In December 1994, the Spice Girls persuaded their former managers—father-and-son team Bob and Chris Herbert—to set up a showcase in front of industry writers, producers and A&R men at the Nomis Studios in Shepherd's Bush, London. Producer Richard Stannard was originally at the studio to meet pop star Jason Donovan, but he ended up in the showcase after hearing Melanie Brown, as she went charging across the corridor. Stannard recalls:
More than anything, they just made me laugh. I couldn't believe I'd walked into this situation. You didn't care if they were in time with the dance steps or whether one was overweight or one wasn't as good as the others. It was something more. It just made you feel happy. Like great pop records.
Stannard stayed after everyone had left the showcase to talk to the group, he then reported back to his songwriter partner Matt Rowe, that he had found the pop group of their dreams. In January 1995, Chris Herbert booked the group's first professional songwriting session with the producers at the Strongroom in Curtain Road, East London. Rowe remember feeling similarly to Stannard when he first met the group, "I love them. Immediately. [...] They were like no one I'd met before, really." The session was productive as the duo seemed to get along with the group, together they discussed about the songwriting process and what they wanted to do with the record. In her autobiography, Brown recalled that the duo instinctively understood their point of view and knew how to incorporate "the spirit of five loud girls into great pop music".
"2 Become 1" was co-written by the Spice Girls along with partners Richard Stannard and Matthew Rowe. Stannard and Rowe also co-produced the track. After writing more uptempo dance-based songs, such as "Wannabe", the group and the two producers decided to write a slow ballad. But as the group were writing the song, they realised that it was a bit too slushy, so it was decided to address the importance of contraception with the lyrics: "Be a little bit wiser baby. Put it on, put it on".
The song was inspired by the special relationship that was developing between Geri Halliwell and Rowe. Brown hinted at this development in her autobiography commenting: "When he [Rowe] and Geri started making eyes at each other I knew what was going on, even though they denied it. I knew them both too well for it to be a secret for me." Stannard commented about the fondness between Halliwell and Rowe: "I don't want to get into the side of things. They were very close. They clicked. And I think the lyrics in "2 Become 1" came from that, especially the first verse, which they wrote together."
The group recorded a Spanish version of the song, written by them, Rowe, Stannard, and N. Maño. The title was "2 Become 1" (Spanish Version), although the title is loosely translated in one line of the song, "Seremos Uno Los Dos". It was released as the eleventh track of their debut album Spice, in Latin America, South Africa, in a special re-edition of the album in Spain, and as one of the tracks of the "2 Become 1" maxi-single in the US. A Spanglish edit that traded verses between the English and Spanish versions was created by DJ Mike Rizzo and production director Bill Schultz for New York-based radio WKTU.
"2 Become 1" is a pop ballad, written in the key of F♯ major; it is set in the time signature of common time and moves at a slow tempo of 72 beats per minute. The song is constructed in a verse-chorus form, and its instrumentation comes from a guitar, an electronic keyboard, and string instruments. The song opens with an instrumental introduction, with a chord progression of E♭m add9–D♭/F–G♭–A♭m7 sus4, that is also used during the first part of the verses. The last two lines of each verse changes the progression to C♭–B♭m7–A♭m7–D♭11, and changes again during each chorus to G♭–D♭–C♭–D♭. It closes with a string outro that uses the chord progression F♭–G♭–B♭♭–C♭, which is arranged by Scottish composer Craig Armstrong.
In 1995 the Spice Girls recorded the demo version of 2 Become 1. The first three verses sung by Chisholm, Beckham and Bunton respectively. The second three verses were sung by Chisholm, Halliwell and Bunton respectively. The final verse sung by Bunton and the bridges sung by Brown. In the final versions of the song Brown sang the second verse instead of Beckham for unknown reasons. The first and third lines of the chorus are sung by Bunton and Halliwell together and the second and fourth lines are sung by Chisholm and Beckham.
The lyrics focus on how the bonding of two lovers can become so strong that they practically become one entity, through the act of sexual intercourse. Apart from the sexual connotations, there is an aspirational undercurrent to the lyrics, and like many of their subsequent songs, desire is explicitly linked to ambition–"Free your mind of doubt and danger/Be for real don't be a stranger/We can achieve it/We can achieve it".
