepsi to spend $40 million on advertising my band, Hallelujah!

M – Mental arithmetic

 

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In the song Say You’ll Be There, Geri sings: If you add two and two, you will understand what our friendship is for.

Later, Victoria recalled: I immediately saw it as a pun 2+2=4 and tried to explain it to the others, but they didn’t understand at first. You’re not good at math.

N – for nicknames

The band’s nicknames – Scary, Sporty, Baby, Posh and Ginger – were given by Top of the Pops magazine.

The names caught our eye, editor Peter Lorraine later recalled. Posh was first invented because Victoria looks quite sophisticated. The rest was pretty easy because the girls’ characters were already very strong.

We laughed the most when we arrived at Scary. Jennifer Cawthron, who is also from Leeds, suggested this option because Mel B was very loud and tried to bend the whole shoot to her will.

The group had already found a replacement in 1997. Mel B thought she should be Abrupt Spice, Emma wanted to be Gets-Away-With-Murder Spice, and Victoria suggested Posh-half-the-time Spice.

But privately Geri would call Mel B. Ox because I could make the worst hangover disappear perfectly – or even give a flawless performance after a few bottles of champagne – while vomiting in the bathroom.

O – Olympic Games

ImagePA Media Copyright

ImageartinMel C says performing at the Olympics was the greatest honor of his life.

The last time the five Spice Girls performed together was during the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London.

The band got out of five black London taxis, then stood on them and sang Wannabe and Spice Up Your Life to thunderous applause.

According to Mel C, they rehearsed the concert for a week and a half, but were still terrified.

Geri even had a panic attack in one of the taxis and almost refused to get out. I felt so bad, I fell apart, she told Heart Radio after leaving the stage. But Emma was so fantastic – if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be on stage. That’s how you meet a real friend.

The routine was quite technical, which added an element of danger, Mel C later told the Mail online. But when we entered the Olympic stadium, there was a loud roar and it gave us an extra adrenaline rush.

We’re not particularly agile. Actually, it’s more of a Shamballa. But it went well.

P – for pregnant women attending

During the Spice Girls’ 1998 world tour, they played to 2.1 million fans at 97 shows and earned $60 million (£43.5 million) in the US alone.

In the midst of all this, Melanie B and Victoria Beckham got pregnant – and did their best to hide it from their team and their fans.

When Victoria and I were pregnant, we often had to ask someone to untie our costumes. Nobody knew why, and we needed to talk: We’re only getting bigger, Mel B said during the Forever Spice Tour retrospective.

For years, people in the locker room thought I was just arriving. Then it got ridiculous because I had to have a plastic cup in my room to pee in. I had to pee three or four times during the show, and the toilet was miles away.

Getty

Spiceworld Tour 1998

Most profitable tour in the history of the women’s group

  • 300 costumes
  • 124Microphones
  • 800 cases
  • 900 pounds of candy

Source: / Space World Tour Programme

Q is output

Image copyrightGetty Images

First fans were told that Geri was ill, then it was announced that she had left the band.

Halfway through the Spice World Tour, on Mel B’s birthday, Geri Halliwell unexpectedly left the Spice Girls.

Officially, she was declared to be suffering from exhaustion. But in her autobiography If Only, the singer said she was angry that the band had prevented her from giving a TV interview about surviving breast cancer as a teenager.

I couldn’t believe it. It was about saving lives, she wrote. At that point, I knew the band was over. Ginger Spice was gone.

It was pretty hard, Emma Bunton recalls in Forever Spice. We played a lot of shows in Europe, but we were very nervous about touring in America, so it was a real kick in the pants.

You miss Geri like you miss your mother, thinks Mel C. You miss her, but not her comments.

And there was a big plus for Victoria – for the first time in my life, I sang on Wannabe.

Their relationship was strained for several years, but the group eventually joined together and reconciled. Geri even apologized for leaving the band on the last date of the 2019 reunion tour.

I’m sorry, she said. I’m sorry I left. I was just being rude. I’m so happy to be back with the girls I love.

R is alicense fee

Image copyrightGetty Images

ImageartinThis group is a big supporter of the Prince’s Trust.

According to a completely fabricated story that appeared in The Sun newspaper in 1996, Prince William, then a teenager, was so enamored with the Spice Girls that he tore down his Pamela Anderson poster and replaced it with one of Emma Bunton. Later, he went to Our Price’s Windsor branch and bought a copy of their first album, with a note showing his grandmother’s face.

When Emma later asked about William at a Prince’s Foundation concert, Prince Charles apparently ignored her: Don’t be a cradle robber.

In this show, Geri allegedly squeezed the buttocks of the future king of England.

I squeeze everyone’s ass. Why should I stop at the prince’s? she thought.

I think he really enjoyed it, Mel K added. So we had no problems.

S for Surprise, Surprise

 

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Initially, British radio stations refused to play the Spice Girls’ music – but television loved it.

Their first appearance was on an episode of Kalla Black’s Surprise Surprise, and they did it by chasing the show’s producer into the bathroom and singing an a cappella version of the song Wannabe, Victoria recalled.

