|Single by Spice Girls|
|from the album Spice|
|B-side||"Bumper to Bumper"|
|Released||8 July 1996|
|Format||12", cassette, CD single|
|Writer(s)||Spice Girls, Matt Rowe, Richard Stannard|
|Producer||Matt Rowe, Richard Stannard|
|Spice Girls singles chronology|
"Wannabe" is the debut song by British pop group Spice Girls. Written by the group members with Matt Rowe and Richard Stannard during the group's first professional songwriting session, it was produced by Rowe and Stannard for the group's debut album Spice, released in November 1996. The song was written and recorded very quickly; the result was considered lackluster by their label, and was sent to be mixed by Dave Way. The group was not pleased with the result, and the recording was mixed again, this time by Mark "Spike" Stent.
"Wannabe" is an uptempo dance-pop song that incorporates a mix of hip-hop and rap. The lyrics, which address the value of female friendship over the heterosexual bond, became an iconic symbol of female empowerment and the most emblematic song of the group's Girl Power philosophy. Despite receiving mixed reviews from music critics, the song won for Best British-Written Single at the 1997 Ivor Novello Awards and for Best Single at the 1997 BRIT Awards.
"Wannabe" was heavily promoted by the group. Its music video, directed by Jhoan Camitz, became a big success on the British cable network The Box, which sparked press interest in the group. Subsequently the song had intensive radio airplay across the United Kingdom, while the group performed it on television programmes and started doing interviews and photo shoots for teen magazines.
Released as the group's debut single in July 1996, "Wannabe" topped the UK Singles Chart for seven weeks and received a platinum certification by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). In January 1997 it was released in the United States, topping the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks. It was the group's only number-one single in that country. By the end of 1996, "Wannabe" had topped the charts in twenty-two nations, and by March 1997 this number had climbed to thirty-one. It became the best-selling single by a female group, selling over six million copies worldwide.
In March 1994 father-and-son team Bob and Chris Herbert, together with financer Chic Murphy, working under the business name of Heart Management, placed an advertisement in The Stage, which asked the question: "Are you street smart, extrovert, ambitious, and able to sing and dance?" After receiving hundreds of replies, the management had narrowed their search to a group of five girls: Victoria Adams, Melanie Brown, Melanie Chisholm, Geri Halliwell, and Michelle Stephenson. The group moved to a house in Maidenhead and received the name "Touch". Stephenson was eventually fired because she lacked the drive of the other group members. She was replaced by Emma Bunton. In November, the group—now named "Spice"—persuaded their managers to set up a showcase in front of industry writers, producers, and A&R men at the Nomis Studios in Shepherd's Bush, London. Producer Richard Stannard, at the studio for a meeting with pop star Jason Donovan, attended in the showcase after hearing Brown, as she went charging across the corridor. Stannard recalls:
More than anything, they just made me laugh. I couldn't believe I'd walked into this situation. You didn't care if they were in time with the dance steps or whether one was overweight or one wasn't as good as the others. It was something more. It just made you feel happy. Like great pop records.
Stannard stayed behind after the showcase to talk to the group. He then reported to his songwriter partner, Matt Rowe, that he had found "the pop group of their dreams". Chris Herbert booked the group's first professional songwriting session with the producers at the Strongroom in Curtain Road, East London in January 1995. Rowe recalls feelings similar to Stannard's: "I love them. Immediately. [...] They were like no one I'd met before, really." The session was productive; Stannard and Rowe discussed the songwriting process with the group, and talked about what the group wanted to do on the record. In her autobiography, Brown recalls that the duo instinctively understood their point of view and knew how to incorporate "the spirit of five loud girls into great pop music".
Writing and inspiration 
The first song the Spice Girls wrote with Stannard and Rowe was called "Feed Your Love", a slow and soulful song that was recorded and mastered for the group's debut album; the song was not used because it was considered too rude for the target audience. The group next proposed to write a track with an uptempo rhythm. Rowe set up a drum loop on his MPC3000 drum machine. Its fast rhythm made Stannard remember the scene where John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John perform "You're the One That I Want" in Grease. The group added their own contributions to the song, Rowe recalls:
They made all these different bits up, not thinking in terms of verse, chorus, bridge or what was going to go where, just coming up with all these sections of chanting, rapping and singing, which we recorded all higgledy-piggledy. And then we just sewed it together. It was rather like the way we'd been working on the dance remixes we'd been doing before. Kind of a cut-and-paste method.
