Melanie C: “There’s Been Times In My Career Where I Felt Apologetic Or Embarrassed. I’m Not Going To Do That Anymore”

Melanie Chisholm has lived many lives in front of the public. From the tender age of 20, she thrust herself into a world of songwriting and entertainment that would lead her to be a member of the most successful girl group of all time. Since the disbandment of the Spice Girls, Melanie C gave the world R&B tinged duets, a stunning musical theatre cover album and now she’s back – almost three decades into her career – with a self-titled album, due out Friday, 2nd October.

Melanie C, the album, is as refined yet as honest as its namesake. Anchored in the understated synth-pop you’ll find with artists like Robyn, with elements of the bass-driven neo-disco that we’re seeing pop up more and more in 2020, Melanie C is an album about Sporty Spice learning to love herself, and her art, once again. The opening track – ‘Who I Am’ – is a complete admission of self-acceptance, flaws and all, with closing track ‘End Of Everything’ making sure that she’s still got room to improve and room to fuck up.

Melanie C has stopped trying to distance herself from her past and has stopped being so scared of her future. Melanie Chisholm is Melanie C is Sporty Spice. And, in a chat with Music Feeds earlier this month, she spoke about how finally changing her team after two decades, the pandemic and Billie Eilish helped her learn to be OK with exactly who she is.

Music Feeds: I think the album is so energetic and fun but it’s still really chill and a little understated. It sort of reminds me of Robin, or what Dua Lipa has been doing recently.

Melanie C: The artists that you mentioned are definitely artists that I love and of course have been listening to for the last months and years. Yeah, it’s a brilliant place. I wanted to make this record because I knew I wanted to make people dance, but I wanted people to be able to listen to it as well. And to have a message and for it to be thoughtful. I’m really pleased with the outcome.

MF: Was that a hard balance to find?

MC: In the past when I’ve tried, I found it difficult but for some reason this record and all of these sessions – it’s come easily. And sometimes, you know, it’s not on my part. I’ve had great experiences, I’ve had okay experiences and I’ve had terrible experiences.  And these magical moments where a project just feels so special because it almost feels like it’s too easy. And this is how it’s felt. It reminds me like the Northern Star sessions, it just all just fell into place.

MF: Can you think of any reason why that might have been? Is it the headspace you’re in? I know you’re with a new team now.

MC: Yeah, I think that was a big part of it. A whole new team from, you know, backroom management and label to the really important roles like A&R, writers, producers, mixers, and it was just this fresh feeling. Working with younger songwriters and collaborators and their influences being so different helped too. 

I’ve found myself at a time in my career where a lot of the people I’m working with grew up being Spice Girls fans. It’s really surreal because they kind of have all of this content. They’ve been exposed to very different music to myself growing up. And when we work together, it creates something really fresh. And it’s definitely informed the sound of the record.

MF: And the music industry looks different to them growing up than what it did when you first broke out.

MC: I’ve really enjoyed trying to navigate this whole new world of music – how we consume it and how we market it. I’ve been really excited by releasing all these singles before the album drops. I just love it. It just feels like there’s so much content. The album gets so much attention and love. I feel like you’re really presenting the album how you want it to be for people to consume, rather than just dropping the album and then it’s done and then you go until it’s time to come back. Now it builds this kind of excitement.

MF: The music industry has faced a challenge this year that it hasn’t in many of our lifetimes. How do you feel still going forward with the album release process, knowing that touring is off the cards for a while? Are you nervous for what’s on the other side?

MC: To get kind of technical and boring, it’s wonderful that we have these opportunities and these platforms to be connected, whether it’s doing live streams and DJ sets and Q&As. 

When I first got my head ’round performing on live[stream] – I think we did a YouTube thing, or an Instagram Live – it was such a relief to perform, but then to not have that energy of the people in the room. 

It’s starting to get a little bit tired. I’m missing it so much because, as a performer, it’s your drive. I go into the studio and I make music because I want to go to perform and connect with people. So that’s been hard. 

And then the other thing is – where’s the revenue? Where’s the income? It’s very hard to make any money or to even recoup from the album sales. So you go out and you tour and all the other things you do to help you keep on moving financially. It’s hard and the venues are suffering and crew and all the people that rely on that for their living.

MF: What influenced the decision to have this album be eponymous?

MC: It felt right, for the first time. It’s always been something that I quite fancied doing, but I just think all of the events that led to this album – a big one being out with the girls last year. Leading up to the rehearsals, I was quite nervous because I thought, “Can I become Sporty Spice? Can I go around and sing ‘Wannabe’?” I’m 46. It’s been a while. As soon as I got into rehearsals I realised that I don’t become this thing – I am Sporty Spice, it’s within me. 

And it just made me feel very reflective about my time with the girls. Even looking at the beginning of my solo career, I tried to move away from being Sporty Spice. I’ve spent all these years running away from myself. And then now I finally have gone, “You know what that is me, and I’m actually cool with that, and I’m also proud of that.”

It gave me an opportunity to go, “I’m fucking amazing.” Yeah, there’s shit bits about me that I’d like to change, nobody’s perfect, but I think as people we just don’t give ourselves credit for how amazing we are, sometimes on a daily basis. So I just wanted to just like gather all of that experience and make a record that could really express that to people. 

