At the end of 2016, Geri Horner (formerly Geri Halliwell) discussed the enduring appeal of the Spice Girls’ musical legacy with the British publication Attitude Magazine, explaining, “We believe the whole world has its population of Spice Girls. It’s a spirit—bigger than one, two, three, four or five. It’s a movement. A generation that belongs to us all.”
Hindsight has been (mostly) kind to the Spice Girls, the British phenomenon that rose out of the United Kingdom 22 years ago to beguile the globe. Though there are some cynics who will readily acknowledge their brilliant marketing strategies and pop culture impact, they begrudgingly credit the Spice Girls for the music that brought them to the world stage.
Impressively, since their debut album Spice (1996) landed in the United Kingdom—America received it in February 1997—the Spice Girls have collectively and individually released 19 albums over two decades. The albums hold some of the most ambitious, stylistically boundless pop music one can encounter, the majority of it written by the Spice Girls themselves.
Horner, Melanie Brown, Victoria Beckham, Melanie Chisholm, and Emma Bunton’s initial grip on pop, albeit with a noticeable urban slant, sold itself due to its execution via the Girls’ peppery harmonies (and pretty fantastic personalities). This formula made Spice irresistible, but it also forecasted the broader usage of R&B within their sound structure, specifically with their cool, if misunderstood third (and final) group effort, Forever (2000).
But it was Spiceworld (1997), released at the height of the group’s popularity, that confirmed that the Girls had found their voice. The R&B touch remained, this time drawing from disco, doo-wop and Motown versus hip-hop, but it was the fuss they kicked up with Latin influences (“Spice Up Your Life,” “Viva Forever”), arena rock (“Move Over”), and several other sonic textures that upped the artistic ante for the quintet. It remains their definitive work.
Individually, the group continued onto interesting avenues too. Geri’s way with a lyric and melody let her dispense some of the most playful, but no less intelligent tunes across three studio albums. Her sophomore LP Scream If You Wanna Go Faster (2001) is her best moment, surpassing the cheek of her first LP Schizö-phonic (1999) with ease.
Melanie C’s Northern Star (1999) was the obvious critical darling—a first for a Spice Girl at the time of its release. It neatly tapped into the burgeoning post-Britpop, post-Ray of Light (1998) vibes that made the tail end of 1990s pop so compelling. As she moved further into her solo career—her seventh LP Version of Me arrived this past fall—Melanie made MOR rock and adult contemporary her touchstones.
Emma became a “Swinging Sixties” revivalist (think Swing Out Sister) with her second and third albums Free Me (2004) and Life in Mono (2006) respectively. These records advanced the critical thaw toward the Spice Girls.
Melanie B recorded two long players that were accomplished, if uneven. Yet, her steady stream of fantastic R&B singles from 1998 through 2001 still transfix effortlessly; the bulk of them can be found on her debut, Hot (2000).
When Victoria Beckham took up with U.K. garage music in 2000 with the True Steppers and Dane Bowers collaboration “Out of Your Mind,” it became one of three Spice Girls related singles to suggest a bolder creative pivot point in their canon alongside the group’s single “Holler” and Melanie C’s “Never Be the Same Again.” Her eponymous record a year later was safer in its urban-pop execution, but showcased Victoria’s sleek vocal approach impeccably nevertheless.
It is Beckham’s cool, biting influence—both vocally and visually—that will be sorely missed as the Spice Girls commence their second formal reformation. But, Beckham has been supportive of her group mates taking the veritable “Spice show on the road.” Who knows, Beckham could surprise everyone and appear on one of the June 2019 UK dates shortlisted or even have some of her solo material worked into the concerts vignette style to the approval of the many group loyalists sure to be in attendance. Stranger things have happened in the Spice saga so far and regardless, she will be there in spirit.
In all, the collection of 15 songs I’ve compiled below represents a compelling, aural and visual snapshot of the Spice Girls’ 22-year run of pop music. And it’s also likely what they will—or may—bring to life on stage next year. There is something to be discovered with the music of the Spice Girls, something more than mere hooks or nostalgic “bops” for ‘90s kids. This video playlist succinctly demonstrates why they’re one of the most indispensable girl groups of all time. Like Mrs. Horner said, “it’s a movement.”
Note: Quentin Harrison is one of the world’s foremost experts on the musical legacy of the Spice Girls. The recently updated second edition of his acclaimed book ‘Record Redux: Spice Girls’ can be ordered here or here.
SPICE GIRLS | “Wannabe” | From Spice (1996)
SPICE GIRLS | “Spice Up Your Life” | From Spiceworld (1997)
SPICE GIRLS | “Who Do You Think You Are” | From Spice (1996)
SPICE GIRLS | “Too Much” | From Spiceworld (1997)
SPICE GIRLS | “Headlines (Friendship Never Ends)” | From Greatest Hits (2007)
SPICE GIRLS | “Say You’ll Be There” | From Spice (1996)
SPICE GIRLS | “Viva Forever” | From Spiceworld (1997)
SPICE GIRLS | “Goodbye” | From Forever (2000)
SPICE GIRLS | “Stop” | From Spiceworld (1997)
MELANIE C | “I Turn to You” | From Northern Star (1999)
SPICE GIRLS | “Holler” | From Forever (2000)
GERI HALLIWELL | “Look at Me” | From Schizöphonic (1999)
EMMA BUNTON | “Maybe” | From Free Me (2004)
MELANIE B | “Feels So Good” | From Hot (2000)
VICTORIA BECKHAM | “Not Such an Innocent Girl” | From Victoria Beckham (2001)