"Wannabe" was written in thirty minutes—mainly because the group had written parts of the song beforehand—in what Brown describes as a "sudden creative frenzy". During the session, Brown and Bunton came up with the idea of including a rap near the end of the song. At this point the group got very motivated, and incorporated the word "zigazig-ha" into the lyrics. Chisholm told Billboard magazine: "You know when you're in a gang and you're having a laugh and you make up silly words? Well we were having a giggle and we made up this silly word, zigazig-ha. And we were in the studio and it all came together in this song".
Recording and production 
While most of the other songs on the Spice album required two or three days of studio time, "Wannabe" was recorded in under an hour. The solo parts were divided between Brown, Bunton, Chisholm, and Halliwell. Beckham missed most of the writing session and communicated with the rest of the group on a mobile phone. In her autobiography Beckham wrote: "I just couldn't bear not being there. Because whatever they said about how it didn't matter, it did matter. Saying 'Yes, I like that' or 'Not sure about that' down the phone is not the same". She contributed backing vocals and sings during the chorus. Rowe stayed up all night working on the song, and it was finished by morning.
The group parted with Heart Management in March 1995 because of their frustration with the management company's unwillingness to listen to their visions and ideas. The girls met with artist manager Simon Fuller, who signed them with 19 Entertainment. The group considered a variety of record labels, and signed a deal with Virgin Records in July. The original mix of "Wannabe" was considered lacklustre by the label's executives. Ashley Newton, who was in charge of A&R, sent the song to American producer Dave Way for remixing; the result was not what the group had hoped to achieve. As Halliwell later described it, "the result was bloody awful". She elaborated in her second autobiography, Just for the Record: "Right at the beginning of the Spice Girls, [...] Ashley Newton had tried to turn us into an R&B group. He sent "Wannabe" over to America to be remixed by some hot R&B producers. He brought us jungle versions and hip-hop mixes and I hated them all. Although Mel B[rown] was a big fan of R&B, she agreed with me that these versions just didn't work so we exercised our Spice veto!" Fuller gave the song to audio engineer Mark "Spike" Stent, who thought that it was a "weird pop record". Stent remixed it in six hours, in what he described as "tightening it up" and "getting the vocals sounding really good".
A 26-second sample from "Wannabe", featuring Brown and Halliwell singing the refrain in a call and response interaction, the use of the word "zigazig-ha", and the group singing the song's first chorus.
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"Wannabe" is a dance-pop song with influences of hip-hop and rap. Written in the key of B major, it is set in the time signature of common time and moves at a moderate tempo of 116 beats per minute. It uses the sequence B–D–E–A–A♯ as its chord progression during the refrain, the chorus, and the bridge, and F♯–G♯m–E–B for the verses. The song is constructed in a verse-pre-chorus-chorus form, with a rapped bridge before the third and final chorus. Musically, it is "energised" by a highly-syncopated synthesised riff, and by the way the repetitive lyrics and rhythm are highlighted during the bridge. "Wannabe" presents a different version of the traditional pop love song performed by females; its energic, self-assertive style expresses a confident independence that is not reliant on the male figure for its continuance.
The song opens with a laugh, followed by "undislodgeable [sic] piano notes". Over these notes, the first lines of the refrain are sung with spoken—almost shouted—vocals, in a call and response interaction between Brown and Halliwell. The words "tell", "really" and "I wanna" are repeated, so that the vocal tone and lyrics build up an image of female self-assertion. The refrain ends with the word "zigazig-ha", a euphemism for female desire, which is ambiguously sexualised or broadly economic. The first verse follows; Chisholm, Bunton, Brown, and Halliwell sing one line individually, in that order. In this part, the lyrics have a pragmatic sense of control of the situation—"If you want my future, forget my past"—which, according to musicologist Sheila Whiteley, tap directly into the emotions of the young teenage audience.
