When the Spice Girls’ debut single Wannabe bounces onto the radio in 1996, the internet is still in its cradle, cooing adorably with basic messageboards and four-frame cartoon GIFs.
In this era of the world some newspapers and magazines are putting their articles online, sure – but pages often take close to a godforsaken minute to load, and there certainly aren’t any videos embedded. Not to mention, they’re not the kinds of articles your Spice-addled mind is interested in, plus your little sister’s screaming at you to get off the dial-up phone line because she wants to speak to her boyfriend (he’s not a real boyfriend, Sophie, you’re only nine).
Social media certainly hasn’t been conceived of yet (both MySpace and Zuckerberg’s Facebook antecedent FaceMash are still seven years away), so in order to stay current with Baby, Scary, Ginger, Sporty and Posh, you must buy every magazine that features the band, and remain glued to the radio in case a behind-the-scenes snippet of those beloved London accents happens to air.
Fast forward to 2021: now the internet’s all grown up, and that means the annals of history are far more easily accessed. And that’s where we’ve gone to collect a few titbits about the Spice Girls’ debut single Wannabe, in celebration of the incredible Universal/EMI re-releases of the band’s debut album Spice.
Wannabe was written in a “sudden creative frenzy” according to Mel B, during the Spice Girls’ first ever songwriting session with Matt Rowe and Richard ‘Biff’ Stannard (Kylie Minogue, One Direction, Atomic Kitten).
Posh Spice (Victoria Beckham) is the only band member who doesn’t get a solo line during the track. It’s because she missed most of the writing session, instead communicating with the girls over her mobile phone. And she had major FOMO. “I just couldn’t bear not being there,” she later wrote in her autobiography, “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.”
The track’s bassline is inspired by Summer Nights, the hit song from musical Grease – and now you will never un-hear it!
Plenty of critics abhorred the track (hiss!), but it won some impressive gongs including ‘British Single of the Year’ at the 1997 Brit Awards and even ‘Best British-Written Single’ at the prestigious ‘97 Ivor Novello Awards. It topped the UK charts for seven weeks.
There are many, many, many theories about what exactly a “zigazig-ah” really is. Some critics theorised it was about female sexual desire. Musicologist Sheila Whiteley said it was a made-up phrase of the kind Lewis Carroll invented (see: Jabberwocky), which gained purchase in ‘97 when Mel C told a journalist: “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-ah.”
But in 2017 a far stranger explanation was reported; it alleged that while recording, the Spicies were sharing a studio with a certain male English ‘80s popstar who took umbrage to their fresh and free-spirited behaviours. He apparently used to spend long hours on the toilet while smoking, so the Girls nicknamed him “sh-t and cigar.” This three-word phrase morphed into a new, throwaway, gobbledegook slogan: “zigazig-ah.”
The 25th anniversary editions of Spice by Spice Girls are available on October 29 via Universal/EMI. There’s an expanded CD edition, a zoetrope vinyl version (which displays animations as the record spins), and coloured vinyl for each of the Girls!