I’d love people to listen to that and, even if it gives them just that tiny little bit of their own self-acceptance, it’s worth it.

You know I worked really closely with the LGBTQ+ community. I toured with Sink The Pink, I toured with drag queens. It just was such an educating process to me. It just had this profound effect on me where I just felt really accepted, not just in the world but also by the LGBTQ+ community. It just had this weird effect on me where I just felt like, you know what, it’s time to own this shit. And that’s what this album is all about and that’s why I wanted to call it Melanie C.

MF: I did want to speak to you briefly about mothers, and motherhood. A personal tidbit – my mum passed away when I was a child, and I have vivid memories of watching Spice Girls videos on VHS and my mum would sing the songs to me and along with me. I was a hardcore Spice Girls fan, and my mother completely facilitated that. This all feels very full circle.

MC: Oh, I love that. I’m going to get a bit emotional now (inhales and exhales deeply).

MF: There’s my headline – “I made Mel C cry”.

MC: You got me, you got me good. It’s amazing because, when I was on stage with the girls last year, I would have these moments during our encore when we’d sing ‘Mama’.

I’d look out on the audience. We had our gays, but it was predominantly girls of a certain age but there were some kids out there and there were some mums out there, probably some grandmas too. And a few nights I’d see like a young woman and her mum, having a bit of a moment, singing along to ‘Mama’. The other thing I’ve realised with this album is “What a privilege my career is”. I grew up as a kid, with all those insecurities and all that heartbreak and everything you go through in my teenage bedroom. I was playing Madonna and Eurythmics and all these amazing artists. They gave me strength, and they empowered me. They gave me memories. When we look out over an audience and they are getting that from your music, it’s the biggest honour as an artist: to be able to do for other people while other artists have done for me.

MF: It can also work in reverse though, right? Your relationship with Billie Eilish has been well documented, and you have said that you were influenced by what she and FINNEAS have done when writing this album. Do you find yourself inspired by younger artists often?

MC: All the time. It’s bizarre because a lot of the artists and collaborators I was working with were Spice Girls fans. And, you know, even getting to meet someone like Adele, who is obviously a very different artist, or Charli XCX—

MF: Who both may be the world’s biggest Spice Girls fans.

MC: (laughing) Yeah, exactly. It’s so funny because she came to the last show at Wembley and she brought a bunch of mates. We had this bar where our friends and family were hanging out. We finished the show and we went backstage and got ourselves all cleaned up and stuff. We all went into this bar and turns out Adele had everybody ready to start singing!

MF: She’s never off the clock, is she?

MC: She’s just the most fabulous person, and an incredible, incredible vocalist. But yeah, to have those people that were inspired by the Spice Girls now inspiring me. It’s really beautiful.

MF: You mentioned Charli XCX, and obviously she’s someone that’s always being heralded as doing incredibly forward-thinking stuff with pop. I don’t think it’s surprising that she inspires you.

MC: It’s the norm, isn’t it?  I love Charli because she’s so in her own lane. She’s really brave and she just goes out there, she does her thing, completely unapologetically.

MF: Well, her and Billie and Adele and all these artists are so fearless in their craft. But they also face challenges, as women in the industry, that you can surely relate to considering how young you were when you started out. 

MC: With Billie, it was quite strange because I went to see her at Shepherds Bush Empire which is my favourite venue to play in London and it’s only about 2000 capacity. She’d obviously already outgrown it. It was absolutely ram-packed and the audience were predominantly teenage girls. They were bouncing, and they were singing every word. And I just found this mad connection because it just took me back. It’s not that often you see girls screaming for another female. Historically, it’s been Beatlemania or One Direction, you know?

MF: And that was something you had to fight against when the Spice Girls broke out, right? Because it was all boy bands.

MC: Exactly. We were made very aware right at the beginning that our ambitions would be tough because girls wanted boys. Girls bought records by boys. And that’s how the “Girl Power” message was born because we were like “fuck this!” We wanted to do this for the girls. So we went out, we did it, we opened doors.

MF: To say the very least.

MC: I think the thing I felt with the other girls as well, with us on stage last year. We just felt so much pride and gratitude that we’ve been given that opportunity to do that for our fellow women and queer folk.

MF: And that pride really shines through on the album. Especially once you get to the ‘End Of Everything’ where there is this clear theme of embracing the unknown, which is sort of apt for 2020. How are you preparing yourself emotionally for the album’s release, especially since it isn’t going how you would have anticipated it to?

MC: I just can’t wait to fucking get it out there. I just want it out there! ‘End Of Everything’ is completely about that embracing of change, and not being fearful. I think there’s been times in my career where I felt apologetic or embarrassed. I’m not going to do that anymore. And I think working with younger artists has reminded me of being ambitious and being excited and enthusiastic. 

But also, I have had times in my life where I’ve suffered with depression. Sometimes you feel hopeless and you don’t get excited about the future. I really want to hold on to that with both hands, and coronavirus has really fucking wobbled that. It was challenging to just keep at it. Some days are hopeless, you know, but I just try and keep reminding myself. I was so fearful of change I didn’t change management for 18 years when I should have. I didn’t, but when I did it, everything changed, and it brought me new life.

Melanie C is out Friday, 2nd October.

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