For a moment, picture popular music as a straight line on a graph moving left to right. Then picture a zig-zag line up and down intersecting it. That represents what is actually popular. It moves up and down constantly. People that are currently 20-years-old or younger may not understand this. For them, popular music has always sounded the same – boy bands, bubble-gum pop stars accompanied by a legion of dancers, and the one they call Bieber. People of that demographic may not realize that artists such as Nirvana, The Cure, and the Rolling Stones, when at their height of their respective careers, were considered “pop.”
The definition of what “pop” sounds like has changed throughout modern music history just like a zig zag line. Every time this theoretical line has changed, it has coincided with a sea-change in music. From Motown to 70s arena rock, from punk to disco, from 80s synth pop to hair metal, from grunge to post grunge and agro. Then there was one more change nearly 20 years ago in 1996. Nearly two decades later, what is considered “pop” has remained constant with no shift in the musical spectrum. That isn’t necessarily a good thing, but give credit where credit is due. The Spice Girls started an explosion of happy bubble-gum music that has endured longer than any other musical sound in modern history. Like it or not, there is something to be said for that.
The arrival of the Spice Girls on the music scene from London is a time that many have compared to ‘Beatlemania,’ but the year was 1996, not 1962. Their debut single, “Wannabe,” was an instant success and achieved the top spot on the pop charts in more than 30 countries. The top rock artists of the time such as Alanis Morissette, No Doubt, and Bush quickly took a back-seat to this new sensation that teenage girls were eating up faster than zit cream. It wasn’t only young girls who bought in to the new pop sound in droves. Men didn’t seem to mind either. Maybe that wasn’t due to the music, but due to the fact that no man really minded watching five extremely attractive British girls on television every time it was turned to the on position.
The Spice Girls’ debut album, Spice, ended up selling 30 million copies. To put that in perspective, if we were to combine that sales of all new albums released in this decade it may not even add up to 30 million.
What followed this? The short answer is an endless clown car of vocal group after vocal group. Perfect examples are the Backstreet Boys, N’ Sync, 98 Degrees – and the list could go on for days. We had solo dance-pop singers spring up out of nowhere such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. The music scene quickly and radically changed from guitars and spent emotion to synthesizers, drum machines, and puppy love. It was what New Kids on the Block and New Edition started in the 1980s, but this time on enough steroids to kill a T-Rex.
Throughout history though, every five to eight years, what is considered “pop” had changed. In 2001 and 2002, people were waiting on the next big thing. It never came. In 2009 people were waiting on the next big thing. It never came. It has been 19 years since the Spice Girls changed what “pop” sounded like and the change-up has never arrived. This movement has been so large, that it seems the definition of the word “pop” has even changed. When people hear the word “pop,” they now instantly think of vocal groups singing about happy thing while dancing and being super ‘hot.’ People no longer think of the word “pop” as the sound that is popular or ‘in’ right now. What the Spice Girls’ success did was actually change the definition of the word “pop,” which has resulted in classifying all other music into genre and sub-genre after sub-genre. It is actually mind-boggling.
The Spice Girls had a short-lived career, bet the legacy they began is the true testament to what they brought to the music industry. Some consider it growth. Others can rightfully argue that the pop explosion that occurred in 1996 and that still persists today actually has harmed the progression of art because so much great music has been produced since that time that has never come close to seeing its way to the masses because there has been no way for anything to puncture the shielded bubble of dance pop that has dominated the entire 21st century.
What do you think? Should the Spice Girls be praised or persecuted for starting the dance pop explosion of the 1990s? Comment and let us know.