Wannabe: A Nine Part Odyssey
Yes, it is nine parts. Are you wondering how someone could write so much on one song? Then read on.
Part 1: Wannabe and Me
The song Wannabe by the Spice Girls was released in the UK as a CD, cassette and twelve inch record on the 8th of July 1996, exactly four years before I was released as a newborn baby in Lewisham General Hospital on the 8th of July 2000. From some quick googling, I found that the song went double platinum on the UK charts, has been streamed for the equivalent of more than 1,000 years on Spotify, and is according to a study by the University of Amsterdam, the catchiest song of all time.
I however, have done nothing remotely comparable to any of these accolades.
My highest personal achievement to date has been either getting an A in GCSE French, which I really wasn’t expecting because I was terrible at it, or getting a byline in the Islington Tribune last month for a filler article I wrote during my work experience. Both of these things left me with a warm, glowing feeling in my heart, but none of them have earned me my own in-depth Wikipedia page with two hundred and thirty two different references.
To be fair, Wannabe has been around for four years longer than I have. Who knows what I could have done with those extra 1460 days? I know I would have spent a lot of them sleeping, but I’m sure at some point in the 35040 days I could have knocked up at top forty hit.
I need to get a something out of the way quickly. This isn’t really about the Spice Girls and their song Wannabe. Well, it kind of is, but also isn’t. You’ll see if you keep reading.
Part 2: Shakespeare and The Spice Girls
Hamlet is William Shakespeare’s most famous play. It has been performed in every country on Earth, including a Calais refugee camp. The majority of people who have watched it don’t properly understand what the actors are saying in the Elizabethan dialect. However, the theatregoers can interpret the meaning from quality of the performances alone, through the way the cast speaks and their use of tone and mood.
Wannabe is the Spice Girls’s most famous song. It has probably been heard in every country on Earth, but I don’t know about a Calais refugee camp. There is only one bit in Wannabe that doesn’t make sense, the jumble of nonsense syllables that is “zigazigah”, tacked onto the end of the chorus for no particular reason. However, the listeners can interpret the meaning from the quality of the song alone, through the way the girls sing and their use of tone and mood.
It must be noted that whilst the Bard invented over 1700 words, between the five of them, the Spice Girls only coined one. But who really gives a shit about contributing to the English language when you have your own movie starring Alan Cumming?
Part 3: Listening Without Hearing
There is no way to properly describe Wannabe to somebody who has never heard it before, or cannot hear. I had a grandmother who was profoundly deaf, and probably had never heard the song before, but she could read things using a specialist machine given to her by the RNIB. Towards the end of her life, she didn’t have the energy to sustain conversations when we went to visit her, so I would write down what I had to say in my best handwriting and give it to her to read.
It is impossible to properly encapsulate the sound of something using only words, but you can easily but you can approximate something that is somewhat close to it.
This is Wannabe in words.
“You are sitting in your back garden on a warm afternoon in June, with four of your closest friends. Suddenly, you feel thirsty. To your side is a can of your favourite fizzy drink, ice cold, slightly moistening the grass it sits on. You reach for it, your hand numbing slightly as you pick it up. With one hand you firmly grasp the wet can, and with the other you pull the ring tab up and open. If you take the moment when the array of carbonated gasses trapped inside escape with a fizz, the moment when all that matters is being with your friends and stretch it out to two minutes and fifty three seconds, that is closest to Wannabe you can get without being able to hear.
Nothing can really compare to the song though. It’s pretty good.
It’s probably important to mention at this point that Wannabe is the only song by the Spice Girls I’ve actually listened to. Probably heard Spice Up Your Life at some point on the radio, but Wannabe is the only one I’ve actually sat down and purposely listened to. And I haven’t really listened to it that much.
Just stick with me, OK?
Part 4: Watching Without Seeing
Do you remember that grandmother from the last bit. The deaf one? Well, she was also very blind. The machine she had was a very high intensity one for reading, and it took her about a minute to read a line. She had a TV in her living room that was only used when I wanted to watch cartoons, because she couldn’t see a thing. So again, instead of showing her a video of something I had done as a child, we just wrote it down.
There is no way to properly describe the video for Wannabe to somebody who has never seen it before, or cannot see. This is my best shot.
“Imagine you got in a taxi with four of your best friends and drove to a fancy hotel. As soon as you leave the taxi, you dart in through the front door of the St Pancras Grand Hotel, dressed in your best clothes for hitting the town, causing havoc and mayhem wherever you go. You cartwheel and skip amongst the upper classes of London. You dance in the velvet lined corridors of the hotel. You pout and sing into the lens of the camera. You don’t care, because you are with your four best friends, and together you are untouchable. When the song draws to the end, you run out into the cold streets of London and break out into laughter.”
The video is still pretty good though.