During the chorus, the lyrics—"If you wanna be my lover/You gotta get with my friends"—address the value of female friendship over the heterosexual bond, while the ascending group of chords and the number of voices creates a sense of power that adds to the song's level of excitement. The same pattern occurs, leading to the second chorus. Towards the end, Brown raps the bridge, which serves as a presentation to each of the girls' personalities. The group repeats the chorus for the last time, ending the song with energetic refrains—"Slam your body down and wind it all around"—and the word "zigazig-ha".
Release and promotion 
After signing the group, Virgin Records launched a major campaign for their debut song to promote them as the new high-profile act. There was a period of indecision about what song would be released as the first single; the label wanted to get everything right for the campaign, because the all-girl group format was untested. The group, led by Brown and Halliwell, was adamant that the debut song should be "Wannabe", they felt it served as an introduction to their personalities and the Girl Power statement. Virgin's executives believed that the first single should be "Say You'll Be There", which they considered a much "cooler" track. At the beginning of 1996 the impasse between the group and their record label about the release of the single was temporarily solved. In March, Fuller announced that he agreed with Virgin in that "Wannabe" should not be the first single. The label wanted a song that appealed to the mainstream market, and nothing considered too radical. Halliwell was shocked and furious; she told Fuller, "It's not negotiable as far as we're concerned. 'Wannabe' is our first single." Fuller and the executives at Virgin relented, and the song was chosen as their first single.
The trigger for the Spice Girls' launch was the release of the "Wannabe" music video in May 1996. Its quick success on the British cable network The Box sparked press interest, despite initial resistance to the all-girl group idea. The same month, their first music press interviews appeared in Music Week, Top of the Pops, and Smash Hits, and their first live TV slot was broadcast on LWT's Surprise Surprise. A month after the video's release, the song was receiving intensive airplay on the main radios stations across the UK, while the group started to appear on television—mainly on kid's programmes such as Live & Kicking—and doing interviews and photo shoots for teen magazines. A full-page advertisement appeared in the July issue of Smash Hits, saying: "Wanted: Anyone with a sense of fun, freedom and adventure. Hold tight, get ready! Girl Power is comin' at you". The group appeared on the television programme This Morning with Richard and Judy, and performed at their first Radio One road show in Birmingham.
"Wannabe" was released in the United Kingdom on 8 July 1996 in two single versions. The first one, released in two formats—a standard CD single and a cassette single—included the radio edit of the track, the Motiv 8 vocal slam remix, and the B-side, "Bumper to Bumper". The group wrote "Bumper to Bumper" with Paul Wilson and Andy Watkins—the songwriter-production duo known as Absolute—and British singer-songwriter Cathy Dennis. The second version, released on maxi single format, featured the radio edit, an instrumental version, the Motiv 8 dub slam remix, and the Dave Way alternative mix. This version came with a fold-out postcard inlay and a stickered case.
During the weeks following the UK release, the group began promotional visits abroad. They did three trips to Japan and brief visits to Germany and the Netherlands. On a trip to the Far East, they visited Hong Kong, Thailand, and South Korea. In January 1997 they travelled to North America to do a promotional campaign that Phil Quartararo, president of Virgin Records America, described as "absolutely massive". During their visit to the US, the group met with influential radio programmers, TV networks, and magazines. In addition, Virgin persuaded fifty radio stations to playlist the song before it was released, while the music video was placed into heavy rotation by MTV.
Critical response 
"Wannabe" received mixed reviews from music critics. Following its release in the UK, reaction to the song was mostly negative. Paul Gorman of Music Week called the group "smart, witty, abrasive and downright fun". He described the song as a "R&B-lite debut single", and noted influences from Neneh Cherry in it. In a review conducted by the British pop band Deuce for Smash Hits magazine, the group described "Wannabe" as "limp", "awful", and "not strong enough for a debut single". Kate Thornton, editor of Top of the Pops magazine, commented that the all-girl group idea was "not going to happen"; she considered it too threatening. In her review for The Guardian, Caroline Sullivan called it a combination of "cute hip pop and a vaguely feminist lyric", she was also surprised that "considering the slightness of 'Wannabe'", the group had an overwhelming amount of offers from record companies. The NME characterised the song as "a combined force of Bananarama, Betty Boo and Shampoo rolled into one." Dele Fadele of the same magazine called the rap during the song's bridge "annoying", and added that the group's music "It's not good. It's not clever. But it's fun". The magazine named "Wannabe" the worst single of the year at the 1997 NME Awards. Conversely, it won for Best Single at the 1997 BRIT Awards, and for International Hit of the Year and Best British-Written Single at the 1997 Ivor Novello Awards presented by the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters. In October 2011, the NME placed it at number 111 on its list "150 Best Tracks of the Past 15 Years".
