Spice Girls were the first major British pop music phenomenon of the mid-’90s to not have a debt to independent pop/rock. Instead, the all-female quintet derived from the dance-pop tradition that made Take That the most popular British group of the early ’90s, but there was one crucial difference. Spice Girls used dance-pop as a musical base, but they infused the music with a fiercely independent, feminist stance that was equal parts Madonna, post-riot grrrl alternative rock feminism, and a co-opting of the good-times-all-the-time stance of England’s new lad culture. Their proud, all-girl image and catchy dance-pop appealed to younger listeners, while their colorful, sexy personalities and sense of humor appealed to older music fans, making Spice Girls a cross-generational success. The group also became chart-toppers throughout Europe in 1996, before concentrating in America in early 1997.
Every member of Spice Girls was given a specific identity by the British press from the outset, and each label was as much an extension of their own personality as it was a marketing tool, since each name derived from their debut single and video, “Wannabe.” Geri Estelle Halliwell was the “sexy Spice”; Melanie Janine Brown was the “scary Spice”; Victoria Adams was “the posh Spice”; Melanie Jayne Chisholm was “the sporty Spice”; Emma Lee Bunton was “the baby Spice.” Each persona was exploited in the group’s press articles and videos, which helped send “Wannabe” to the top of the charts upon its summer release in 1996. If all of the invented personalities made Spice Girls seem manufactured, that’s because they were to a certain extent. Every member of the group was active in England’s theatrical, film, and modeling circuit before the group’s formation, and they all responded to an advertisement requesting five “lively girls” for a musical group in the summer of 1993. The manager who placed the ad chose all five members of Spice Girls, yet the women rejected his plans for their career and set out on their own two months after forming. For the next two years, the Girls fought to get a record contract, since most record labels insisted that the band pick one member as a clear leader, which is something the group refused.
Eventually, Spice Girls signed a contract to Virgin Records. They were without a manager, though, which made recording a debut album nearly impossible. All five members moved into a house and went on the dole as they searched for a manager. By the end of 1995, the group had signed with Annie Lennox’s manager Simon Fuller, and began writing songs with Elliot Kennedy. “Wannabe,” Spice Girls’ first single, was released in the summer of 1996 and became the first debut single by an all-female band to enter the British charts at number one. It remained there for seven weeks, and by the end of the year, “Wannabe” had hit number one in 21 other countries. Immediately following the success of “Wannabe,” Spice Girls became media icons in Britain as stories of their encounters with other celebrities became fodder for numerous tabloids, as did nude photos of Halliwell that she posed for earlier in her career. All of this added to the group’s momentum, and their second single, “Say You’ll Be There,” entered the charts at number one in the fall, selling 200,000 copies a week. Spice, their debut album, was released at the end of the year, accompanied by their first ballad, “2 Become 1.” Both the album and single went directly to number one, staying there for several weeks; both records were at number one over the Christmas week, making Spice Girls one of three artists to achieve that feat.
Having topped the charts in virtually every other country in the Western world, Spice Girls concentrated on America in early 1997, releasing “Wannabe” in January and Spice in February.
They became massive stars in the U.S. as well, also scoring the hits “Say You’ll Be There” and “2 Become 1”; Spiceworld, their second LP, appeared later in the year in conjunction with their feature film of the same name. In May 1998, Geri Halliwell departed from the band, not citing major reasons for leaving the group. She did release a solo album, Schizophonic, a year later, but nothing chart-topping to match the success of her former band. Still not deterred by the absence of Ginger Spice, Spice Girls trudged on — Melanie B. married Spice Girls dancer Jimmy Gulzar and released the solo single, a duet with Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliot called “I Want You Back.” By Christmas, Spice Girls scored a number one hit with Goodbye and with a career floating high, their personal lives were moving as well. Melanie B. gave birth to a daughter named Phoenix Chi in February 1999, and Adams followed a month later with a son, Brooklyn Joseph. And now only known as Victoria Beckham, Posh Spice married Manchester United soccer star David Beckham later that summer. Becoming now more noticeable for their social status than their singing, Spice Girls took a well-deserved break while Melanie C. took over the English charts with her successful solo effort Northern Star, which was released in the U.S. in fall 1999. The following year, the girls headed back into the studio with high-profile producers Rodney Jerkins, Terry Lewis, and Jimmy Jam (Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige) to record a follow-up to their pop-friendly Spiceworld.
In the middle of recording, Melanie B. divorced Gulzar and endured a bitter custody battle throughout the remainder of 2000. Spice Girls’ creative power overruled media scrutiny so that they could fully focus on the new R&B sound they were trying for and a the new collaboration united the foursome once again to release the third album Forever, which hit American shores in fall 2000.
The group began to splinter not long after the release of Forever, which made little impact outside of the UK where it only had one hit single — the chart-topping double-sided single “Holler”/”Let Love Lead the Way” — before the Spice Girls stopped promoting the album. Just three months after the album’s November 2000 release, the band announced that they were separating in February of 2001.
Over the next few years, the Spice Girls may not have existed as a group, but they were never out of various taboild headlines in the UK and America. As the wife of football superstar David Beckham, Victoria got the most attention, but Mel B wasn’t far behind thanks to her ill-fated romance with actor Eddie Murphy, which resulted in an out-of-wedlock child. Mel Chisholm had a steady career as a pop singer while Emma Bunton had some chart success of her own with her 2001 album A Girl Like Me and its 2004 successor, Free Me. Meanwhile, Geri Halliwell split her time between recording and TV projects.
After years of persistent rumors of a reunion — peaking heavily yet never materializing for Bob Geldolf’s 2005 charity event Live 8 — the Spice Girls announced in June 2007 that they would be reuniting for an eleven-concert tour beginning that December, which would be accompanied by a new greatest hits album and documentary.
In 2010, it was announced that the Spice Girls had joined forces with Simon Fuller to develop a musical based on their songs. Viva Forever: The Musical – penned by British comedienne Jennifer Saunders – was announced at a press conference in June 2012. After much speculation in the British press, the Spice Girls reformed once more for the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine