Never be the same again

Melanie C is back with a new album. Photo: Conor Clinch/supplied.

Melanie C speaks to the Sentinel about the Spice Girls, new solo music and Sydney. Oh, and toilet rolls. Interview by Peter Hackney. 

She may have been part of an international pop franchise – with its records, tours, merchandise and movie – but Melanie Jayne Chisholm was always a more serious artist than her bubblegum pop pedigree might suggest. 

The Spice Girls, once dubbed by Rolling Stone magazine “the most widely recognised group of individuals since John, Paul, George and Ringo”, were certainly a very big deal – but more than any of her Spice Girls sisters, Chisholm has parlayed that success into a credible music career.

By most accounts the best singer of the ’90s supergroup, she’s co-written 11 UK #1 singles (more than any other female artist); straddled pop, rock, indie and dance music; won rave reviews for her forays into musical theatre; and released eight solo studio albums and 43 singles, including the worldwide hits Never Be The Same Again and I Turn To You.

Despite her achievements, there are no airs and graces about the artist formerly known as Sporty Spice. When she speaks to the Sentinel from her London home, there’s no minion connecting your call: Chisholm, having a cup of tea in her kitchen, phones you herself.

Within minutes, she’s reminiscing about Australia (she last visited in March, just before our borders closed) and we’re joking about the Great Australian Toilet Paper Crisis of 2020. 

“Don’t worry, it happened here too,” she laughs. “I went from one toilet roll crisis in Australia to another in the UK.”

Chisholm was here to promote Who I Am, the lead single from her eponymous new album. 

Amidst catchy hooks and shimmering synths, the song references the armour she needed to survive superstardom, and the way she shed it to become, well, who she is. 

The official music video for Who I Am. Video: Melanie C/YouTube.

“I was lost in the ruins of who I thought I should be,” she sings.

“They don’t recognise when I’m being honest/ ‘Cause I wasn’t before.”

The song – and the music video, set in a museum containing artworks of her previous incarnations – has the feel of a mission statement, proclaiming: “I’ve got nothing left to hide/ I’m comfortable with what’s inside.”

And then came Covid

But Chisholm’s line in the sand, powerful though it was, was quickly buried by the rising tide of a global public health emergency. The early, panicky days of Covid-19 wasn’t the ideal time to release new music, let alone promote it.

“When I left you guys in Australia, I went to LA. And then, of course, I got to LA and everything shut down and I had to come home,” she tells the Sentinel.

“So, I just felt, ‘Oh gosh, should we hold off on the album? What are we going to do?’

“Then we decided, ‘You know what? It’s a time where everybody’s at home. Everybody needs entertaining. Let’s do it!’”

Three more singles followed, and the album itself was released this month. 

Melanie C’s current single Fearless, featuring Nadia Rose. Video: Melanie C/YouTube.

Grown-up girl power

Pointedly titled Melanie C, the declarative body of work is unabashedly pop-dance – but notably explorative for the genre, layered with themes of personal freedom and growth.

It’s deeper than the pop fluff of the Spice Girls, although it shares some of their empowerment mien. A grown-up kind of ‘girl power’, if you will.

The Melanie C album cover. Photo: supplied.

Speaking of which, Chisholm says the last few years have seen her finally make peace with her alter ego, Sporty Spice. 

“I felt very frustrated in the past,” she explains. “At the beginning of my solo career, I wanted to be recognised as more than Sporty Spice, you know?’ There was a time when not everybody was so positive about the Spice Girls. It was a throwaway pop band – I wanted to be taken seriously.

“But as time’s gone on, I realise that I love Sporty Spice! She’s a brilliant part of who I am, and even if I’m on stage now, I am that person. I’m not two different people. 

“In 2020, I’m fully embracing all those things.” 

She sure is. So much so that the Spice Girls are once again a going concern.

Sugar & spice

Last year, Chisholm and bandmates Emma Bunton (Baby Spice), Geri Halliwell (Ginger Spice) and Melanie B (Scary Spice) took the Spice Girls on the road again for a mammoth tour of Britain and Ireland. (Victoria Beckham, AKA Posh Spice, was apparently busy washing her hair.)

The Spice World – 2019 Tour proved the group hadn’t run out of girl power, playing to 700,000 people in stadiums and arenas across the two countries.

Chisholm jumps in before I ask the obvious question.

“I have to say to all our Australian fans, thank you for your patience and I apologise that the Spice Girls still haven’t bloody made it!”

Because, while individual Spice Girls have worked and even lived here over the years –  and while they made it Down Under as a group for a whirlwind promo tour in 1998 – the tally of local Spice Girls concerts remains zero. 

The Spice Girls in Sydney during their 1998 promotional tour. Video: ShitfoundonVHS/YouTube.

“I really hope we can tour Australia,” Chisholm continues. “I would be there in a heartbeat. But just for us to agree on a timescale, it’s really hard. You have got four to five people with kids, with families, with careers and big personalities.

“To be honest with you, it’s a fucking miracle that we managed to do those shows in the UK last year.

“What I can promise is that I will keep plugging away and doing my best to get everybody out there.”

Down Under dreaming

Chisholm says she thinks of Australia as  “a second home”, having made “so many memories” Down Under.

She loves Sydney – which she describes as “a subtropical London” with “great energy” – and waxes lyrical about previous solo promotional tours and concerts here, as well as her role as Mary Magdalene in the 2013 Jesus Christ Superstar Arena Spectacular tour of Australia.

Chisholm as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar. Video: The Shows Must Go On!/YouTube.

“That was wonderful because we toured the country, I got to see parts of Australia I’d never seen before. We did all our production rehearsals in Perth – and I got to hang out in Adelaide and Brisvegas,” she says, referring to Brisbane in the local vernacular.

It strikes me, not for the first time (I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing her several times before) that Chisholm is one of the most grounded celebrities around. 

Telling her as much elicits a laugh and a characteristically down-to-earth response.

“You know, I’m from a working class area in the north of England and nobody’s anybody there, do you know what I mean? You are who you are and if you think you’re above anyone else, it won’t wash.

“I’m very privileged to have a job I love. It’s not the most important job in the world, but if I can entertain people or make them think or make them dance or make them happy – then I’m very happy to be doing it.” 

The album Melanie C is out now,. Visit www.melaniec.net for more info, as well as the Melanie C store, featuring music, clothing and accessories. 

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