Some Canadian night, in the years between 1996 and 1997, my family and I were watching Hockey Night in Canada when the transmission was punched through with a blinding burst of light and colour, sound and song and dance. In the middle of the hockey broadcast, a music video began to play.
Though nobody in our family knew it at the time, the band was the Spice Girls, and the song was Wannabe. I think the music video was being used to galvanize viewership during a lull or intermission, and would cut away to feature rock ’em-sock ’em hockey highlight images as a way to capture attention with an on-the-rise pop group.
Instead of capturing the attention of this two-channel-over-bunny-ears family, it was like having the signal scrambled. Chaos erupted. What’s this? I imagine a parent rose to block the screen’s content with their own physical form, though again, I can not confirm if that happened.
For me, back at Hockey Night, I didn’t know what to make of it. A 10 or 11 year old Kevan saw it more as an interruption to the hockey game, and thought the singing group was “stupid” and “weird.”
In the intervening years, in my creative experimentation with technology, I created a satirical website called “The Spice Gorillas” to mock the group. I used Front Page Express to build the website. I borrowed the names of the actual group (“Sporty Spice”), and creating parody content that mimicked natural-geographic writing to describe each of these pretend primates’ habits and habitats. It featured images of unique gorilla species’ I had borrowed from a CD-ROM encyclopedia.
Tasteful? No. Mature? No, literally childish; it was content created by a youth.
This year, now that Spotify has reached its digital fingers into the past and resurfaced all music, the song Wannabe began playing in my house, thanks to algorithms and our kids’ predilection for danceable pop. For one of the first times, I began paying closer attention to the actual words of this song.
You want my future? Forget my past.
Taking is too easy, but that’s the way it is.
24 years removed from this original, uninvited debut, I’m hearing these words in a new way.
I’m hearing a group of women say something incredibly powerful — a bold, colourful, provocative group was trying to share a message that we’ve all needed this whole time.
Allow me to translate the words from Wannabe into contemporary language:
If I communicated my actual needs and desires, would you hear them? Or would you just project your own interests on to me?
Are you interested in me as person, or just an idea?
Can you see me holistically, and imagine a healthy future for me?
Can you see my past and let it be what it is?
My time and life, they matter to me. Don’t treat me poorly.
Are you willing to do your own work of maturing?
If you’re interested in me, see me holistically.
See my relationships and friends.
I’m not temporary, I don’t disappear, and what I want is real friendship.
If you’re interested in me, choose to be a participant and a contributor.
Don’t see me as an object to consume.
Don’t let yourself follow the status quo patterns of a consumer culture and expect to simply take what you want.
That’s my manifesto. Are you inspired and aligned?
It’s what I care about. Can you handle that?
I’m only interested in people who are real and authentic.
If you can’t show up like that, I’m walking away.
[Additional rapping and singing ensues]
This episode came to mind this week as I heard of people’s reactions to the Superbowl half-time show. All I can offer is the translated words of the Spice Girls of my own much-too-slow discovery of their message.