In the US, reaction to the song was mixed. In a review of the group's debut album, Edna Gundersen of USA Today said that "Wannabe" is "a melodious but disposable tune that typifies this debut's tart bubblegum and packaged sexiness". Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune called it "insidiously snappy, [...] [that] is shaping up as this year's "Macarena"." Karla Peterson of The San Diego Union-Tribune said that "'Wannabe' has UGH written all over it", adding that it is "relentlessly catchy and horrifyingly hummable". The Buffalo News' Anthony Violanti called it "irresistible". Sarah Rodman of The Boston Globe described it as a "maniacally zippy single", and Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com referred to it as an "unapologetically sassy dance hit". Melissa Ruggieri of the Richmond Times-Dispatch commented that "based on their efficacious American debut single, [...] the Spice Girls might be expected to deliver more of that zingy pop on their debut album", but she felt that "aside from 'Wannabe', the album's dance tracks are color-by-numbers bland". Larry Flick of Billboard magazine said that "fans of the more edgy girl-group [...] may find this single too fluffy", but added that "everyone else with a love of tasty pop hooks, lyrical positivity, and jaunty rhythms is going to be humming this single for months to come".
Some reviewers noticed the combination of musical genres. Christina Kelly from Rolling Stone magazine criticised the group's image, and added that their songs, including "Wannabe", were "a watered-down mix of hip-hop and cheesy pop balladry, brought together by a manager with a marketing concept". Matt Diehl of Entertainment Weekly said that it was "more a compendium of music styles (from ABBA-style choruses to unconvincing hip hop) than an actual song", and Sara Scribner of the Los Angeles Times described it as "a bubblegum hip-hop confection of rapping lifted off Neneh Cherry and Monie Love albums". Charles Aaron of Spin magazine called it "a quickie, mid-'80s teen paperback come to life [...] so gooey it melts in your hands, not in your mouth". The song ranked at fifteenth on Village Voice's 1997 "Pazz & Jop" critics' poll, conducted by music journalist Robert Christgau.
Present-day reviews from critics are mostly positive. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic said that "none of the girls have great voices, but they do exude personality and charisma, which is what drives bouncy dance-pop like 'Wannabe', with its ridiculous 'zig-a-zig-ahhh' hook, into pure pop guilty pleasure". Dam Cairns of The Sunday Times said that the song "leaves a bad taste in the mouth: [because] the true legacy of Girl Power is, arguably, a preteen clothing industry selling crop tops and other minimal garments to young girls", but added that it "remains the same two minutes and 53 seconds of pop perfection that it ever was". In a review of their Greatest Hits album, IGN said that after ten years it "still sound reasonably fresh", while Digital Spy's Nick Levine said that "Wannabe" still remained an "exuberant calling card". In 2010, Matthew Wilkening of AOL Radio ranked the song at number twelve on his "100 Worst Songs Ever" list, exclaiming, "You know what we want? What we really, really want? A time machine, a map of England, five muzzles and glue."
Chart performance 
As part of Virgin's strategy to make the group an international act, "Wannabe" was released in Japan and Southeast Asia two weeks before the British release. After the song was placed into heavy rotation on FM stations in Japan, the Spice Girls made promotional tours in May, July, and September 1996. The group received major press and TV exposure, appearing in programmes such as Space Shower. The single was released by Toshiba EMI on 26 June 1996, and sold 100,000 copies by October 1996.
