Melanie Jayne Chisholm, Mel C, Sporty Spice. For more than two decades, we’ve known her as a vocal powerhouse, one-fifth of the Spice Girls and an undeniable badass. All of this remains true, but the pop icon’s latest single ‘Who I Am’ reveals a side of her that we’ve never seen before.
Released last month, ‘Who I Am’ is an anthem of self-love and acceptance. The musician and mum sings of forfeiting facades to accept her true self after years of living a double life to please others.
“I was building my armour, so I could fit in,” she sings over bubbling synth in the track’s opening line. “To avoid any drama, I would shut my mouth.”
It’s an important moment of vulnerability and strength in her career of almost 25 years.
Although the lyrics confess moments of struggle and soul-searching, there’s no denying that it’s a bop. Mel C pairs the lyrics with electro-pop beats that wouldn’t be out of place on a night out or in a gym class (maybe that explains those abs?).
Inspired by young artists and her DJ side hustle, Mel C created ‘Who I Am’ with long-time songwriting partner Biff Stannard and house producer Ten Ven. It’s also the second track she’s dropped in 2020. The first being ‘High Heels’, a celebration of life and pride that she made with self-proclaimed queer drag collective Sink The Pink.
With more new music in the works, we had a chat with Melanie C while she was in Sydney about ‘Who I Am’, the importance of girl power and when we can expect the Spice Girls to tour down under.
Music Feeds: Are you excited for fans to finally hear ‘Who I Am’?
Mel C: I’m really excited actually! It’s so nice for people to finally hear it and to get some really positive reactions to it. I’ve had this song there for a little while now and I’ve loved it. Everyone who I’ve played it to has loved it too. But it’s nice to get it out further into the field.
MF: When did you start working on it. You’ve had a new record in the works since the beginning of 2019, right?
MC: Yeah! With the Spice Girls tour last year, which we started rehearsals for in April, I knew there wouldn’t be any time for anything else. So I was really keen to start the sessions even if nothing came of it. I just wanted to get the ball rolling and get a feel of it and think about what I wanted the album to be.
We had a few writing sessions in January, February and March and ‘Who I Am’ was within those sessions. It just started really quickly, this record. It’s funny because in my career, there have been times where some projects feel quite magical. It’s like obviously you work hard but there’s an ease to it, you know? It just feels like it’s meant to be and this album has felt like that from the beginning.
MF: Do you think that’s because it’s been a few years since ‘Version Of Me’, so it’s all just come pouring out?
MC: I think there’s been a few different things. I’ve had some huge changes in my life. Professionally, I’ve got a whole new team of people behind me and I changed management. I have a new band. One of the most important areas when you’re making a record is A&R and I have a new A&R guy and he’s wonderful. He’s introduced me to some incredible songwriters and producers.
I’ve also been working with some younger artists. I think having that real fresh input into the project has invigorated me and I think it’s really come across in the music. It’s helped me look at things differently and maybe approach things differently. I think when you’ve been making music for 25 years it’s really good to have a big ol’ shakeup. You don’t want to start repeating yourself. It’s nice that it feels very new and different.
MF: ‘Who I Am’ is really vulnerable. Can you tell me about the lyrical inspiration for the track?
MC: With the record, I wanted to make a pop record. I wanted to make it electronic and I wanted to make it danceable. But I didn’t want it lyrically to not have depth. As always, I have to write songs that come from a real place. From whatever I’m going through at the time. Things I’m feeling or things I’m processing from the past. With ‘Who I Am’, it’s a great introduction to the album because there’s a bit of a theme.
It does feel like a new chapter in my life professionally and personally. Writing these songs, I’ve realised I’m becoming more courageous in finding my true voice. I think sometimes when you’re younger, there’s things you’re afraid to say or certain parts of myself that I wasn’t comfortable showing. It’s come with age and experience and some of the wonderful people I’ve been spending time with. That’s how I’ve gotten to the point where it’s time to speak out and speak up a little bit more than before.
MF: What did that involve for you?
MC: It’s been a long process. It’s just that journey of life. All of the little knocks and scrapes that have happened to me along the way. Good stuff, tricky stuff, I’ve become a mum obviously. As you go through life, you go through phases where people let you down. You feel disappointed in people and they turn out to be not what you thought they were. All of those things kind of make you realise maybe there were times when I didn’t trust my instinct as much as I should’ve done. It’s just piecing all of these things together and I’m trying to find a real, authentic place.
MF: Wow, it sounds like that must’ve been a pretty profound moment of self-realisation for you.
MC: Oh, yeah. Absolutely! I think I’ve, like all of us, there’s fear. We’re frightened to make mistakes. We’re frightened to not have people support us but then we’re frightened to trust people. It’s just unpicking all of that and going “If I’m honest with myself, I can kind of navigate this whole thing”.
MF: Was there any point that you were apprehensive about being so open on the track?
MC: Yeah, I feel like every album and every step of the way I’ve been very true to myself at this point. I think as I’ve gotten older, which I think is a natural thing, you just become braver to be even more honest. I suppose the softening of the edges starts to go.
The funny thing is with music, I find, I’m quite a quiet person in everyday life. I don’t like confrontation. So, for me, sometimes being able to sing through some of my thoughts and feelings is a safer place than being able to speak them. It’s like this emotional outlet that I’ve always had. I’ve always found that people identify with things in their own way and that’s your self-protection.
