The 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 . . .
The 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 colourful, sexy personalities and sense of humour appealed to older music fans, making The Spice Girls a cross-generational success.
Every member of The Spice Girls was given a specific identity from the outset, and each label was as much an extension of their own personality as it was a marketing tool.
Geri Halliwell (a former game-show hostess on Turkish television) was the sexy ‘Ginger’ Spice, Melanie Brown was ‘Scary’ Spice, Victoria Adams was ‘Posh’ Spice, Scouser Melanie Chisholm was ‘Sporty’ Spice and Emma Bunton was ‘Baby’ Spice.
If all of the invented personalities made The Spice Girls seem manufactured, that’s because they were.
Every member of the group was active in England’s theatrical, film and modelling circuit, 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 the 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 – something the group refused. All five girls moved into a house together and went on the dole as they searched for a manager and record deal.
Eventually, The Spice Girls signed a contract with Virgin, and by the end of 1995 had signed with Annie Lennox‘s manager Simon Fuller.
Each of their specific personas was exploited in the group’s press articles and videos, which helped send their first single, Wannabe, to the top of the charts upon its summer release in 1996.
It became the first debut single by an all-female band to enter the charts at #1 in England and remained at #1 for seven weeks. By the end of the year, Wannabe had hit #1 in 21 other countries.
The Spice Girls became media icons in Britain almost immediately, as stories of their encounters with other celebrities became fodder for the tabloids, as did nude photos of Geri 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 #1 in the autumn, 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 #1, staying there for several weeks. Both records were also at #1 over the Christmas week, making The Spice Girls one of only three artists to achieve that feat.
In November 1997, The Spice Girls released their second album, Spiceworld.
The album was a global best-seller and set a new record for the fastest-selling album when it shipped seven million copies over the course of two weeks.
The album went on to sell over 10 million copies in Europe, Canada and the US combined, and 20 million copies worldwide.
At the close of 1997, The Spice Girls decided to take over the running of the group themselves and fired their manager Simon Fuller.
In May 1998, Halliwell left the group in the middle of numerous rumours. She was made a goodwill ambassador by the United Nations in October of the same year.
The four remaining members released their third album, Forever, but went their separate ways in November 2000 to focus on their solo careers.
Melanie Chisolm (Sporty Spice)
Emma Bunton (Baby Spice)
Melanie Brown (Scary Spice)
Geri Halliwell (Ginger Spice)
Victoria Adams (Posh Spice)