They were part of a story in which a teenage girl, Sally, got the chance to present a show on Manchester radio station Key 103 and be interviewed by a famous band.

She managed to hide her disappointment that it wasn’t Boyzone.

T – Thatcher, Margaret

In 1996, The Spectator magazine was the most unlikely place to find the Spice Girls, but when Simon Sebag Montefiore interviewed the quintet, he got value for money.

Geri said we need more female MPs and stated that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was the first Spice Girl, a pioneer of our ideology.

I love this woman, added Mel B. Even though her politics were tough but her legacy is a mixed bag.

It made headlines everywhere. The squeaky pop group adds spice to Torii, writes the Times. Meet John Major’s last hope, laughs the Guardian.

As a diplomat, Geri later withdrew her comments. When I said Margaret Thatcher was the first Spice Girl, I wasn’t pretending to be a real Tory. I just admire people who have ideals, she wrote in the official Spice Girls book, Girl Power.

While it’s not my point, I respect the fact that it takes dedication and courage to stand up and say what you believe.

U – for Union JackDress

Image copyrightGetty Images

ImageartionJack Jeri’s Union dress even has its own Wikipedia page.

Geri’s most iconic outfit, which made headlines after the 1997 Brit Awards, was originally intended to be a simple black cocktail dress.

Two nights before, Geri said: You know what Emma, I really don’t like the dress I’m wearing, I have a much better idea, recalled her stylist Emma Poole in 2017. I’m going to my sister’s, she’s got nice Union Jack tea towels, I’m going to make a dress.

I thought so: Please, please, don’t do that, no. And Geri said: No, I’ll do it.

The star sold the outfit – with a CND flag on the back – in 1998 to raise money for breast cancer charities. It fetched £41,320, making it the most expensive piece of pop star clothing ever sold at auction, ahead of Michael Jackson’s glitter glove which sold in 2009.

V – Viva Forever

 

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No, not the short-lived Spice Girls musical (the less said about it the better), but the band’s eighth single and first released since Geri’s departure.

Aardman Animation’s film was made five months earlier, but the message is eerily predictable.

The sad thing about the song is that childhood is behind us, director Steve Box told Crack magazine.

I felt like the girls were tin toy elves, like lost toys, which was a bit of a commentary on modern pop music: you buy it, you invest money, you get the music, and shortly thereafter it’s gone.

W for Wood, Victoria Adams

In early press material about the Spice Girls, Posh Spice is called Victoria Adams Wood, in reference to her first fiancé, an alarmist named Mark Wood.

The couple dated for six years and Mark asked her to marry him in 1994, right after her audition for the Spice Girls. The other girls quickly helped her see that this was all a mistake.

Eventually she decided the girls were right and they broke up the day after her 21st birthday. Birthday.

But I didn’t give him the ring back, she told Denise Van Outen at Big Breakfast. I still have it because it was an evil ring.

Two years later she met David Beckham, they had their first date in Mel C’s apartment and the rest is history.

X – Royal X

 

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The video for the song Wannabe was supposed to be shot in Barcelona, but no permission was given so the band moved to the Midland Grand Hotel in the Kings Cross district of London.

The idea behind the video was to recreate the energy and drive we had when we were dropping in on record companies and doing frantic sales demos, Geri later wrote. We came in and left people speechless. We had to hop around the room, hum Wannabe and sweep up cobwebs.

The shoot, which lasted all night, was very cold. If you look closely, you can see the band’s breath turn to condensation as they sing. The fever had other consequences: the video was banned in some Asian countries because Ms Brown’s nipples were clearly visible.

Virgin asked to remake the film, but the band refused, saying they had already spent £130,000 and could buy a house with the money.

Y – for youth, marketing for

ImagePA Media Copyright

The young fans were eager to buy the band’s records.

The cartoonish images of the Spice Girls and the instantly catchy singles attracted a broad coalition of fans, especially children, previously considered a small market by the music industry.

In the following years, teen pop became a major sub-genre of music, with artists such as B*Witched, Aqua, Billy Piper and S Club 7, Simon Fuller’s post-Spice project, topping the charts.

TV shows like Fireman Sam and Teletubbies also unexpectedly made it into the top 10. And in 2006, Disney capitalized on this trend by releasing High School Musical, which essentially means the Spice Girls are responsible for Olivia Rodrigo.

Z – for Zig-A-Zig-Ah

Image copyrightGetty Images

Image picVictoria (right) declined to accompany the girls on their 2019 reunion tour, but hopefully they will perform again.

That’s all Mel B. really, really wants to do. but what does that mean?

If you listen to what Wannabe says, the only way to know the end result is to be accepted into the inner circle of the Spice Girls. Prove your friendship, the song says, and maybe we’ll share our secrets.

Mel C confirmed this in an interview with Billboard. You know, when you’re in a gang, laughing and making up stupid words? We laughed and came up with this stupid word: zig-a-zig-ahh. And we were in the studio and everything came together to make this song.

 

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