Melanie C is in her basement in London. It’s her “nice little private space” with wooden walls and a homey feeling usually reserved for home studios – which she plans to turn this space into soon.
Any fair-weather Spice Girls fan may be surprised that Mel C just released her eighth solo album today. But those who can recall her hitting all the high notes on the group’s singles and easing through melodies will know she was always destined for a lengthy solo career.
As Sporty, Mel C was the one that backflipped across the stage, promoted health and fitness, and was each little girl’s favourite. After 22 years as a solo artist (who could forget her debut collaboration with Bryan Adams on “When You’re Gone”) Mel C has sold 20 million records, has three UK number one singles, and has never taken a hiatus.
Mel C’s latest opus, Melanie C, unpacks trauma, celebrates coming out the other side, and acts as an unapologetic ‘fuck you’ to those who doubted her earned place in the mainstream.
To discuss the release of what’s been labeled her best solo record to date, Mel C spoke to Rolling Stone for a lengthy discussion about her new girl power mission, the painful experiences that she turned into singles, and making a record that equally tips its hat to EDM and pop.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
You seem to have adjusted to lockdown life during COVID really well. You’re making lots of content, and really inviting fans into your home. How are you managing?
I find it really challenging. I mean it’s changed everything. At this point in my work I would be travelling and promoting, and doing shows. And I can’t do any of that, so I just have to try and be creative on how we were going to promote this record and, and stay sane you know.
Thank goodness for technology and social media platforms. And having this ability to stay connected to people, I’ve almost found it quite comforting. I’ve found support by being able to do bits with fans, and to do the DJ sets and some livestreams and different things. It’s helped me have a focus. Because everything else going on’s a bit crazy, isn’t it?
You were in Australia when COVID really started to hit right?
My last experience of normality was in Australia. I was there for ten days at the end of February to the beginning of March. I did the Big Gay Day in Brisbane and I had lots of promo. Everything went like clockwork. It was a really lovely trip.
My very last interview in Sydney was cancelled because somebody from the radio station had been diagnosed with COVID. And Tom Hanks had been diagnosed. It was just all starting to get weird. By the time I got to LA, everything was shut down. Everything was cancelled. Then I just had to go home, back to London.
Let’s talk about the album, it’s very deep. Did you start off knowing you were going to make a record this deep?’
[Thinking] way back to my first album Northern Star, I’ve always been very honest with whatever’s going on in my life at that time. I think last year was such a big year for me. Obviously getting back on stage with the Spice Girls and having that experience, and just being able to reflect on my career and my personal life, and just finding myself at a time when I feel so much appreciation for everything that I’ve done. I just started to feel this new level of self-acceptance and feel much more comfortable in my own skin.
[…] So on this album it’s just been wonderful because I wanted to make a pop, dance record. I wanted to make people move. But also wanted them to be able to sit down and listen to it. I’m just really pleased because I feel like I’ve got that combination. I’m really happy with it.
“Here I am” is really powerful. It has a line that says, ‘They said I was too old, that all of the embers had turned cold.’ It made me think of how the industry machine tries to age women out of music. Is that about the erasure of women in pop over 30?
Yeah. I think that there is a lot of prejudice against mature women in music. I think there is room for everybody. I am so fortunate I have an incredible fanbase as a solo artist, as a Spice Girl. You know the stadium shows last year proved that. And you know, there are people out there that want to listen to your music, that want to follow your career. But the problem that I have is more in radio.
I do lots of TV. I do lots of regular interviews. But I find that here in the UK it’s very difficult to get played on certain networks. And you’re right, it’s about women. Okay there’s a little bit of ageism with the guys too; but they tend to be able to navigate it much easier than women. I think it’s the same in all areas of entertainment.
[…] I’ve had moments in my career when I’ve thought, ‘am I too old? Have I had my time? Is it time for me to move over, to let young people have their opportunity?’ But I think there is opportunity for all. And I think especially because of how we consume music now, that there is so much great stuff out there that is accessible to us.
It’s kind of my new mission. Of course, being a Spice Girl we talk about girl power. I’m talking about mature female power now. We need to make sure that women are heard. Because we do have something different to offer. We have different life experience it’s all important.
You suffered from depression around 20 years ago, with this record being such a bare-all statement, does that come up in your writing at all?
This album is really a reflection on everything from day one. From the Spice Girls I was starting to build the armour – which is one of the lyrics in “Who I Am” – really up to delving quite deep into some of the really difficult times that I’ve had.
“Nowhere to Run” was inspired by experiences of panic attacks. I think sadly, lots of people have experienced those things. It’s something I’ve never explored before, within a song you know. So, yeah absolutely. It’s kind of the journey, how difficult it can be. And then the light at the end of the tunnel, the celebration beyond that where you really can accept all of those aspects of yourself. That’s really what I wanted to get across on this album.
Speaking of “Nowhere to Run”; there’s this lyric – ‘I’m so fucking careful’. It hit home because I think as women we’re expected to be and act a certain way. Where did that come from?
Absolutely, and I think that’s kind of what threw me off in my younger years. It was all of this you know, external, as well as internal pressure. Just the expectations you have of yourself, that people have of you. I think that can be very confusing when you’re growing up.
It’s been over a year since the Spice World Tour How do you feel about that experience when you think back now?
It still feels, it’s kind of like surreal. Like it didn’t really happen. The audiences were amazing. We felt like we were playing to audiences that were more excited than they were in the nineties. And I feel like there’s this whole nostalgia thing.
The audiences were predominantly females, around their 30s, early 30s, and late 20s. And we’d just seen all these amazing kids grow up and become Spice Girls, you know? They were just so up for having a good time and like super sassy and super fun. It was so special.
I think it was really a big part in making this album what it is. Because it just made me feel really proud of everything that we achieved and the legacy that we’ve left behind.
Have you played the album to any of the Spice Girls?
Do you know, I haven’t. I mean, I saw them a few weeks back and they’ve heard things and we’re all so supportive of each other. Doing different things. Hopefully they’ll like it.
What does your daughter think of it?
She loves it. She said she loves it and the videos as well. We’ve been really trying to make some great content. Because you know, everything is so visual isn’t it now and everything’s online. So we made some great videos and she’s like, “Mum, it’s like chart music”.