Released: 13th October 1997
Writers: Spice Girls / Matt Rowe / Richard ‘Biff’ Stannard
Peak position: #1
Chart run: 1-2-3-4-10-20-24-29-34-37-29-37-50-59-65
Billboard Hot 100 chart run: 32-27-19-18-20-19-20-18-19-19-24-33-28-25-37-43-51-57-65-79
By 1997, there were few commercial avenues that hadn’t been touched by the Spice Girls. The group were everywhere; indeed, you could almost forget that foremost they were an inimitable chart force. But for the launch of Spice Up Your Life, the first single from their second album, the Spice Girls weren’t just performing the song. They were the song.
Seven months had passed since the release of the final single from Spice; not that you’d know it. The Spice Girls never went away. They’d plugged the gap between first and second albums with a promotional single that could be obtained only by collecting Pepsi ring pull tabs (as you do). Even discounting that, the group was never far from the media, intentionally or otherwise. A new album was coming: the Spice Girls had little control over that. By mid-1997, Virgin Records had already been discussing marketing plans for the project, even though absolutely nothing had been written or recorded for it. There was also the looming release of Spice World (the movie), which was being filmed at the same time; affectionately trivial it may be, the shoot was nonetheless still a colossal undertaking. All-in-all, not a great foundation on which to craft one of the most anticipated pop albums of the decade. In that sense, Spice Up Your Life is the perfect aural summation of Spice-mania at its height: it’s a song that defies the odds, herds all of that chaos and siphons it into three minutes of pop perfection.
Most importantly, the single draws a distinctive line in the sand between Spice and Spiceworld. There’s no way the Spice Girls could have been unaffected by the success they’d enjoyed during the previous 15 months, and it’s only right that the music changed as a result. Spice Up Your Life is a heightened evolution on the material that preceded it; this is a much bigger and busier production, which doesn’t just take inspiration from the Rio Carnival as much as it drops you right into the middle of it. This was not a track designed to slip quietly onto commercial radio playlists; it was big, it was brash, and it split critical opinion right down the middle. Whether you loved it or hated it, there was no way you could accuse Spice Up Your Life of taking the pedestrian route into the second album campaign.
The track is Spice-mob mentality at its finest; whether intentionally or (more likely) due to time constraints, the song is far less about the individual components within the group than most other tracks in their oeuvre. There are still some solo spots: Melanie B has her moment bellowing: “Colours of the world / Every boy and every girl…” during the bridge, while Melanie C owns her spot on the chorus with the: “If you’re having a good time / If you know that you feel fine” ad-libs. What quickly becomes apparent is how much the Spice Girls are now truly owning the zany Scary, Sporty, Baby, Ginger and Posh personas they’d adopted midway through the first album campaign. It’s hard to imagine the group could sound more self-assured, but here is the proof. The middle-eight – virtually the only point at which each member gets a solo spot – is utterly dripping with character and personality, despite it being little more than a series of statements:
But hip-hop is harder
We moonwalk the foxtrot
Then polka the salsa
Otherwise, this is very much a tribal effort, with the group rallying together full of self-assurance while charging back into the charts and unleashing their collective force with more charisma than ever before.
Spice Up Your Life has aged very well. Certainly, in ethos, if nothing else. In 1997, the Spice Girls were everywhere in a way that no pop act has come close to emulating since (no, not even One Direction). There were very few avenues that hadn’t already been well and truly Spiced by this point. However, in the years since the group disbanded, the song has adopted more meaning. If you had to distil those two brilliant, chaotic years of Spice-mania down into their purest form then this – and Wannabe – would be the perfect summation of what the group represented. But it’s even more than that. Who could forget the 2012 London Olympics; the Spice Girls standing atop London cabs, whizzing around the stadium while Spice Up Your Life echoed around the world (seriously, we’ve got shivers just thinking about it now)? This is the sound of the Spice zeitgeist; whether it’s for a four-minute performance or a 13-date reunion tour, it signifies that Girl Power is back in the room, herding towards you like a stampede whether you like it or not. It’s a pop song that genuinely lives and breathes every aspect of the group.
The one contentious aspect of Spice Up Your Life is – and always has been – the music video. The group had envisaged a bright, carnival-themed treatment for the song. Something that would have tied nicely into the sound and even the single artwork. But it was not to be; accompanied by a Making The Video-esque show (on primetime TV, no less), it quickly became apparent that we were getting a much darker aesthetic set in an oppressive world controlled by the Spice Girls. There are some nice touches: the Burger King and Starbucks logos being replaced with Spice-equivalents were – in all honesty – not far from the reality in which we lived. Furthermore, the shots of Victoria Beckham as a catwalk model and Geri as a political figure are quite prophetic of what was to come. There’s no doubt there were people for whom the bleak, dystopian vision portrayed in the video felt like an accurate portrayal. But otherwise, this was a very jarring aesthetic to apply to the song, albeit one we’ve come to accept as a part of the package. Regardless of your stance, considering it’s well over two-decades-old, Spice Up Your Life still looks great for a video that’s incredibly heavy on CGI and green screen, which is testament to just how much budget was thrown at the thing.
Spice Up Your Life debuted at #1 in the UK. Of course, it did; nothing – absolutely nothing – was going to stand in the way of the Spice Girls at this point and they shifted 321,000 copies to reiterate that point. The track surrendered the top spot a week later to Barbie Girl (seriously, what a time to be alive). Given the group’s unprecedented and unparalleled success, any scrutiny of their chart performance at this point is ultimately splitting hairs. However, if you were looking for any possible chink in the Spice Girls’ seemingly impenetrable armour, it was their first single to spend just a single week at #1. However, all said and done, it remains the group’s fourth-biggest selling single overall. In America, the sophomore slump – using the term very loosely – was a little more pronounced: Spice Up Your Life peaked at #18, making it one of the Spice Girls’ lowest charting singles there. Although again, for some acts such a chart position would be the pinnacle of their success, so let’s keep some perspective here.
In many ways, though, the immediate chart success enjoyed by Spice Up Your Life was an incidental by-product. This song is a landmark moment in the Spice Girls‘ narrative, which saw them masterfully create another signature hit, while this time stamping the Spice-trademark all over it.