Happy 20th Anniversary to Spice Girls’ debut album Spice, originally released in the UK November 4, 1996.
I grew up in the NYC hardcore/punk scene—nothing but depravity, filth, and sometimes songs that were only eighteen seconds long. But when I got a text from the bartender at a local biker bar that read: “Spice World is on the TV. Your first drink is on me,” I immediately threw on the tattered, rotting Spice Girls t-shirt I bought in 2001 and my patched-up leather vest and ran over.
I don’t wear that shirt ironically. I wear it because I think they were a brilliant pop sensation (even if created—like the Monkees or countless other groups whose songs will stick in your head). And, trust me, I fucking hate pop music.
“Spice World opens tomorrow. We’re all going. 10am screening,” a bandmate said to me in 1998. I laughed because I was as drunk as a character in a Joyce novel and it was already 4am. It was possibly one of the greatest theater-going experiences I’ve ever had. Kids were dancing in the aisles, singing every word—and at one point a 9-year-old boy shouted at another child, “If you don’t shut the fuck up so I can watch the movie, I’m gonna pop a cap in your ass!”
Up until this point, my only exposure to pop music had been “Weird Al” Yankovic throughout my childhood. After all, I was raised on Coltrane, Devo, Ravi Shankar, John Lee Hooker, and Zeppelin before I discovered punk. But I couldn’t help but sit back as a musician and tap my feet as I watched the film with half a liter of gin throbbing in the back of my brain on a Friday morning. Sure, it was cheesy, but it was good. Hell, even Black Flag released “TV Party” and that’s the most stupidly fun punk tune you can find (excluding most of NOFX’s catalog).
But I thought, “Jesus. I don’t care how many producers and songwriters it took to build this record... the girls can sing, dance, and these tracks are like a fucking tackle box—nothing but hooks.”
They depth-charge you out of the water with their debut album’s opening track “Wannabe” (which has a brilliant “one-shot” video—I put that in quotes because I’ve spotted two edits), slide into a great disco track (and I hate disco) on “Say You’ll Be There,” and then drift into a smooth R&B jam on track three with “2 Become 1.”
While there may be a few duds on the B-side of Spice, I can only blame the songwriting, not the singing, because these girls were on point. I’ve had to record three-part harmonies by myself and I found it nearly impossible as a singer; I can’t imagine doing a five-part harmony.
Admittedly, it’s a sexually overt (yet not blatantly explicit) album geared towards tweens, what with songs like “Love Thing,” “Last Time Lover,” “Naked,” and the aforementioned “Wannabe” refrain “If you wanna be my lover / you gotta get with my friends.” Obtuse—as an adult, I get it—but as an adult with a few threesomes under his sheets, I take it in a different light. And don’t get me started on the “2 Become 1” lyrics.
But they merged their sexuality with an array of female archetypes, all of which (hopefully) encouraged young girls to embrace “Girl Power.” The sassy redhead, the butch athlete, the strong girl of color, the prissy snob, and the girl who just wants to play. While fulfilling stereotypes rarely does anyone justice, I see them as a pop extension of the Riot Grrrl movement. Your parents might not take you to a Bikini Kill concert, but I’m sure they’ll take you to a Spice Girls concert. And the message is the same: girls can rock just as much as the boys if not more so.
Spice is an outstanding record that combines feminism with funk, hip-hop, and R&B. If you haven’t listened to it in the last 20 years, I highly recommend you do so. An hour was spent dancing in my living room before writing this article, after all, and I listened to it four more times. While I may have to listen to a few Slayer albums now to “cleanse” myself, it’s a killer fucking record and I was glad to listen to it yet again.
I used to ask strangers in bars dumb questions like “Who’s your favorite Beastie Boy?” or “Beatles vs. Stones?” I believe that an answer to either question reveals something about someone’s personality. But, now my question is “Who’s your favorite Spice Girl?”
While once a Posh guy, I can safely say that I am Scary all the way.
Go spice up your life. Buy this album, if you haven’t already.
Girl Power forever!