"Wannabe" debuted on the UK Singles Chart at number three, six days after its physical release, and climbed to number one the next week. It spent seven weeks at the top, the second-longest stay by an all-female group, only behind Shakespears Sister's "Stay". With eighteen weeks in the top forty and twenty-six weeks in the top seventy-five, it became the second-biggest selling single of the year, and as of November 2012 has sold over 1.32 million copies, the biggest-selling single by a female group in the UK.
"Wannabe" was commercially successful in the rest of Europe. On 14 September 1996 the song reached the top of Eurochart Hot 100, where it stayed for nine consecutive weeks, when it was replaced by the group's second single, "Say You'll Be There". "Wannabe" topped the singles charts in Belgium (both the Flemish and French charts), Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland, and peaked inside the top five in Austria and Italy. The song was a success in Oceania. In Australia, it debuted at number forty-five, reached the top of the ARIA Charts for eleven weeks, and ended at number five on the 1996 year-end chart. In New Zealand, it debuted on 1 September 1996 at number thirty-eight, reaching the top position ten weeks later. "Wannabe" also topped the singles charts in Hong Kong and Israel.
"Wannabe" was released in North America in January 1997. In Canada, it debuted at the eighty-ninth position of the RPM singles chart, peaked at nine in its eighth week, and ended at number sixty-eight on the year-end chart. The song performed better on the dance chart, where it reached the top for three weeks, and ended at the top of the year-end chart. In the US, the song debuted on 25 January 1997 at number eleven. At the time, this was the highest-ever debut by a British act, beating the record previously held by The Beatles for "I Want to Hold Your Hand" at number twelve. It reached the top of the chart in its fifth week, and stayed there for four consecutive weeks simultaneously with the group's fourth single ("Mama"/"Who Do You Think You Are") being at number one in the UK. "Wannabe" reached the sixth position of the Hot 100 Airplay chart, and topped the Hot 100 Singles Sales chart for four consecutive weeks, selling over 1.8 million copies as of January 1998. It peaked at four on the Mainstream Top 40, and was a crossover success, topping the Rhythmic Top 40, peaking at twenty on the Hot Dance Club Play and at nine on the Hot Dance Singles Sales chart. New remixes of the song were produced in 2007 in conjunction with the release of their Greatest Hits CD and these rose to number 15 on the Billboard Dance Charts.
Music video 
The music video for "Wannabe" was the first for director Jhoan Camitz. Camitz was hired on Fuller's recommendation because of his commercials for Volkswagen, Diesel, and Nike. His original concept for the video was a one-take shoot of the group arriving at an exotic building in Barcelona, taking over the place, and running a riot—the same way they did when they were looking for a manager and a record company. A few days before the shoot on 19 April 1996, Camitz was unable to get permission to use the building, and the shoot was relocated to the Midland Grand Hotel in St Pancras, London.
The video features the group running, singing, dancing, and creating mischief at an eccentric bohemian party. Among their antics is Chisholm's back handspring on one of the tables. Because the video needed to be taken in one shot, the group rehearsed the routine several times through the night, while a steadycam operator followed them. About the experience, Halliwell wrote: "The video I remember as being very chaotic and cold. It wasn't very controlled—we didn't want it to be. We wanted the camera to capture the madness of the Spice Girls". Virgin's executives were horrified with the final result: "the girls were freezing cold, which showed itself in various different ways", Ashley Newton recalled. The video was later banned in some parts of Asia because of Brown's erect nipples. Additionally, the lighting was considered too dark and gloomy; the best takes showed the girls bumping with the furniture and looking behind them. Virgin was concerned that old people appeared on the video, the part when they jump up on the table, and Halliwell's showgirl outfit would be considered too threatening by music channels. Virgin immediately opened discussions about a re-shoot of the video or creating an alternate one for the US, but the group refused. The video was sent for trial airing in its original form.
When the music video first appeared on the British cable network The Box, it was selected so frequently that it reached the top of the viewers' chart within two hours of going on air, and stayed at number one for thirteen weeks. It was aired up to seventy times a week at its peak and became the most requested track in the channel's history. The video won Best Dance Video at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards, and Best Video at the 1997 Comet Media Awards. It was also nominated for Best British Video at the 1997 BRIT Awards, and was ranked at number forty-one in the Top 100 Pop Videos of all time by Channel 4.
