‘Wannabe’ Turns 21! A Look Back At The Spice Girls’ Biggest Hit — And The Version You Never Heard

The world got their first taste of “Girl Power!” 21 years ago today when the Spice Girls first No. 1 hit, “Wannabe,” was unleashed to pop radio stations across the United Kingdom, according to Stuff.

On July 7, 1996, with the sound of clomping footsteps and a throaty laugh from Melanie Brown, or Mel B., or “Scary Spice” for those still unfamiliar with the legal names of the Spice Girls, and cute back-and-forth between Brown and fellow member Geri Horner (then Halliwell) on “Wannabe,” the opening track to Spice, the group’s 1997 debut album, the song slowly began its journey to becoming a solid piece of pop culture history that still possesses major spirit, fun and most of all, girl power, to this very day, more than two decades after its release.

“So, tell me what you want, what you really, really want?,” Brown immediately inquires the listener after taking the proverbial center stage at the lead-in of “Wannabe” — which, for the record, wasn’t necessarily an invite per se, but more of a demand posed as a question as Brown, Horner and the other three Spice Girls (Melanie Chisholm or Mel C., “Sporty Spice”) Victoria Beckham (nee Addams, “Posh Spice”), and Emma Bunton (“Baby Spice”)) eventually tell us what they “really, really” want in “Wannabe” with one of the most nonsensical pop lyrics possibly ever uttered.

“I wanna really, really, really wanna zig-a-zig-ah!”

And no, that’s not just one person’s opinion.

“As to what the heck ‘zig-a-zig-ah’ means,” Glamour offered of the lyrical head-scratcher in question, one of the song’s co-writers told the women’s magazine that the “Wannabe” line actually “refers to a neighbor at [the] gritty Shoreditch recording studio,” where the Spice Girls first laid down the bubbly track.

spice girls wannabe
The popularity of "Wannabe" allowed the Spice Girls to become ambassadors for Red Nose Day, a major U.K. charity, in 1997. [Image by Lynne Sladsky/AP Photos]

“This guy had this nasty habit of taking a dump in [our] shared [bathroom] while smoking a cigar,” the co-penning composer continued, “so we took to referring to him as ‘s**t and cigars.'”

“During the recording [of ‘Wannabe’], this phrase was thrown around a lot and must have worked its way into Mel B’s subconscious, who pretty much wrote all the [song’s] lyrics [and] may have considered ‘sh**s and cigars’ for a minute, but eventually settled on ‘zig-a-zig-ah’ instead.”

So, that clears that up, but here’s something else you may not have known: The version of “Wannabe” that most are familiar with and went on to become the Spice Girls’ first and only Billboard No. 1 hit (“Say You’ll Be There,” the second track on Spice and the album’s subsequent second single, would go on to become their next-to-last top 5 hit in America, but only their second of several No. 1’s back in the U.K.) was not actually the first cut of the seminal Spice Girls song.

In fact, a version of “Wannabe” known as the “Dave Way Alternate Mix,” which can be found on import versions of the 1996 single (along with “Bumper to Bumper,” a seductive b-side left off the final track listing of Spice) was actually the original cut of the single. Check it out below.

Metro further explains that Virgin Records, the Spice Girls former record label, were the main culprits in pulling Way’s “urban” take of “Wannabe” from the album for something more pop-sounding.

“Unconvinced by the original version of the song, Virgin Records asked American producer Dave Way to remix the track, the result of which was described by Geri as [being] ‘bloody awful’,” Metro notes.


“After attempts to [change the sound] of ‘Wannabe’ [from] everything from R&B to hip-hop and even jungle [dance music], the label relented and following a bit of spit and polish from [music producer] Mark Stent, the pure pop version we all know and love was chosen as the definitive,” they go on to say.

The Spice Girls bask in the success of "Wannabe" in 1996. [Image by Mike Stephens/AP Photos]

Interestingly enough, a piece of the original demo version of “Wannabe,” which precedes both the album cut and Dave Way versions and also involved a bit of an R&B flair, was first heard in Spice World: The Movie during a flashback scene between the Spice Girls, and released in full to the internet more than 10 years later as part of an unofficial EP of the group’s first recordings.

The original “Wannabe” demo by the Spice Girls can be heard below.

[Featured Image by Getty Images]