From equal pay to an end to child marriage, the UN’s Project Everyone is encouraging women everywhere to speak up for what they want with its remake of girl power anthem ‘Wannabe’. The Drum catches up with director MJ Delaney and BBH London, the agency behind the film, to find out how it all came together.
In 1996 the Spice Girls conquered the world with their famous ‘Girl Power’ message. Now, 20 years later, the United Nations’ Project Everyone is propelling that mantra back into the spotlight in a bid to embolden women everywhere to ask for ‘what they really really want’ and make their voices heard at the UN General Assembly in September.
Part of the UN’s Global Goals initiative, masterminded by filmmaker and Comic Relief founder Richard Curtis, #WhatIReallyReallyWant brings the girl band’s message to a new generation in the form of an updated version of their debut music video, ‘Wannabe’.
Amassing some 1.5m YouTube views to date as well as support from the likes of Emma Watson, Jamie Oliver, Sheryl Sandberg and the Spice Girls themselves, it’s hard to believe the campaign started life as “a bit of a joke” between BBH London creatives.
BBH London’s Vix Jagger, who worked on the idea with former BBH deputy executive creative director Rosie Arnold, admits it was a throw away comment – ‘what about making it all about girl power’ – that, bit by bit, sounded less like a joke as things clicked into place.
“When we started writing a script we realised the lyric ‘what I really really want’ was perfect for the message of the film and, of course, the launch coincided with the Spice Girls’ 20-year anniversary. I was like the stars aligning.”
But before the wheels could really be set in motion, the BBH team encountered a real hurdle in acquiring the rights to use the track, something Jagger herself admits she didn’t think they’d have “a chance in hell of getting”. By “working their arses off” however, Project Everyone and BBH’s in-house team at The Most Radicalist Black Sheep Music manged to pull it off.
“That was an epic moment,” she recalls, adding that even with the song in place the idea was still a bit of a “punt”.
“Other agencies were writing ideas, so we decided to send off this one idea that we thought would be incredible if it ever happened.”
Thankfully for Jagger and the team, the punt paid off and, with the blessing of Project Everyone, BBH enlisted Moxie Pictures and director MJ Delaney to make the idea reality, essentially handing over the production to Moxie and taking on a creative consultant role.
“Doing this can be a little scary,” Jagger confesses, “but when we saw the treatment for the first time we were completely confident. The idea had remained intact and had, in fact, been made even better.”
Having previously worked with Curtis for Comic Relief, Delaney came on board after a meeting with him, armed with strong ideas of her own. These included a “wish list” of cast members who, she believed, would bring their own following to the finished article.
After assembling a cast of actors, singers and dancers from around the globe, the film was shot on location in Mumbai, Cape Town and London by a team of just three (Delaney, producer Lucy Tate and photographer Leo Bund).
A self-confessed fan of the original, Delaney paid homage to the original throughout the film but tonally took it to “a very different place”.
“The performance of the original video wasn’t appropriate for what we were trying to do here. It’s fun-loving and very ‘pop’, so my brief to the girls was to make it more aggressive and demanding,” she explains.
With a small team and quick turnaround times, the shoot felt like it was in a constant state of flux Delaney says, with the team continually drawing up new designs and then changing them. It was Bund’s talents as a steady-cam operator, she says, that brought continuity to the film.
Despite being one of the more memorable elements of the Spice Girls’ original video, Delaney reveals the bus at the end was “just something we came up with along the way” while the initial plan of going to the United Nations as a finale piece “became a logistical nightmare,” she comments
And despite BBH having battled to get the rights to the song, whether or not to keep the lyrics even became a major sticking point. “There was talk of changing it to ‘if you wannabe my sister’ and that was the idea when I came on board. To be honest, I was very anti that from the beginning and, luckily, so was Richard [Curtis],” she says, revealing how Curtis was very much involved at the beginning and end of the project and was a great champion of getting some bolder elements of the film past some of Project Everyone’s more nervous partners.
“I left one of the initial meetings thinking I need to prove this [lyric change] doesn’t need to happen,” Delaney recalls. “I wanted to create a more visceral, emotional reaction to the song and the memories and energy it has. If people are paying attention to specific lyrics, then I haven’t done my job right.”
Unveiled to the world a few days prior to the official ‘Wannabe’ 20th anniversary on 8 July, both Jagger and Delaney confess to being overwhelmed by the response the film has had, not only from the general public but from the team at Project Everyone, with Delaney arguing that for her it wasn’t about creating something that would be appreciated by “the advertising industries of London and New York.”
“The fact that we’re getting traction from all over the planet makes me really happy because I did that,” she says, with one search of the #WhatIReallyReallyWant hashtag proving her point.
“In the 20 years since the Spice Girls, girl power has evolved,” Jagger adds. “Relaunching girl power for a new generation means we can celebrate how far we’ve come, while pushing to go even further. To see your ad being shared in countries where these issues really matter feels so positive, even though the issues can be quite hard-hitting.”
This article was first published in The Drum's 27 July issue.