Live performances 
The Spice Girls were in Japan when "Wannabe" went to number one in the UK. The group made their first appearance on Top of the Pops by satellite link from Tokyo, where they used a local temple as a backdrop for their mimed performance. They have performed the song several more times on the show, including the programme's 1996 Christmas special. It was performed many times on television, in both Europe and the US, including An Audience with..., the Bravo Supershow, Sorpresa ¡Sorpresa!, Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and Saturday Night Live. The performance at Saturday Night Live on 12 April 1997 was the first time the group performed "Wannabe" with a live band—their previous performances have all been either lip-synched or sung to a recorded backing track.
The group performed it at awards ceremonies such as the 1996 Smash Hits! Awards, the 1996 Irish Music Awards, the 1997 BRIT Awards, and the 1997 Channel V Music Awards held in New Delhi, where they wore Indian costumes and entered the stage in auto rickshaws. In October 1997 the group performed "Wannabe" as the last song of their first live concert at the Abdi İpekçi Arena in Istanbul, Turkey. The performance was broadcast on Showtime in a pay-per-view event titled Spice Girls in Concert Wild!, and was later included in the VHS and DVD release Girl Power! Live in Istanbul.
The Spice Girls have performed the song on their three tours, the Spiceworld Tour, the Christmas in Spiceworld Tour, and the Return of the Spice Girls. After Halliwell left the band at the end of the European leg of the Spiceworld Tour, her parts were replaced by Chisholm (refrain), Beckham (verses), and Bunton (bridge). The performance at the tour's final concert can be found on the video Spice Girls Live at Wembley Stadium, filmed in London, on 20 September 1998. The group performed the song on 12 August 2012 at the 2012 Summer Olympics closing ceremony in London as part of a medley with the song "Spice Up Your Life".
Cover versions and usage in media 
"Wannabe" has been covered by numerous artists both in albums and live performances. In 1998 American retro-satirist duo The Lounge-O-Leers did a kitschy, lounge-inspired rendition of "Wannabe" for their debut album, Experiment in Terror. British intelligent dance music producer µ-Ziq recorded a cover for his fourth album, Lunatic Harness. The London Double Bass Sound recorded an instrumental version in 1999, a dance remix was recorded by Jan Stevens, Denise Nejame, and Sybersound for the 1997 album Sybersound Dance Mixes, Vol. 2, while an electronic version was recorded by the Street Girls for the 2005 album The World of Hits of the 80's. In 1999 the song was used in "Weird Al" Yankovic's polka medley, "Polka Power!", for his tenth album, Running with Scissors.
Covers of the song in a punk style include a thrash parody version by British punk rock band Snuff for their 1998 EP, Schminkie Minkie Pinkie, a punk rock version by Dutch band Heideroosjes for their 1999 album, Schizo, and a pop punk cover by Zebrahead for their 2004 EP, Waste of MFZB. Covers in live performances includes a punk version by Australian duo The Veronicas, and another from American rock band Foo Fighters. In 2005 "Wannabe" was covered and included in the soundtrack of Disney's animated film Chicken Little. In 2007, the season 4 finale of One Tree Hill featured the female characters dancing as a group to the song. King Julien performed this song in the 2012 film Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted. On 3 October 2012 Geri Halliwell performed the song as a solo during a breast-cancer care show. The song was an acoustic ballad with several lyrics changed, such as "you've gotta get with my friends", changed to "you've gotta be my best friend". The characters Brittany (Heather Morris), Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), Marley (Melissa Benoist), Kitty (Becca Tobin) and Unique (Alex Newell) covered the song on the 17th episode of the fourth season of Glee.
Formats and track listings 
These are the formats and track listings of major single releases of "Wannabe":
Credits and personnel 
- Spice Girls – lyrics, vocals
- Matt Rowe – lyrics, producer, keyboards and programming
- Richard Stannard – lyrics, producer, keyboards and programming
- Mark "Spike" Stent – audio mixing
- Adrian Bushby – recording engineer
- Patrick McGovern – assistant
Published by Windswept Pacific Music Ltd/PolyGram Music Publishing Ltd.
Year-end charts 
All-time charts 
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