The Spice Girls burst onto the scene in 1996 with “Wannabe,” brandishing their special flavor of girl power and goofy antics, as they back-flipped on dining tables and danced all around London’s St. Pancras Hotel.
Twenty years later, Scary Spice’s laugh still sets off cries of “I love this song!” in bars and house parties across the nation. While other boy band and girl group classics have collected dust on the shelves of our memories, “Wannabe” has managed to remain at the forefront and cement itself as a modern pop classic.
How has “Wannabe” endured the test of time? Well, here’s the story from A to Z…
1. The memorable zig-a-zig-ah.
An insider who reportedly helped to write the song explained zig-a-zig-ah’s possible origin to the Daily Star. “Wannabe” was written in a “cramped but hip little studio in London’s Shoreditch” shared by a number of other artists, namely an older pop star from the ’80s who hated the Spices and bubblegum bands for encroaching on “his turf.”
“This guy had this nasty habit of taking a dump in the shared khazi [toilet] while smoking a cigar, so we took to referring to him as ‘shit and Cigars,'” the source said. “During the recording this phrase was thrown around a lot and must have worked its way into Mel B’s subconscious who pretty much wrote all the lyrics. She may have considered “shits and cigars” for a minute — but eventually settled on ‘Zig-a-zig-ah’ instead.”
2. It’s a key millennial theme song.
From a then-16-year-old Camila of Fifth Harmony who wasn’t born when the song dropped, to a 28-year-old Adele who was torn up by Ginger’s departure in 1998 (“That was the first time I was truly heartbroken”), the song has found a way to weave itself into the lives of anyone born between 1980 and 2000, from TRL and music stores’ heydays to nostalgic Spotify playlists for those who want to discover (or rediscover) the era of Delia’s catalogs and tattoo chokers.
3. It’s unbelievably catchy.
So catchy, in fact, that most listeners can recognize it in under three seconds flat. Players of the interactive online game Hooked on Music recognized the tune within an average of 2.29 seconds, beating out Lou Bega‘s “Mambo No. 5” and Survivor‘s “Eye of the Tiger” and claiming the title of the U.K.’s catchiest hit.
4. The girls fought for it to be their debut single.
Virgin execs wanted the Spice Girls to test the waters of the industry with “Say You’ll Be There,” a “cooler” song, but Scary and Ginger rallied the Spices around “Wannabe,” and we can’t imagine what the world would be like if they hadn’t. “Wannabe” was either a hit or a miss, love or hate,” Ginger explained years later. “It would either do everything or nothing. We felt, well, if nobody likes it then we have got other songs up our sleeves, but that was the one we wanted to release.”
5. Its enduring message of girl power.
“Wannabe,” which prioritizes female bonds and personal standards over potential suitors, is a perfectly lighthearted take on girl power. “Wannabe” serves as the anthem for the U.N.’s #WhatIReallyReallyWant campaign, aimed at getting women around the world to vocalize their hopes, from an end to child marriage to increased power for women in politics — Posh, Baby and Mel C have all spread the word. The Spice Girls talking about global feminism? That’s what we really, really want.