Opening with the stomp of a platform boot and an unrestrained cackle, Spice launched the Spice Girls onto an unsuspecting world with the kind of unbridled, unpolished joie de vivre that would become their calling card. The year was 1996 and the band’s domestic musical landscape predominantly featured boys with guitars (Oasis, Blur) or boys with curtains (Take That, Boyzone)—and Scary, Baby, Sporty, Ginger, and Posh suggested a radical third way, demolishing the outdated edict that girl bands don’t work with the flick of a V-sign. They were loud, bratty, and unapologetically feminine; as comfortable singing about mother/daughter conflicts as slagging off “losers on the dance floor.” Having originally answered an ad in (entertainment industry newspaper) The Stage looking for “streetwise, outgoing, ambitious, and dedicated” women for an “all-female pop act,” Melanie Brown, Emma Bunton, Melanie Chisholm, Geri Halliwell, and Victoria Adams soon discovered that their ambitions dwarfed those of their management and they absconded with their demos. By the time they signed with music mogul Simon Fuller, most of their debut was written (they claimed co-writing credits on all 10 tracks). They’d also decided to lean into their disparate personas, creating the impression of a roving party to which everyone was invited. While other girl bands had a lead singer, this was a democracy in which writing credits and vocals were split five ways, and where the ruling ethos was fun, fun, and more fun. First track and lead single “Wannabe” is as much a mission statement as a song—assuring the listener via a riot of hooks that, while boyfriends are replaceable, friendship never ends. From there, the album barrels through Europop, R&B, and disco, never quite lifting its foot off the accelerator. By its close, listeners were left in no doubt that they had witnessed the birth of a new moment in pop—one with the power to shift astonishing quantities of albums, lollipops, and platforms, and even launch a new brand of feminism. Girl power had arrived and a new wave of female-centric pop would follow—but none would be quite as charmingly chaotic.

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