It’s been a whopping 25 years since the Spice Girls released their debut single ‘Wannabe’ way back in 1996.
I distinctly remember hearing ‘Wannabe’ for the first time at the ripe old age of eight and thinking this was truly some of the greatest music ever created. This was much to the chagrin of my parents who tried in earnest to get me listening to ‘real music with guitars’.
From a sea of beige boybands and Brit Pop in the ‘90s, the Spice Girls emerged as a proper force to be reckoned with. They were ballsy and brash, but had heart and their message was loud and clear – girls can do anything boys can.
Something in the music, the attitude, and the unabashed pride in being a girl made me get up from my inflatable sofa and take notice.
At my all-girls Irish catholic primary school (a convent, no less), we were encouraged to act like ladies. Suddenly, myself and leagues of other little girls were experimenting with hair mascara, wielding peace signs and deciding whether we were ‘baby’, ‘posh’ or ‘scary’ (I was always Ginger Spice, in case you were wondering).
The songs were undeniably bops, and we loved the music and ridiculous dance moves. But it went further than that.
The concept of girl power permeated our little lives. The Spice Girls told us that girls could be whoever they wanted to be, whether that was ultra-feminine in platforms and mini dresses or doing backflips in our Adidas poppers.
The band seemed fearless. When Mel C told Brit Pop goliath Liam Gallagher to “come and ‘av a go if you think you’re ‘ard enough” after beating him at the Brits, we could see the glass ceiling starting to shatter.
A recent interview with Mel C revealed that the band faced blatant sexism when they first started out, which spurred the girl power movement. Being told that girls don’t sell magazine or albums made them realise the cause was so much more important than they initially realised, and the concept grew legs.
This new brand of female was honest, outspoken and demanded respect. With that in mind, is it any wonder that millennials weaned on Wannabe fuelled the fourth wave of feminism?
In her 2019 book ‘What would the Spice Girls do?’, Lauren Bravo investigates how the girl power generation went on to shape the world. She argues that having five powerful, outspoken and confident women as role models moulded female millennials that are more politically and socially engaged than their male counterparts.
The band certainly wasn’t perfect. There were questionable lyrics and some unkind comparisons along the quest for empowerment but the bitesize feminism concept that the band pedalled was so accessible, so relatable and just fun.
I do appreciate that the Spice Girls are not the suffragettes but seeing five young women from normal backgrounds who are not afraid to speak their minds go on to take over a male-dominated world felt revolutionary.
Today, I’m a card-carrying feminist and have no qualms in telling you what I want, what I really really want. I still don’t have any idea what ‘zig a zig ah’ means but I’m sure that when it came into my life 25 years ago, something changed in me forever.