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Where Were YOU When The Spice Girls' "Wannabe" Came Out?

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Photo: Tim Roney/Getty Images.
It's kind of scary to think about, but the Spice Girls' debut single came out 20 years ago this week. Whether you think it's irredeemably cheesy or an all-time classic, it's hard to deny that "Wannabe" remains one of the most recognisable pop songs of its era. We can all recite the lines without having to think about them – "If you wanna be my lover, you've gotta get with my friends. Make it last forever, friendship never ends."

You could spend hours debating whether the Spice Girls really were about friendship and feminism, or whether they were just rampant capitalists, or else just five girls who just got lucky, but there's no denying that they left an imprint on the memory of most 90s kids. So, to mark the anniversary of their debut record, we've asked 10 women who grew up with them to share their stories of "Wannabe" and Girl Power. Some of the things they say might just surprise you.

Meera, 28, a sales manager who grew up in Lancashire
When I was in Year Four, "Wannabe" was the biggest thing ever and everyone at school was really excited about it. I can remember dragging my parents down to Woolworths so they could buy the album for me. Looking back, I was a bit of a brat about it! Mel B was my favourite because she was so gobby and northern, though Mel C was obviously repping the north too. I still love Mel B now because she just says what's on her mind. I think of her as a female Kanye, though maybe not quite as extreme!

Obviously at the time I wasn't thinking about female empowerment or anything like that, but I feel like Girl Power had a subconscious effect on me, because I'm now someone who believes in doing what you want and not caring about what people say. The whole thing we have now with Taylor Swift's squad, I think the Spice Girls started that – they were a group of girls who were all about empowering each other. They were all from quite ordinary backgrounds so you could look at them and think, "Well, they did it, so maybe I can too."

Jenny, 23, a civil servant who grew up in Cambridgeshire
Although I was only three, I can remember hearing "Wannabe" for the first time so vividly. My parents own a takeaway and the video came on the TV there and I started dancing along to it. Obviously I didn't know what all the lyrics were about, but I just remember thinking it was really fun and there were these five girls dancing and having a party, and they were all really loud! I was a big fan up until Geri left, but then they tried to make it a foursome and it just didn't work. And then they split up not long after. Oh my God, the chaos! There's a headless Mel C doll behind the cabinet in the utility room in my house; I literally got so upset that I ripped her head off!

If one of their songs comes on in a club now, I still know all the words and it really takes me back to my childhood. I don't really like most celebrities but I don't think I've ever slagged off the Spice Girls. They're kind of like my big sisters in a way. They weren't overly sexually aggressive or anything; I can just remember them being really fun.

Talia, 34, a music consultant who grew up in Blackpool
I was getting ready for school and the "Wannabe" video came on GMTV. I remember thinking, "Oh my God, what is this?" Basically the whole day at school I was waiting for 3.45pm so I could beg my grandad to take me to Our Price in town. I couldn't remember the group's name so I had to go in and say, "Oh my God, I saw this thing, it was five girls and it was amazing, do you have it?" And they knew what I meant! I think I was instantly drawn to them because they were so loud and in-your-face; they just looked like they were having the most fun time. I remember writing Geri a really long letter telling her how much I loved her and how my life was so awful and how the Spice Girls were saving me. For years and years, I harboured some kind of resentment because I never got a reply. But then when I was clearing my family home a few years ago, I found the letter in a locked box. I'd obviously never sent it, so it was my fault, not Geri's!

I think part of the reason I went into the music industry was probably so I could meet Geri, actually. And it still hasn’t happened! But I also think the fact they had that Girl Power, confidence and promoted friendship was really important for a lot of girls growing up. They've certainly influenced my friendships – if someone tells me Emma is their favourite, for example, I know we're not going to be friends.

Stevie, 24, a journalist who grew up in Bristol
I was only four when "Wannabe" came out and it's really weird because I remember it clearly even though I don't remember anything else from that time. They were just really bright and loud and awe-inspiring, and on a basic level, what they wore was really amazing. I think the fact they all had different outfits and personalities was probably very appealing to someone so small. I remember being struck by the fact they were telling girls they could be as loud as they wanted and take up as much space as the boys. I think that had a really big effect on my little brain.

I was talking about them with my mum recently, because I have this memory of going to an after-school football club at the age of about five. I said to my mum, "Did you get me to go to that, or was that something I asked to do?" She said, "I would never have thought to influence you to do that, it was your idea." Looking back, it was probably Sporty Spice who sent me there because she made me think, "If I want to go and play football with the boys, why can't I?"


Jenny, 31, a lawyer who grew up in Barnsley
I remember watching the "Wannabe" video and thinking it was cool and a bit different. At that point I was used to pop groups where everyone would dress the same so it was really exciting to see this group where they were all their own people. I was a closet Posh fan – at the time, she wasn't the one to like so I kept it to myself! I remember we'd all go round the playground saying "Girl Power!" and doing the peace sign that went with it. I'm not sure at that stage we really knew what it meant, but I think that thing of not letting boys push you around definitely sunk in.

