The Spice Girls: The Creation, Rise, and Fall of the Biggest Girl Group Ever
Spice Girls, the female pop group that instantly conjures up the mid 1990s and the incoming teen pop invasion of the U.S. They came to the forefront out of nowhere in 1996, making a splash in the United Kingdom before coming over to the United States and becoming a global phenomenon not seen since The Beatles. The early 1990s saw a rise in rhythm and blues returning to the forefront thanks to all black female groups such as another UK group in Soul II Soul with hits like “Keep on Movin'” and “Back to Life” in 1989, Sisters With Voices aka SWV, and TLC.
As the Grunge rock movement was petering out by 1995, the U.K. was seeing a surge in hard rock pop bands who would shortly invade the U.S. ranging from Suede and Blur to Oasis and The Stone Roses. While this was happening and the breach was occurring at the onset of 1996, there really was no big pop girl group in the U.S. outside of arguably TLC and they leaned more towards a laid back R&B and Dance style. Even the Top 100 in the U.K. in 1995 saw a fair amount of overlap with bands who were big in the U.S. at the time with a lot of individual solo acts or acts catering to specific genres, mostly rock music.
The Spice Girls Formation Starts
By 1992, four of the girls: Melanie Brown, Melanie Chisholm, Geri Halliwell, and Victoria Adams would quickly become acquaintances thanks to working the audition circuit and being rejected constantly. All four would get together after a final audition performance in May of 1993 and be christened Touch under managers Bob & Chris Herbert. Michelle Stephenson would be chosen as the 5th member of the group. Michelle leaves to take care of her mother and attend university, allowing for Emma Bunton to be selected on the recommendation of the vocal coach working with her at the time by 1994.
As they worked behind the scenes recording various demos, their managers seemed to have polarizing ideas about how the group was to be marketed and were struggling to both promote them in the U.K. properly while allowing them to finally sign a record deal to set up studio time to record an official album. Pissed off and tired of the shenanigans, the Spice Girls stole the master tapes(!) and shopped themselves to various management labels including setting up a show in December of 1994 specifically for A&R executives. They ended up signing with Simon Fuller, just as known for introducing American Idol to the air waves as his dominance of the U.K. market in talent scouting.
The Spice Girls Get Ready to Debut
By early 1996, the Spice Girls were ready to hit the studio with roughly 30 songs written for the initial album which ended up whittled down to just 10. Several songs would be unreleased despite being worked on between 1994 and 1996 including Walking on Air. In the studio, the Spice Girls became one of the first pop groups to share royalties equally among all the members, listing the credits to the group rather than to the individuals whom may have contributed the most work.
In March of 1995, they managed to get producer Eliot Kennedy to work with them and the group also involved composer Tim Hawes and songwriters Richard Stannard & Matthew Rowe. In May, Paul Wilson and Andy Watkins, known as Absolute came in to help the group produce their songs after having worked with talent such as Lisa Stansfield and Al Green.
Wannabe Drops Like a Bomb, Spice Takes Over Globally
Record executives initially wanted “Say You’ll Be There” as the first released single but the band were adamant that they release “Wannabe” as the first single off their debut album. They also had the song re-mixed by Mark “Spike” Stent after disliking the final product done by Dave Way. The initial attempts veered the single more towards R&B whereas the final product is very clearly an up-tempo dance song. Initially released as a testing on the U.K. show The Box in May of 1996, “Wannabe” immediately started generating constant buzz and popularity aided by the music video, done in just one take due to the cold weather at the time. Despite protests from executives over some of the content, namely the visibility of nipples, the group refused to do another take ensuring the video’s release. The single came out in July to help heavily promote the official album release in November 1996.
The song was instantly infectious and the album was enormous, selling 1.8 billion copies in the U.K. alone over its first 7 weeks. By January, the single and album were released in the United States where the album Spice sold 1.46 million copies over its first 3 months. Due to the massive popularity, the executives released follow up singles including their initially desired Say You’ll Be There in October 1996 in the U.K. Thanks to the strength of the sales, the single was later released in Canada in March of 1997 and in May of 1997 for the U.S. The music video would be recorded in September and quickly gain play on channels such as MTV.
Spiceworld Is Released and The Big Damn Movie Comes Out
The followup album, Spiceworld would be released in November of 1997 to massive success largely buoyed by the hit singles “Spice Up Your Life” released in October and “Too Much” in December.
Filming of the movie occurred during this period with it being released in theaters on January 23rd of 1998. The film was a modest success being the only January release to finish in the top 70 highest grossing films of the year. It was primarily a parody piece making fun of the group much in the same vein as The Beatles and their film, “A Hard Day’s Night,” with the album itself also working as a bit of a soundtrack too. Many of the songs featured on the album also appeared in the film. While the movie earned critical scorning for the most part, the album itself varied with some disliking it and others, such as Rolling Stone praising it.
Geri Halliwell Leaves the Group and the Spice Girls release Forever
In May of 1998, a stunning announcement was made when Geri Halliwell known as Ginger Spice suddenly left the group. At the time, she cited exhaustion and the proposed album tracks which had been worked on would eventually be scrapped as the group struggled to come to terms with what happened and how to cope with the absence.
As the foursome continued their tour dates, they also continued recording and would release their final U.K. Christmas Single in Goodbye, widely attributed as a tribute to Geri after her departure. By late 1998, both Mel B and Victoria were pregnant with the group taking a hiatus during this period in time. As 1999 came about, the group again returned to the studio in August and started work on Forever, an album that took on a more mature voice as well as heavier leanings towards R&B styles. Due to the disparity in years and the change in the musical landscape, the production was done with American producers in particular LaShawn Daniels and Rodney Jenkins. Nearly all of the material the foursome had worked on in 1998 with Eliot Kennedy, Richard Stannard, and Matt Rowe went unreleased.
The album was released in November of 2000 to somewhat disappointing success on the strength of their two singles Holler and “Let Love Lead the Way” released together a month prior in October. The album only peaked at #2 on the U.K. charts and stayed there for just 2 months while peaking at #39 in the U.S. with the singles failing to even chart on the Billboard Hot 100.
The Breakup, 2007 & 2012 Reunions, and Greatest Hits Album
By December of 2000 the remaining four members split up, deciding to pursue their own solo careers to varied success musically. The group, including Geri, reunited for a tour starting in December of 2007 to great success while following on the heels of their Greatest Hits album release in November of 2007. It would eventually come to the U.S. on January 15th of 2008. There were two singles released for the album including the main single, “Headlines (Friendship Never Ends)” which peaked in the U.K. at #11.
Four years later in 2012, the group again reunited for the 2012 Summer Olympics as a one off appearance performing “Wannabe” and “Spice Up Your Life.” As the 2016 calendar year rolls on, rumors of possible reunions continue to be stirred through the media despite Victoria Beckham’s remarks that she has moved on and that her singing career is officially over.