Two different versions of the song, each with different lyrics, were recorded: in the album version, the second line of the second verse, "Any deal that we endeavor/Boys and girls feel good together", was changed in the single version to: "Once again if we endeavour/Love will bring us back together". Victoria Beckham sings on the single version, while Halliwell sings on the album version, after Halliwell confessed that she had a hard time singing on that particular key. The single version appears in the music video, and on stage the girls always performed the single version before and after Halliwell's departure.
"2 Become 1" was released in the United Kingdom on 16 December 1996, in three single versions. The first one, a maxi single that included the single version of the track, an orchestral take, the Junior Vasquez remix of "Wannabe", and "One of These Girls", a song written by the group with Paul Wilson and Andy Watkins—the songwriters and production duo known as Absolute. The second version was the special Christmas pack, a standard CD single in a cardboard case that included a signed postcard with a Christmas message from the group. This version contained the single version, the Dave Way remix, and their own version of Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride". The third version was a two-track cassette single, featuring the single version and the orchestral take of the song. The same track listing was also used for the release of the European CD single.
The song was generally well received by music critics. In a review of the group's debut album Spice, Dev Sherlock of Yahoo! Music Radio called it a "glossy ballad that would do Mariah Carey proud". Whitney Pastorek of Entertainment Weekly said that the song is "too slow, and the lyrics appear to have been written by a safe-sex-loving unicorn", adding that "it's almost impossible to identify the individual Spice Girls by their voices here, so airbrushed are the proceedings". Larry Flick of Billboard magazine said that "they are surprisingly adept at weaving warm and romantic imagery over a sweet melody" adding that "[Everyone] will delight in the track's arrangement of soft harmonies and delicate acoustic guitar riffs". Time magazine's Christopher John Farley called it a "slumberous ballad [...] [that] seem[s] designed to amuse, titillate, ingratiate".
Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic called the song a "perfect adult contemporary confection". Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune said that their first album "is a compendium of slick secondhand urban pop encompassing [...] G-funk synths on 'Say You'll Be There' [...] and Babyface's guitar and strings balladry on '2 Become 1'". In a review of the group's 2007 compilation album Greatest Hits, Talia Kraines of BBC Music called it "shimmering" adding that "only a cold heart could fail to love their first festive #1". Digital Spy's Nick Levine said that the group's slower songs were "probably their strongest suit", and thought that "'2 Become 1' manages to combine every element of the perfect Christmas ballad–a touch of elegance, a hint of romance, a soupcon of sexiness and a generous sprinkling of sparkle–and still finds time for a coy safe sex message".
"2 Become 1" was originally going to be released in the UK on 9 December 1996, but the release date was delayed to let Dunblane's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"—a tribute to the children killed at the Dunblane Primary School in Scotland—to stay at the top of the UK Singles Chart. The single was released the next week, debuting at the top, becoming the group's third chart-topper and their first Christmas number-one single in the UK. It sold 209,000 copies in the first three days of release and 462,000 in the first week, becoming the tenth best-selling single of the year. "2 Become 1" sold 1.14 million copies in total, giving the Spice Girls their second and final million-selling single in the UK.
In Ireland, "2 Become 1" was the group's second number-one single, and their first to debut at the top of the Irish Singles Chart. It stayed at the top position for six weeks, and became their first Christmas number-one single in the country. "2 Become 1" peaked at No. 3 on the Eurochart Hot 100, and performed similarly across the rest of Europe, topping the singles chart in Spain, peaking inside the top ten in Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, and inside the top fifteen in Belgium and Germany. It was also commercially successful in Australia and New Zealand, peaking inside the top three on both countries.
In July 1997, "2 Become 1" debuted on the Canadian RPM singles chart at No. 87, peaked at No. 3 on its fifth week, and ended at No. 25 on the year-end chart. On the Adult Contemporary chart it peaked at No. 4, and ended at No. 27 on the year-end chart. In the United States, the song debuted on 16 August 1997 at No. 6, reaching a peak of No. 4 in its fourth week, becoming the group's third consecutive top five in the country. The song peaked at No. 6 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart and at No. 8 on the Hot 100 Singles Sales chart, selling 700,000 copies as of December 1997. It peaked at four on the Mainstream Top 40, and had crossover success, peaking at four on the Rhythmic Top 40 and at eight on the Adult Contemporary chart.