Part 5: Watching without Seeing: A Haiku
wannabe was pre / viral videos, people / just want content now
I should also say at this point that I’m seventeen. I don’t remember the Spice Girls breaking up. I don’t really remember them at all. I had to look up the names of three of them when I started this.
I think it’s one of those things, like learning how to walk, where you don’t really remember where or when you first heard of the Spice Girls, but you can definitively divide your life up into pre- and post-Spice Girls Awareness.
Stick with it guys.
Part 6: In Praise of the Spice Girls
Everybody in the UK seems to know the song Wannabe, but not everybody knows all the names of all five of the Spice Girls. Victoria is the one everyone knows, purely because she married the most famous English man of recent times David Beckham. Most people know Mel B, because of her eloquent use of swear words. The other three (Mel C, Emma Bunton and Geri Halliwell) are largely interchangeable, but I’m sure at the time had their own distinct personalities.
The general population could relate to the Spice Girls, because they were relatable people. Everyone had a mate who could be like Posh when they were in a mood, or who could swear like Scary. Everyone had a mate who’s nickname was Baby. Everyone had a statement piece like Ginger’s Union Jack dress. Everyone wanted to be with or be Sporty.
But that didn’t really matter. It was never about the Spice Girls as individuals, but the Spice Girls as a concept. The formation of the Spice Girls was a metaphor for the unity of the British population during the 1990s, as we all headed nervously towards the millennium. The Spice Girls were there when we needed them the most.
And then suddenly, they weren’t.
Part 7: A Musical Interlude, Or My Attempt at a Cover Version
In the midst of trying to write this, I sat down at the piano in my hallway, and tried to play Wannabe. Wannabe is a hard song to play, primarily because it is written in the key of B major. I know nothing about music really, despite passing my grade one piano exam also on my birthday, but I can tell you that B major is not an easy key.
After about ten minutes playing the chords over and over again, I got a call from my dad, telling me that I could come up to the church at the end of my street and play on the organ there, as the son of a friend of his was rehearsing for the service the next day.
I rushed up to the empty church to find my dad, his friend, and the son practicing for the Sunday service. I patiently waited my time, observing an experienced organ player warming up at a level I could never achieve. When he invited my for a go, I took my seat, put all the switches on the organ down for the Valkyries effect, and played the opening chords to Wannabe extremely badly for three people in a deserted church. It felt like such a surreal experience, and I can truly see the power of a church organ in strengthening somebody’s belief in God.
When I had finished, my dad told me that he hadn’t heard of that hymn.
Part 8: The Decline of the United Kingdom
Comedian Ian MacPherson opened all of his sets with a variation on the same joke. It went something along these lines:
“They say you only play the Hammersmith Apollo twice. Once on the way up, and once on the way down. It’s good to be back”.
The same could be applied to Wannabe. The first time we heard it, the UK was about to change into something better, with a new age of technology and prosperity. Sure, there were a couple of iffy bits, but it was mostly OK.
The last time we heard all five Spice Girls sing Wannabe together was at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games, arguably one of the greatest months in UK history. The country was on a high, everybody in the UK was getting on with each other, and the world was smiling back at us.
But after the Olympics, everything slowly went to shit. It started of with little things, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, there was Brexit. We all turned on each other, and the world turned on us. Britain became gloomier, and we longed of the happy days of 2012.
The Spice Girls were nowhere to be seen, and Wannabe was nowhere to be heard.
There’s a psychological phenomenon called semantic satiation, which is where the repetition of a word causes it to temporarily lose meaning. The word ceases to be a word, and just a series of meaningless sounds. You may be feeling this now with the word Wannabe, and I know I certainly am having written this. Fear not, for there is only one part left to go.
I would really appreciate if you could share this on social media, as I have spent too long writing all of this. Hopefully, this will get plagiarized/picked up by Buzzfeed in a week or so, and then I will get briefly a warm glowing feeling in my heart.
It’s nearly over.
Part 9: 29th June 2016
By now, you might have gathered that Wannabe is much more than just a simple song. Wannabe is a song that has stood the test of time. Love Machine and Don’t Cha have been lost to the annals of time. Girls Aloud and the Pussycat Dolls have fallen by the wayside. Wannabe, and the Spice Girls, have joined the Hall of Fame alongside such classics as Waterfalls and Survivor. Because of this, Wannabe has ascended to something more than just a song.
Wannabe is a state of mind.
To round this up, I’m going to take you back to my end of year eleven prom. In the centre of the hall that we hired for the event, there was a dance floor that was empty for most of the night. People sat at tables or stood outside, wearing their best clothes and huddled with the members of their own cliques, as is the case for most of school and life. It was like that for most of the night, but as soon as Mel B’s distinctive cackle bellowed out of the soundsystem, everybody rushed to the dancefloor. We danced and sang along as one, regardless of whether we liked each other or not, for what is possibly one of the greatest half hours of my life so far, united and spurred on by the power of Wannabe.
And yes, we did all manage to nail the rap bit somehow.
That is it. The end.