When the Spice Girls released second album Spiceworld back in 1997, it was subject to immediate commercial success. The number one record was shipped 1.4 million times in its first week of sales, and has become synonymous with the late 90s. Now, twenty-one years later and in light of a recently announced reunion (minus Posh) it seems only right to revisit the nation’s beloved pop queens.
Spiceworld is something of a standing testament to Britain’s ability to produce good pop music. Classically 90s in its joyful dance tracks and catchy rhythms, it’s impossible not to enjoy the 10-song album. It isn’t hard to understand why the band were – and are – acclaimed as the epitome of girl power. Leading single ‘Spice Up Your Life’ plunges the listener immediately into a hectic cacophony of samba-influenced instruments before Mel B’s famous recall of “colours of the world, spice up your life.” Relentlessly energetic and bursting with fun, the song is unbelievably catchy and makes you want to dance. In the space of one song, it’s really not hard to see why the band are the bestselling girl group of all time.
The joyfulness only continues with school disco delight ‘Stop’, that played on repeat in teenage bedrooms everywhere. Underneath the bright, buzzing catchiness of “stop right now, thank you very much’, there’s something refreshingly relatable about the Spice Girls’ classic bops. Every teenager has known the particular, precise emotion involved in “it’s cool but you don’t even know me”. While obviously the aim is sheer pop happiness, the band still provided an intense relatability for teenage girls all over the world. One of the only bands to have done so, the Spice Girls marketed themselves not only to young women, but for them also.
One of the remarkable things about the Spice Girls is the way they broke into the music industry. Prior to their debut (Spiceworld’s predecessor, Spice– originality in names wasn’t exactly their niche)British music in the 1990s had been deeply dominated by and associated with men. Bands such as Oasis, Blur and Pulp were leading the new wave of Britpop with a more alternative trend in music. The Spice Girls dismantled this trend singlehandedly, stomping on it in platforms and bringing bright, undeniable pop to the charts. People are quick to judge the group in comparison to this earlier phase, dismissing the band as manufactured and cheesy, just another example of people being willing to swallow anything labelled as pop. However, you can’t help but wonder if this is less to do with the quality of the music and more to do with the constant patronisation of women in the music industry. It is more likely that the reason the Spice Girls were so astonishingly successful is because they were best in the game. Not only did they appeal to a gap in the market, the bright danceability of hits like ‘Never Give Up On The Good Times’ provided a refreshing contrast to the music scene of the time. Even twenty-one years later, people furiously underestimate the power of good pop.
The album is phenomenally catchy, with even slower songs like ‘Saturday Night Divas’ and the classic fourth single ‘Viva Forever’ being unforgettable. Soft strings play out over the latter, creating a certain ambience in the music that allows the echoing and melodic chorus to shine. The Spice Girls were masters of their genre, and knew exactly what would sell. They epitomised girl power, and that shines most on the final track of the album, ‘The Lady Is A Vamp’. The formidable lyrics of “she’s a power girl in a nineties world” tell you of the Spice Girls’ fierce independence. When Geri Halliwell croons “Jackie O, we loved her so”, a smile can’t help but cross your lips. These were girls who were fresh, feminist and free not only musically but in themselves. They each had their own identity – Posh, Baby, Sporty, Ginger and Scary – and while you had one you wanted to be most (I was always a lover of Scary Spice), you could find yourself in all of them. They were simultaneously the girls you wanted to be your best friends and the girls you wanted to be. Just as they did in the nineties, they still spice up our lives.