The music video for "2 Become 1" was directed on the 5-6th November 1996 by Big TV!, in a two-day shoot located at a studio in Old Compton Street, London. Cinematographer Stephen Keith-Roach—who worked in other music videos such as Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity" and U2's "Discothèque"—was in charge of the photography. The shoot involved the group dressed in winter coats, wandering around the studio against a green screen, interspersed with close-up camera angles, so that the backdrop could be superimposed later. To achieve the effect of the wind blowing slowly through their hairs, the group was required to lip-synch the song in double time while wind machines were on them.
The music video features the group in Times Square in New York City with fast moving cars appearing around multi-coloured lights, appearing in various places around the city, either alone, with one other member, or as a quintet. The video is intercut with scenes of lovers experiencing moments of togetherness and closes with a deer wandering the streets. Such a scene, according to the group's first official book Girl Power!, gave them a running gag all throughout the shoot—"Whenever anyone made a mistake it was, 'Oh, deer'." Sometimes, the closing scene would not be shown on television, due to the song fading out to an instrumental, which lasts for 40 seconds.
In the same book, Victoria Beckham wrote about the shoot: "I think '2 Become 1' is my favorite video. [...] It was really different to the other videos–shot entirely in the studio, with high technology and loads of effects. It was really weird having to sing passionately into the camera, I was feeling a right mug in front of all those people singing 'wanna make love to ya baby'."
The song was performed many times on television, including the Bravo Supershow, GMTV, Live & Kicking, Noel's House Party, and Top of the Pops. In October 1997, the group performed "2 Become 1" as the eighth song of their first live concert at the Abdi İpekçi Arena in Istanbul, Turkey. The performance was broadcast on Showtime in a pay-per-view event titled Spice Girls In Concert Wild!, and was later included in the VHS and DVD release Girl Power! Live in Istanbul. In December 2007, the group performed the song on the finale of the fifth season of the British television show Strictly Come Dancing. They wore floor-length gowns and used microphones covered in glitter, while professional dancers did a choreography in front of them.
The Spice Girls have performed the song on their three tours, the Spiceworld Tour, the Christmas In Spiceworld Tour, and the Return of the Spice Girls. After Halliwell's departure in 1998, Bunton sang the first and third lines of the chorus alone during the Spiceworld Tour, but in the Christmas in Spiceworld Tour Beckham replaced Halliwell during the first and third lines of the chorus along with Bunton, while Brown replaced Beckham during the second and fourth lines of the chorus along with Chisholm. The performance at the Spiceworld Tour's final concert can be found on the video: Spice Girls Live at Wembley Stadium, filmed in London, on 20 September 1998. For the Return of the Spice Girls Tour, the group performed it during the second segment of the show. After the "Too Much" performance, each of the girls emerged from a cocoon of oversized swan wings and danced around a set of barber’s poles while singing the song.
"2 Become 1" has been covered both in albums and live performances. In 1998, The Countdown Singers recorded a sound-alike version of the song for their album Today's Love Songs. Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy did an instrumental jazz cover for the 1999 album The Odyssey Of Funk & Popular Music. American guitarist Paul Gilbert covered the song for his fourth album Alligator Farm. Wildside recorded a dance remake for the 1997 album Mega Hits Dance Party, Vol. 1, and was later included on the 2005 album Let's Hear It for the 90's, Vol. 1. Filipino bossa nova singer, Sitti Navarro, recorded a cover of the song for her second album My Bossa Nova. During her solo career, Emma Bunton has performed live covers of the song on television programmes such as CD:UK and Popworld, and it was also included as part of her setlist for the Pepsi Silver Clef Concert. She performed the song as a duet twice with her former bandmate Melanie C on November 9, 2013 as part of the Oxford Street Lights Switch On and on January 11, 2014 for Sporty's Forty at 02 Shepherd's Bush Empire.
These are the formats and track listings of major single releases of "2 Become 1":
Published by Windswept Pacific Music Ltd./PolyGram Music Publishing Ltd.