20 years ago today, the world was blessed with Spice, the debut album by the British girl pop group the Spice Girls. The introduction of the Spice Girls – comprised of Melanie Brown (Scary Spice), Melanie Chisholm (Sporty Spice), Emma Buntin (Baby Spice), Geri Halliwell (Ginger Spice) and Victoria Adams Beckham (Posh Spice) – revolutionized the pop music scene in the 1990s and ushered in a new era filled with the likes of Britney Spears, *NSYNC, and Dream. With its release, the group skyrocketed; during their tenure as the Spice Girls, they recorded several albums, made their movie Spice World, went on multiple world tours, and sold lines of dolls in their likeness.
Spice has sold more than 31 million copies worldwide and was the biggest-selling album by a female group in history. The album is all about girl power, female agency, and lady friendship, which makes perfect sense considering the origin of the album. According to David Sinclair in Wannabe: How the Spice Girls Reinvented Pop Fame, The Spice Girls split from their original management company for ignoring their creative ideas and overall concerns about the course of their careers. After the split, they took it upon themselves to find new creative partners who wouldn’t fight them on being involved in the songwriting process for each track. How’s that for female agency?
Opening with “Wannabe,” their debut single and most iconic song, Spice kicks off with a high-energy declaration of girl power and lady friendship. They immediately let everyone know they were here for each other and here for girls; they didn’t care if you liked it or not. “Wannabe” planted their feminist stake in the pop music scene, and they’re still remembered for it today.
The album continues on with similar themes. Their second single, “Say You’ll Be There,” expanded on their desires for ladies everywhere to want more for themselves. The Spice Girls were all about letting men and society know exactly what they wanted or needed–and they weren’t afraid to say good riddance to bad luggage if anyone protested. “If you can’t work this equation/Then I guess I’ll have to show you the door,” they sing in this track, illustrating this exact point. Similar ideas come up in “2 Become 1,” a ballad that directly addresses safe sex, and “Love Thing,” a song about asserting yourself in a relationship. Mel C. sings, “Now don’t go wasting my time/You’re not the only thing I got on my mind/My friends are with me when you ain’t been around/Your precious words and promises/Ain’t bringing me down.” The ideas in these songs are timeless–after all, this could be the anthem of every girl in the Tinder generation.
The album pulls in several different musical styles–pop, R&B, and disco, to name a few. The songs that are heavy on the R&B influence, like “Last Time Lover” and “Something Kinda Funny” end up sounding like TLC songs, while outliers like “Mama” and “Naked” are straight up pop ballads. The change in influences gave them a range and kept the album moving. Perhaps the most interesting song on the album is “Who Do You Think You Are,” the 1997 Comic Relief single in England that focused on the ego that can come along with being famous. The track, set to a disco beat, provides great harmonies between the girls and shows off Mel C.’s vocal prowess in particular.
Spice has proved to be important to pop music, especially in the experience of millennials everywhere. Besides serving as one of the catalysts for the pop renaissance of the 90s, the release of Spice established the Spice Girls as women the world should keep their eyes on, ushering in a pop culture phenomenon that introduced an entire generation of young girls to feminism and the idea of girl power. The Spice Girls were here for girls and girl power, and they were loud about it. They wanted to encourage the idea that female friendship and lady agency should be valued above all else, that girls deserved to have their own space and voice in this world–regardless of what they might have been told elsewhere.