Wannabe Is The Comedy '90s Pop Fans Have Been Waiting For

Photo: Courtesy of BBC
Will our fascination with all things '90s and early '00s ever end? From cult streetwear fashion brands, hair scrunchies and skinny brows, to Friends on Netflix and endless Spice Girls reunion rumours, we've been clinging on to the culture of our youth for a few years now, and no one can deny there’s more than a tinge of nostalgia in the way we’re looking back on this vibrant decade. Things just seemed simpler and more hopeful then.
Even fame and celebrity culture, where we turn for solace in these dark times, is virtually unrecognisable in 2018 compared to the '90s. In our social media-heavy age, it’s easy to drag out your 15 minutes of fame with the help of sponsored posts on Instagram and ‘candid’ photoshoots for the Mail Online, but pre social media, you generally needed more a single hit song, sex tape or other scandal, to keep yourself in the spotlight.
If you’re as fascinated by this pop cultural revolution as we are, you’ll like the sound of Wannabe, a new BBC Three comedy co-written by Lily Brazier (who played the much-loved Miche in the BAFTA winning People Just Do Nothing). The show sees Maxine, a former ‘90s pop star and music manager of teenage pop group Sweet Gyal, gunning for a second shot in the spotlight – in a completely new cultural landscape.
The four-part show is perceptive, cringe-inducingly funny and couldn’t be more nostalgic for the ‘90s if it tried – Another Level's Dane Bowers even makes a surprise cameo. Refinery29 caught up with Brazier to talk about comebacks, diamanté trouser suits and Girl Power 2.0.

The main elements of being in a girl band are still the same: pretending that you’re best friends, coordinated outfits, dance routines and occasional Alesha Dixon-esque raps

Why did now feel like a good time to make a show which makes so many nods to the '90s?
The '90s and '00s are having a bit of a resurgence now. When you go into Topshop it’s full of combat trousers and kitten heels and I’ve been having a lot of ‘I remember that from the first time around’ sort of moments. As with all nostalgia, that era now feels like a more innocent and simpler time and I’m glad that it’s coming back around. There’s something quite comforting about going back in time, I guess that’s why Maxine is stuck in the past too. Shit, maybe I’m becoming Maxine.
Who were you inspired by in creating your character and her former girl group, Variety?
I loved ITV’s The Big Reunion, in which '90s and '00s bands were reunited. Watching the bands I idolised when I was younger, now living a mundane, or "normal", existence was fascinating to me. I thought they would be living the dream forever. I also loved all the dramas and bitchiness that still hadn’t been resolved all these years later and how badly a lot of the style and names dated.
The reunions are amazing, being in a boy or girl band as you’re approaching middle age doesn’t quite have the same impact, and not being able to move on and being stuck in the past is something we can all be guilty of. My co-writer Ben and I also love the same sort of comedy characters: Alan Partridge, David Brent and Kenny Powers, so they were definitely an inspiration for Maxine.
In your view, what are the main differences between being a pop star in the '90s, compared to now?
In my amateur opinion, social media makes a big difference, as you have to constantly create content now to keep people interested and every member has to be a brand in their own right. Trends also come and go more quickly now because of the bloody internet, so it’s more about staying relevant and constantly reinventing your image. There’s also a lot of crossing genres, for example, Stormzy being featured on a Little Mix track. It seems like there are fewer boundaries.
The main elements of being in a girl band are still the same though: pretending that you’re best friends, coordinated outfits, impressive dance routines and occasional Alesha Dixon-esque raps (shout out Jesy).
Who were your own favourite girl bands and artists growing up? Did they influence you in making the show?
The Spice Girls came out when I was about 10 and I remember feeling like they were the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen. Girl Power seemed almost revolutionary. All of their merch and the movie made them even more amazing to me. I remember collecting Spice Girls photos and I’ve still got the album. I’m a creep. I also loved All Saints. I thought they were the coolest thing to ever happen and I still know the words to all their songs. They made combat trousers what they are today – cool rather than dad hiking wear.

I finally got to wear a diamanté trouser suit and trilby.

I was also a big fan of the Honeyz, and later on I was obsessed with Mis-Teeq because they seemed so different and fresh compared to anyone else, and they had an excellent Dior collection. And Girls Aloud were amazing, too – they were one of the last big girl bands. Oh and obviously TLC and Destiny's Child were the gurus.
I've also definitely fantasised about being in a girl band and so Wannabe has given me a space to live out that dream, despite my lack of rhythm and inability to sing. I finally got to wear a diamanté trouser suit and trilby.
What was your favourite '90s trend, be it fashion, beauty or music?
'90s fashion was amazing. It’s hard to pick one trend but I loved how brands were so prevalent, whether it was wearing Dior branding head-to-toe or a Morgan going-out top. Branding and brands were obsessively worn on the outside rather than hidden on a label. Other great '90s and '00s trends I love include snakeskin, lime green, and diamanté on everything. Boot cut and pinstripe suits are Maxine’s favourite.
Your character is hoping for a comeback, or at least to become somewhat famous. Who or what would you like to see make a comeback from the '90s?
One thing I desperately want to come back is Saturday morning TV. I watched SMTV Live religiously and I miss it very much. Also music TV: CD:UK and Top of the Pops were the best: the bizarre sets, the miming, the odd mix of genres, I could go on.

Fame isn’t a real thing, it’s a constructed idea that doesn’t really exist.

The Nokia 3210 was a classic piece of kit. I wish I had one that still works, for the days when I want to ignore the world and just play Snake. Oh and another thing, if Just Seventeen and More magazine could come back, or at least their problem pages, then that would help me out a lot. Everything I know I learned from problem pages.
Being famous (and desperately wanting to be) are key themes of the show. What message do you want to get across about fame in Wannabe?
I suppose the main thing is that fame isn’t a real thing, it’s a constructed idea that doesn’t really exist. When Maxine was in Variety, she was promised fame and fortune that didn’t ever materialise and she’s still stuck in the mindset that it’s still going to happen for her. Fame is a dream she’s going to chase forever.
What’s the main thing you took away from making People Just Do Nothing that you applied to making Wannabe?
Making sure that you have characters that you can like in some way, or at least feel sorry for, however unpleasant they are. I also think it’s important for things to not feel too mad, so there’s some truth in everything and it’s not too whacky.
It sounds cheesy, but I suppose the main thing really is that it’s fun to work on. Ben, my co-writer who also directed Wannabe, is a friend and someone whose taste I trust, and generally I think on set if everyone is having fun then it’s going to be funnier in the end. Hopefully.
Having an amazing cast helps as well, the People Just Do Nothing boys are 10/10 at everything they do and our cast is pretty great too (not including myself – I’ve not turned into Maxine).
Photo: Courtesy Of BBC
What would happen if Maxine and Miche were to meet? Would they get on? What would they talk about?
I’m not sure Maxine would give Miche the time of day, to be honest. Miche would probably be impressed by Maxine’s ‘fame’ and might actually remember Variety from back in the day. Maxine would think Miche was thick and not on her level. She’d probably look down her nose at her, although they actually both have fairly similar dreams and aspirations – and both have a penchant for diamanté.
Wannabe is available as a boxset on BBC Three from Thursday 29 March.
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