Spice Girls: 25th anniversary reminding us how they positively shaped UK music and culture for women

Spice Girls performing "Say You'll Be There" live at West MacLaren, in 1997. Photograph credit: Melanie Laccohee.

Scary. Sporty. Baby. Ginger. Posh. 

Five individual words that indicate different meanings, but what do you get when you put them together? 

The Spice Girls. 

So here’s the story from A-Z.

Five distinct personalities that zigazigah-ed their way onto the UK music scene and defined UK culture, telling us to spice up our lives. The release of Spice, their debut album, came out 25 years ago in November 1996, earning them the title of the biggest selling girl band of all time. Influencing and inspiring ‘Girl Power’ in young girls in the 90s, who are now women in their 20s and 30s. 

At the time of Spice being released, the British music industry was a very patriarchal dominated world, and the UK was going through a tremendous political shift, with Tony Blair becoming Prime Minister in 1997, and introducing his New Labour agenda, aligning himself closer with the British public. 

The girls interviewed many labels themselves, eventually signing to Virgin with Simon Fuller as their manager. This deal allowed them to write their own songs, design their own personal style, and make decisions in an environment where women had little creative expression and control. 

All five of the group members dealt with misogyny from the industry, when they were asked to “show more cleavage” in their music video. All five refused, with Mel B saying “You should know better” to a photographer. This can be seen in the Channel 4 documentary series, ‘Spice Girls: How Girl Power Changed Britain’, which explores their impact on UK culture.  

Miranda Sawyer, who features in the documentary, describes how women in the music industry were “pitted against each other” and “shamed” for the publication of revealing images. The girls were also subject to weight comments and constantly criticised for their body by the media.

This eventually led to Geri Halliwell developing bulimia, and Mel B declaring in a Loose Women interview in 2018, that eating disorders in the group were ‘so normal’.        

So, how did the Spice Girls manage to galvanise a cultural feminist movement among so many young girls, and does their legacy still live on and motivate new generations, as well as, those who were there from the very beginning? 

We spoke to a few fans about the groups’ impact. 

Kerry Benham, 30, said: ‘I wanted to be like them, I would have my hair like Baby Spice, and it opened me up to being sporty like Sporty Spice. They all had different styles, which somehow worked, and showed young girls that they could have different styles and it didn’t matter.’

Carly Lucas, 34, said: ‘They taught me to be an independent woman, and to live your life to the fullest.’ 

Jade Page, 32, said: ‘As a young girl, they taught me friendship, love and loyalty, and you can be whoever you wish to be. Even my daughter loves them and that’s 20 years on.’ 

Loriana Firth, 28, said: ‘As a younger girl, the Spice Girls taught me that diversity is important and that we can be unapologetically ourselves. As a woman now, the Spice Girls actually taught me that I have an inner Ginger, Sporty, Scary, Baby and Posh spice.’

We all have a favourite Spice Girl who inspired us to be ourselves and gravitated towards as a mentor. Showing us their iconic styles which we can never forget. Geri in her Union Jack dress, Emma in her baby pink attire, Victoria decked out in all black, Mel B in her edgy leopard print outfits and Mel C always rocking her tracksuits.

Valeria Vintimilla, 20, said: ‘Posh Spice is my favourite. I love her fashion sense and I like how chill she is.’ 

Kerry Benham, 30, said: ‘Baby Spice is my favourite, she had a very bubbly likeable character that I think represented me as a little girl.’

Jade Page, 32, said: ‘Sporty Spice was my favourite, as she was the most I could relate to as a child being a tomboy.’ 

Loriana Firth, 28, said: ‘My favourite Spice Girl is Posh Spice, because I think she was the most misunderstood. In most interviews, she comes across as friendly with a dry sense of humour, who doesn’t take herself too seriously.’

It’s clear to see that the group impacted young girls and produced healthy attitudes for women and about women, carving out a new image for the UK and leaving their mark on British culture. Even seeing their impact 25 years on, with new generations looking to them as a source for originality and individualism.

Their cultural impression can be seen everywhere, in mainstream pop culture and spilling out into subcultures. Including shows like Rupaul’s Drag Race UK, where the queens had to dress as one of their favourite Spice Girls for the main runway, in front of Emma Bunton herself, who was a guest judge. Some of the Rupaul’s Drag Race UK alumni even dressed as the members and hosted a Spice Bus party across London for Spotify to celebrate the album’s 25th anniversary.

Some will say that they were a cultural reset and I certainly agree. 

Viva Forever!         

Words by: Joe Benham | Sub-edited by: Valeria Vintimilla

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