Wannabe: The song that changed the world

Wannabe by the Spice Girls recently turned 21.  In America, it can now drink alcohol. Imagine a night out with Wannabe?!

Reams can (and have) been written about the impact of this song including the fact that it’s the best selling song by a girl group in America, won an Ivor Novello Award, launched of the biggest girl group in music history, and was recently named the catchiest song of all time.

But often overlooked is its biggest impact; its help in shaping a generation of outcasts.

For those of us in 1996 who were different; bookish, effeminate, shy, full of puppy fat, gangly and thin, or one (or more) of the billion other things young people get singled out and teased for, Wannabe changed everything.

So here’s my Wannabe story from a to z…

Growing up on a housing estate in Manchester in the early 90s with the Tories’ Section 28 still looming large, I was camp, awkward, geeky, with train track braces, bad eczema and an Enya addiction. I was different. The mere sight of Gary Barlow or Baloo from The Jungle Book did strange and unexplained things to me. This only stopped the day I found out that Gary wasn’t paying his taxes properly. Gary – pay your taxes. Baloo – call me.

Back then, I didn’t want to be different. I didn’t want to feel what I was feeling, even before I knew what it was that I was feeling. And then in 1996, I turned on MTV to watching Hanging Out and there they were.

At exactly the time I was coming to terms with who I was, five girls stood up, unapologetic about who they were.  There they were not just celebrating their differences, but encouraging us to embrace ours. From day one, they were clear – there might be five of them on stage, but there were millions of us in the Spice gang.

I had a tribe. I belonged. I was different and that wasn’t just OK – that was special, to be treasured, to be explored, and to be owned.

The Spice Girls didn’t hide who they were, they didn’t lessen their personalities to fit in. If anything, they exaggerated them. They wanted Mel B to be a bit quieter. She got louder. They wished Geri would cover-up a bit more. Her outfits got more outrageous. Whilst I was working out how to behave, the Spice Girls taught me to behave however the bloody hell I wanted to.

Speaking to so many friends over the years, it is clear that they had the same experience. Being alone felt less lonely with the Spice Girls in our lives.

The Spice Girls took on the world – and they won. And they took us with them. Their highs felt like our highs, their victories were our victories.

So next time you are slamming your body down and winding it all around, remember that Wannabe wasn’t just a throw-away pop ditty, it was the moment that the world shifted and a generation learned to celebrate themselves.

To those who never needed empowering, Wannabe is a fun pop song. To those of us who did, Wannabe was the beginning of everything.


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