It feels like the idea of Girl Power is having a bit of a renaissance in pop now and there's a lot of throwback to what the Spice Girls were saying 20 years ago. I've always considered myself very independent and my mum always used to say, "You’re strong, you don't let people push you around," whereas she always thought of herself as quite a pushover. I think hearing about Girl Power probably played a part in that; I was the right age to take that kind of positive message on board.
Lucy, 25, a PR executive who grew up in Brighton
I wasn't really aware of pop music as a thing until I heard "Wannabe," and from that point on, the Spice Girls were really the only people I was interested in. I even got banned from my Year 2 P.E. class for wearing a Spice Girls T-shirt rather than the uniform. We used to make up dances in the playground every day obsessively and make the boys be our background dancers, which was always fun.

I think they just were extremely relatable; there was nothing glossy or unattainable about them. And the fact they were five such different girls meant there was a Spice Girl for every mood. I mean, I went through phases: at first Baby was my favourite, but then it was Ginger, and then I had a bit of a tomboy phase and it became Sporty. Looking back, it's kind of amazing that it happened really – at the time 99% of pop was sappy love songs, so it was really nice to hear these girls singing about something other than their boyfriends.


Pollyanna, 31, an online diet and weight loss coach who grew up in Oxfordshire
I remember the summer of '96, I was 12, and "Wannabe" was number one for ages. I'm quite a feisty character myself so I think I related to their energy and their enthusiasm and their go-getting attitude. I liked the way they wouldn't care what anyone thought and just seemed to live for the moment and have fun. The other day something online make me think of them so I showed the "Wannabe" video to my daughters, who are age seven and three. They just thought it was absolutely fantastic. They loved all the lights and the colours and the outfits and the song itself, actually. I mean, it's timeless pop really, isn't it?

I'm almost sad in a way that there's nothing like the Spice Girls for my daughters now. As a parent, I don't want them to think that women behave like the more sexual pop stars, strutting around in tiny hot pants all the time. The message I want to give them is that they can go out there and have fun and do they what they want and make good friendships. That's what the Spice Girls stood for.

Hannah, 29, a P.A. who grew up in Shropshire
We used to be obsessed with ABBA, but when we heard "Wannabe," me and my friend really got into the Spice Girls. Even though there were only two of us, we'd put on these Spice Girls concerts for her family. Because we were based in the sticks, having this cool girlband who were living glamorous in lives in London was something we wanted to emulate, I think. They were obviously a bit older than us, but not too much older, so it felt like they could be our older sisters. I was nine and ten when they were talking about Girl Power and I went to a mixed school, so I was at that age when girls and boys are just starting to stop hating each other and wanting to hang out together.

Without being O.T.T., I think Girl Power probably made us feel a bit cooler and like we could stand up for ourselves. It made you realise it wasn't just boys who ruled everything. Their attitude was good for girls of that age, I think, because it was feminist without being too preachy. You could always tell they were having fun.

Nicola, 27, a personal assistant who grew up in Staines
I remember being seven and seeing the "Wannabe" video on Top of the Pops. At the time, I just thought, "Oh, this is catchy, I like this," but it was really just a drop in the ocean at that point because obviously it soon exploded. I remember having the Spice Girls photo album and funnily enough my brother, who's eight years older than me and a bit of a lad, was really into them too so we collected the photos together. It was just such a universal phenomenon. Because pop has matured so much since then and it's much slicker now, if "Wannabe" comes on in a club, I do get a bit eye-rolly because it has that element of cheese to it now. But looking back, I do think the Spice Girls had a positive effect on me.

Some people might dismiss the whole Girl Power thing as quite fluffy feminism, but I think it was a strong message that was easily digestible for young girls at the time. It did make me feel more confident; me and my friends really went for that whole having fun and owning it thing. So maybe, in a way, I'd like to think of the Spice Girls as a gateway drug into stronger feminist theories.


Sophie, 23, a student who grew up in Wakefield

I would have heard "Wannabe" when I was about six, a couple of years after it came out. I think we had the CD floating around at home and my mum probably said, "Have a listen to this - you'll like it." It was just really good pop music and although I didn't realise the time, I think I probably liked the fact it was about prioritising friendship over boys. When me and my friends were singing and dancing to it, we'd always look at each other when it got to the "friendship never ends" line. I was a bit of a tomboy so I liked Sporty Spice the best; I remember thinking, "I kind of dress like you, and it's nice." You know, they weren't about looking all done up the way other girlbands were.

I still love them now and their music is still on my iPod getting regular rotation. And I think the Girl Power message resonates more than ever because girls are thinking about feminism more now. I definitely think they're still relevant.
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