Melanie C: It’s not embarrassing to be a big pop fan anymore
Written by on 10 October 2020
“It’s been a long old journey and it’s an interesting one because throughout all of my experience, I’ve been trying to search for something which was always there.”
With her eighth solo album just released, Melanie C, the woman who will always be known as Sporty Spice, is reflecting on overcoming the struggles she has had with self-acceptance following her years in the eye of the Spice Girls storm back in the 1990s.
It’s a subject she has long been candid about and touched on through her previous solo music, but it was last year’s long-awaited reunion tour – something she reportedly turned down lucrative offers to do just a few years prior – that she says has made her feel comfortable in herself, and proud of everything she has achieved.
“I think it really came to light when I was back with the Spice Girls last year and being Sporty Spice, because I was nervous about being her again,” she says. “But then I realised it’s not something that I become, it’s something that’s within me. And it was amazing.
“I think being on stage, it just made me feel really reflective. I just had this moment of thinking, gosh…
“I think as people, we always strive, don’t we? We live in a culture where it’s so aspirational, we’re always trying to achieve our goals – whether it be through work life, family life – and to really acknowledge what you’ve done and some of the incredible things you’ve achieved, not only the successes, but personally, for me, overcoming lots of hard times, lots of difficulties…
“I think we don’t give ourselves enough credit and I just felt like it was time to do that. And that helped me find that self-acceptance and start to feel much more comfortable in my own skin.”
The result is Melanie C, the dance-inspired pop album that (and this is going to make you feel old) after more than 20 years as a solo artist, she finally felt ready to self-title. Last year was a “wonderful year of positivity and performing”, she says, with a worldwide tour of Pride events with LGBTQ collective Sink The Pink following the Spice Girls shows, and she wanted that to continue.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Chisholm questioned whether it was right to go ahead with the release, but says hopefully it can “offer some entertainment, hopefully some distraction, to try and lift spirits in such a weird time”.
When Chisholm rose to fame, the Spice Girls, pop in general in the 1990s, was snubbed by many as a guilty pleasure at best; her own early solo work was a definite change in direction.
Now, she laughs, “it feels like it’s not embarrassing to be a big pop fan anymore”.
Music has changed and genres are blurring, the singer says.
“It’s not like, you know” – she adopts a mock elderly accent – “in the old days… you know, when there was a time where [either] you like pop or you like rock, or you were a metal head or you were a goth, you know.
“Now all of these genres seem to mix and I think pop music is very dance-influenced, there’s a lot of house, disco, even ’90s influences in pop music, so it’s kind of made pop more credible, I suppose. You hear less kind of bubblegum pop, you know, some of the pop that I suppose was deemed as a guilty pleasure back in the day. And so I think that’s got something to do with it as well.
“But pop’s in a really good place. I think there are so many great artists and great songwriters and producers.”
With most of the record finished before lockdown, the pandemic’s impact is only evident on camera; for example, in the video for In And Out Of Love, which was shot at London’s Alexandra Palace, she assures that “you can see I’m a metre away from dancers at all times!”
Chisholm, who has spoken openly about depression and suffering with eating disorders in the past, admits lockdown has been a difficult time. “I’ve had some very low points during this year during lockdown and quarantine,” she says.
However, as an artist, she realises she is “lucky” to be in a position where she can “weather the storm” of the pandemic.
“But I worry about younger artists, I worry about venues,” she says. “People who work in touring, whether it’s at the venues, the backline crew musicians, it is a very, very difficult time for so many industries. And this is one that is hit hard.”
Chisholm’s album features collaborations with younger artists including Nadia Rose and Shura, which she says was vital.
“I think as an artist it is important to keep listening to younger voices. They have such different influences, a great energy, and that collaborative process has been really exciting for me.
“I think it’s really freshened the sound, it feels like a new chapter for me.”
I ask about the landscape for younger artists now; back in the Spice Girls’ heyday, they dealt with sexism in the industry, as well as often pretty unkind descriptions in the press.
“I feel like there’s definitely been a shift,” she says. “The media are more sensitive than they were in the ’90s. When I look back over articles that were written about myself and the girls, the language that was used is shocking. You’d never get away with that now. So that’s a positive.
“But then we do have social media. It’s a very different world that young artists inhabit. I feel predominantly that the people I’ve worked with, young people and my daughter and getting to know some of her friends and doing some work in schools, I feel there’s a general feeling that children are quite savvy. You know, they’re growing up being quite headstrong. Obviously, you can’t generalise; there are lots of children that have insecurities and self-esteem issues and that’s something which is difficult to navigate, especially with social media.
“I just think that they are navigating something very different. You’re open to a lot more criticism, you know. But I think you also have a voice with social media. Something that was lacking, I feel in the ’90s, you didn’t have this direct line to people. You couldn’t tell your side of the story immediately. So there’s pros and cons.”
Chisholm still reads reviews, she says, and is “super happy” with the reaction to the album, which charted at number eight on Friday; the Guardian hailed it “a genuine statement”, awarding four stars, while NME – the mag that bestowed the Spice Girls with its “worst single” prize at its annual awards show, for Wannabe in 1997 – described it as “a source of much-needed strength and positivity”.
But it’s always “petrifying” releasing something so personal, she says, even when you’ve been doing it for as long as she has.
“I think at the end of the day, the person you have to impress and the hardest person to impress is yourself,” she says.
“I love [the album], I’m really happy with it. So that’s the most important thing. But then, of course, you want the fans to love it and you want to get good reviews.
“I self-finance, I’m an independent artist, so I have even more at stake here. It’s my album, it’s my personal work, but also it’s my business. I have everything riding on it. So I will keep abreast of everything… and, yeah… so far, so good.”
Finally, before she has to go, I have to ask about another Spice Girls reunion, since she enjoyed the last one so much. What will it take to get Posh Spice involved next time round?
“Well, we like to think that when she saw the shows last year, that that was enough to get her back on stage,” she laughs. “You know, she’s talked to us about how hard it was for her to not be there with us, although we very much feel like she was with us in spirit…
“So, yeah, we’re working on it. We’re chipping away.”
Melanie C’s eighth album, Melanie C, is out now