MF: I think people will do that with this song as well. It’s really powerful hearing you being so candid but I think people will see themselves in the song too.
MC: Absolutely and that’s what I really want for this song and this record. I want it to be empowering for people. I’ve always found strength in music and lyrics. Along with the Spice Girls, I feel like we’ve done that for other people. I want to continue to do that. I really want people to identify with it. I think it’s a lot of people’s story.
It’s interesting because obviously talking about this, I’ve been thinking about it and I look at my little girl and she’s amazing. She’s so true to herself. I think when we’re kids, we’re such instinctual beings. Obviously, as a parent, you’re the teacher in a practical sense but in an emotional sense, I think we need to look to our children to teach us.
MF: You’re working with a lot of young, female artists on the new record. The girl power legacy lives on! How important is that for you?
MC: Yes!!! It’s super important. Throughout my career, I’ve worked with men predominantly. From studio engineers to songwriters, producers, musicians, everything. It’s still very much a male-dominated industry. So now I’ve found myself at this point where I’m making more informed decisions, it’s great to get a lot more women in the mix.
I’ve done some writing sessions with Little Boots. She’s a little bit older but she’s younger than me. She’s a great electronic artist and has had a lot of success. We have a great rapport in the studio and get on really well but we have a great working relationship. That’s a really fun collaboration. I’ve also had a great session with Shorra, who is another female artist.
So that’s been really fun. I’ve found that with young artists, their influences were different from mine growing up. So it’s hearing things differently and it really informs the music being more modern.
I just shot a couple of videos with a German female director and there were a few dudes around but it’s predominantly a female crew. It’s amazing to work with a female D.O.P and a female first A.D. It’s quite rare and it’s mad! At first, you don’t notice but you’re like, “Gosh, this shoot is really chill. It’s really nice and it’s a really nice vibe.” And then you’re like “Oh, fuck! It’s all girls. That’s why!” (laughs).
There’s just a very different energy when you’re working with mostly women. But that’s very unusual to see and isn’t that shit that we go, “Oh my god” and that it’s a thing? But it’s going to be like that for a long time and it’s going to take us a while to readjust and reset the balance.
MF: That’s exciting that you’ve got some new music videos on the way. What can you tell us about those?
MC: There are two videos! She (Sylvie Weber) directed ‘High Heels’ actually. We chose to work with her for the next two singles. The video for ‘Who I Am’ was quite difficult for me to watch. It’s quite surreal. It shows me in different moments within my life and my career. There are moments where I’m like “I can’t watch it! I can’t watch it!”
MF: Was that your idea?
MC: It was Sylvie’s idea actually. It’s really clever and it really works with the concept of the song. It’s pretty different. It’s quite conceptual.
MF: You’ve definitely nailed a cool electro-pop sound on these new songs. Who or what were your inspirations?
MC: Well, there’s so much great music out there right now. Everything is pop. There’s so many genres that are mixing. When I was going to the studio, because I wanted to make an electronic record. But I wanted it to have heart and soul, I was thinking about artists like Robyn, Christine and the Queens. I love the Mark Ronson record. So it’s almost like a heartbreak disco, that kind of feel.
I also love pop music. I love Dua Lipa, I love all of the Jax Jones stuff. I’ve been DJing a bit and I love house music. It was kind of just taking all those things and making it feel appropriate for what I wanted to say.
MF: What I love about it is that although you’re playing with these new sounds, it will always sound like a Mel C record because you have such a unique and recognisable voice.
MC: I think it’s really important as a more mature pop artist, to not try to be 25. I can’t compete with Dua Lipa, that would just be ridiculous. But there is a place in the world for someone with my experience but still wanting to have fun. I think we all feel younger now. I remember when I was younger thinking 40 was ancient and then I turned 40 and was like “…hang on!” (Laughs). You still feel like you’re 18 and you wanna go out and dance. So it’s trying to make that accessible and maybe changing things culturally a little bit because we’re so youth-obsessed, especially in music.
MF: I think that’s so important. You don’t need to compete with younger artists, either. People listen to more than just the top 40 now. Have you found that streaming changes the way people access your music and levels that playing field a little bit?
MC: Yeah! And it’s about songs, innit? It’s more about songs than ever. I am old school and I love to make an album and have this body of work and this story running throughout. At the end of the day, we all want a banger. So you’re right, there’s room for everybody.
MF: So, I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t ask about the Spice Girls. What’s next for you and the gals?
MC: So, where we’re at, we did the tour last year which was incredible. I can’t speak for everybody but I can speak for myself, I really wanted there to be further opportunities and come to Australia and come to South-East Asia, go to South America. I mean touring is up in the air for everybody right now but that was my wish. I wanted to make the solo record but I wanted to carve out time for that and those shows.
But getting four people to agree on times, places and duration and all of those things is really, really hard. We stay in touch, the door and the dialogue is open. We are discussing offers and opportunities on a weekly basis. So, I like to think that at some point we’ll be back out on the road.
MF: Well, we will be keeping our fingers crossed until then that you can make it down to Australia.
MC: Yes! And we owe you! We owe you big time.