This was the Spice Girls first single. It was a huge and immediate hit, as their message of "Girl Power" and quirky personalities went along with the catchy beat and intrigued audiences around the world.
The song was written by Richard "Biff" Stannard and his musical collaborator Matt Rowe with assistance from the group members, who all received writers credits. Stannard had written the song "Steam" for a boy band called East 17, and after a chance encounter with Mel B., he was invited to write some songs for the Spice Girls, which was honing their act. Over the course of 10 days, he and Rowe wrote both "Wannabe" and the group's eventual third single, "2 Become 1
." Stannard said that pretty much every waking hour of those 10 days was spent working on the songs; he explained to Pink News
: "We wrote 'Wannabe' quite quickly, but it took ages to get it to sound right. I remember waking up on the studio floor with this post-it from Matt saying, 'Press play.' We'd finally got it. So it was luck and hard work."
The Spice Girls were formed as a female alternative to boy bands, which were big at the time in the UK. They spent years developing their act and cultivating their image; by the time this song was released, they had already made many media appearances and were ready for the big time.
When "Wannabe" was released in the UK on July 8, 1996, it blew past even the loftiest of expectations, reaching #1 on July 27, where it stayed for seven weeks. Global domination followed - in January 1997 the song was released in the US and in February it went to #1. It topped the charts in at least 10 other countries, including Australia, Canada, Israel, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Worldwide, this is the best-selling single by an all-female group.
The lyrics are about the value of friendship. The five Spice Girls helped come up with the words and craft the song. Regarding their contribution, Richard Stannard said: "There were seven of ussitting on the floor in this tiny room. Matt Rowe and I would add the backing track and start with rhythms; everyone had their role; Geri was always concentrating on the theme and all the others would chip in with melodies and lyrics."
Talking about how they created the mood of the song, Stannard said, "It was the madness in the room. There would be two or three things going on at once; we would have three or four mikes up and we would record everything then pick the bits we liked and play it back to them."
A "Wannabe" is a person who aspires to be someone else, generally a celebrity, and imitates that person. The phrase has very little to do with the song, but makes a catchy title.
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The video was done by the Swedish director Johan Camitz, who was known for his work on commercials. It was shot at St. Pancras Midland Grand Hotel in London, where the girls are seen larking about and making scene. The video appeared to be one continuous shot, although there are two barely noticeable edits. The action was mostly spontaneous, as the girls were presented as individuals rather than a choreographed unit.
Before the song was officially released in the UK, the video aired on the cable network The Box, where it quickly became their most popular clip, setting the stage for a successful release.
In February of 1997, this song won a Brit Award for Best Song. In addition, their follow-up hit, "Say You'll Be There
," won for Best Video.
The line "Friendship never ends" became a credo for the Spice Girls. They used the phrase in a press release when Ginger Spice left the group.
The Spice Girls were managed by Simon Fuller, who created American Idol. When his protégé Simon Cowell launched the TV show X Factor In 2011, he hired Richard Stannard, who wrote this song, as a writer/producer for acts on the show.
On April 12, 1997, the Spice Girls performed this song and "Say You'll Be There" on Saturday Night Live
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The big finish in the movie Grease, where John Travolta breaks out some great dance moves in a party carnival setting, was an inspiration for this song. Stannard says they were talking about that scene when they started to write the song, and they built on that vibe with Matt Rowe adding chords to a beat Stannard had on an MPC drum machine.
The "Zig A Zag Ahhhh" line was a big attention grabber in this song, and many listeners speculated that it was a bit dirty, as in shorthand for "suck a d--k." Stannard claims it's a nonsense phrase they had been throwing around when they wrote the song, and that it's purely innocent.
Asked during a Reddit AMA what a zig-a-zag is and why did you want one, Mel B replied: "EVERYBODY needs a zig-a-zag-ah, and it's whatever you want it to be."
The Daily Star
reported something different in 2015, claiming that one of the writers anonymously told them that Mel B directed the line at an "'80s pop dude" who was working at the studio. Apparently, this guy pooped and smoked cigars in the common bathroom, making quite a stink. She dubbed him "s--t and cigar," which was the line, until they reworked it into something radio-friendly and nonsensical.
This was named the catchiest ever hit single in a 2014 UK scientific study by Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry. The result came from an online survey, which asked 12,000 people to name a song as soon as they recognized it. They were chosen at random from more than 1,000 clips of best-selling tunes with participants averaging around five seconds to clock a track.
The Spice Girls' earworm was named in an average of 2.29 seconds, ahead of Lou Bega's "Mambo No 5 (A Little Bit Of)
," which was recognized an average of 2.48 seconds. Survivor came third with "Eye of the Tiger
" at 2.62 seconds.
This song has been used in some memorable scenes from TV shows. On the 2007 One Tree Hill episode "All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone," the girls on the show do a dance routine to the song; in the 2009 Simpsons episode "How The Test Was Won," Ralph Wiggum sings it; in the 2013 episode of Glee, "Guilty Pleasures," the student perform the song.
In the '10s, some contemporary pop stars cited the Spice Girls as an influence, and sometimes performed this song in homage. Fifth Harmony posted a video of the quintet performing the song dressed as the Spice Girls
on Halloween 2013. Adele expressed her love for the group during her "Carpool Karaoke" segment on The Late Late Show with James Corden
in 2016, when she sang "Wannabe" along with the host.
Mel B wrote the "here's a story from A to Z" rap part in the toilet. It took her just eight minutes.