Wannabe is a dance-pop song, written in the key of B major, it is set in the time signature of common time and moves at a moderate tempo of 116 beats per minute. It uses the sequence B–D–E–A–A♯ as its chord progression during the refrain, the chrous and the bridge, and F♯–G♯m–E–B for the verses. The song is constructed in a verse-pre-chorus-chorus form, with a rapped bridge before the third and final chorus. Musically, it is "energised" by a highly syncopated synthesised riff, and by the way the repetitive lyrics and rhythm are highlighted during the bridge. Rowe set up a drum loop on his MPC 3000 drum machine, which was quite fast but also had a strutting quality about it. Wannabe presents a different version of the traditional pop love song performed by females, mainly because of the energic, self-assertive style that expresses a confident independence that is not reliant on the male figure for its continuance.
The song opens with a laugh, followed by undislodgeable piano notes. Over the notes, the first lines of the refrain are sung with a spoken–almost shouted vocals, in a call and response interaction between Brown and Halliwell. The words "tell", "really" and "I wanna" are repeated, so that the voices' tone and the lyrics build up an image of female self-assertion. The refrain ends with the word "zigazig-ha", an euphemism for female desire, which is ambiguously sexualised or broadly economic. The first verse follows, Chisholm, Bunton, Brown, and Halliwell sing one line individually in that order. In this part, the lyrics have a pragmatic sense of control of the situation—"If you want my future, forget my past"—which, according to musicologist Sheila Whiteley, tap directly into the emotions of the young teenage audience.
During the chorus, the lyrics—"If you wanna be my lover/You gotta get with my friends"—address the value of female friendship over the heterosexual bond, while the ascending group of chords and the number of voices creates a sense of power that adds to the song's level of exciment. The same pattern occurs, leading to the second chorus. Towards the end, Brown raps the bridge, which serves as a presentation to each of the girls' personalities. The group repeats the chorus for the last time, ending the song with energetic refrains—"Slam your body down and wind it all around"— and the word "zigazig-ha".
The song's central emphasis is the union and solidarity of friends, an implicit challenge to any "wannabe" lovers, which was also widely considered to be their signature song.
Wannabe is an uptempo pop song with a touch of hip-hop, rap and dance music; the lyrics are a demand of sincerity, with a feminist message of choosing friends over relationships, the song became an iconic symbolism of female empowerment and the most emblematic song of the Girl Power philosophy.
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