The Spice Girls burst onto the music scene in 1996 with their first single “Wannabe.” Love it or loath it, Wannabe became an overnight global smash hit and is currently the world’s best-selling single by a girl group and was, in 2014, voted as the most easily recognised pop song of the past 60 years. Written by the Spice Girls, Matt Rowe and Richard Stannard, Wannabe is an uptempo dance-pop song featuring Mel B and Geri Halliwell rapping. According to the group and the other songwriters, Wannabe’s lyrics address the value of female friendship over a heterosexual bond. The song became a symbol for female empowerment and was key to the group’s Girl Power philosophy.
Wannabe started taking form in 1995 when the Spice Girls were first formed. The Spice Girls had been working on a ballad called Feed Your Love, but it was rejected for having too much of an adult theme. Stannard and the girls did not have a predetermined plan for how Wannabe was going to be written or sound except they wanted the song to represent the band and the essence of what they were.
During a writing session, the lyric “If you wanna be my lover, you’ve gotta get with my friends,” and this became the song’s iconic chorus. Mel B’s rapping section in the song came about from her shouting during the writing session. In her autobiography, If Only, Halliwell wrote: “we started off simply mucking about with chords and raps. Right from that moment, I think we all realised that this was something special. It happened so naturally that the song seemed to symbolise what we were about.”
The group recorded the song the same day and the only addition to it were the sound of Mel B’s footsteps as she runs up to the microphone. In March 1995, Spice Girls had recorded both Wannabe and 2 Become 1. They believed they could thrive without Heart Management pulling the strings in the background so they demanded the master recordings to their song, met up at a roundabout outside of Maidenhead and went into the night. A few of weeks later, Spice Girls signed with 19 Management and Simon Fuller.
Virgin Records signed up the Spice Girls on a five album deal and paid a £1 million advance. This was in June 1995 and also coincides with the group changing their name from Spice to the Spice Girls after it emerged their was a rapper in the U.S.A. who went by the name of Spice. Fast forward to February 1996 and Virgin Records decided they did not Wannabe to be the Spice Girls’ first single. Instead, they wanted Love Thing, which was a softer R’n’B song, or Say You’ll be There. After the girls consulted with each other, they said Wannabe had to be the first single released and it was non-negotiable.
The girls filmed the music video for Wannabe through the night of April 19 and while it was crudely put together, it was voted number one by viewers of The Box and it stayed in the top spot for three months.
Wannabe was released in clubs in June 1996 before being released into the mainstream. The single debuted at number three in the UK charts on July 14 and a week later it soared to number one where it stayed for seven weeks, selling four million copies and as a result became the most successful debut single ever.