How can you help LGBTQ people succeed in the music industry? One easy step: Share your networks and make introductions. So for Pride Month, Billboard is connecting queer artists with some of their musical heroes — who also happen to be major allies to the community — to get career advice.
Here, electro-pop breakout L Devine — who also hosts the podcast L Devine’s Growing Pains and recently dropped her latest track, “Don’t Say It” — gets tips on self-care from Melanie C aka Sporty Spice, who reunited with the Spice Girls for a reunion tour last year and is working on a new studio album featuring the singles “Who I Am” and “Blame It On Me.”
You have been the soundtrack to so many people’s coming of age. So many teenagers benefitted from the messages in your music. But if you could go back and meet your teenage self, what would you say to her?
Our teenage years can be very complicated. It’s a time when you’re trying to figure out who you are and who you really want to be, while experiencing and navigating so many new things. If I could speak to my teenage self, I would say be yourself and try not to be influenced by the people around you too much. I think it’s important to be influenced and inspired in a positive way, but always remember who you are and follow your instincts — then you should never really go too far wrong. Mistakes will happen, but that’s how we learn and grow.
I’ve been making music and working in the industry for around four years now, and even in this short time, the effect I’ve seen the industry have on my own and many other artists’ mental health is undeniable. But I feel somewhat lucky that I’ve grown up in a time when we are far more open to talking about our mental health. How do you think the music industry’s approach to ensuring the mental wellbeing of artists has changed since the beginning of your career? How do you make sure to take care of yourself?
I personally feel very relieved that as a society we are much more open to talking about mental health. But I feel there is quite a long way to go. In my experience in the music industry in the ‘90s, we had zero help. I truly believe that labels and managements have a responsibility to look after the mental health and wellbeing of young artists. They are often thrust into environments they’re not used to, they can be worked very hard, and they can be missing home and a sense of normality — as we all are right now. There’s no way to navigate that.
I don’t know if things have changed in the environment of labels. Each management is probably different. I know some managements that have been around for a long time have never really changed the way they look after — or don’t look after — their artists, and I feel very strongly that this is important. If you are a young artist and are lucky enough to have success, you become precious to lots of other people. Lots of other people start to benefit financially from you going out and working and sometimes being in a very vulnerable position. It’s very short-sighted and inhumane for this not to be taken seriously. Not only should there be a responsibility to take care of young artists, but if they are not taken care of, they could end up not being well enough to work or have any longevity in their career.
You can probably sense this is something I do feel very passionately about. I’ve learned the importance of looking after my own mental and physical health: I try to eat well, exercise, practice mindfulness and have regular therapy. That can be challenging to maintain when you’re on a crazy schedule or on the road, but I try where I can.
The Spice Girls famously championed sisterhood and female empowerment. It was such a refreshing message for young girls in the ‘90s in a world where women in pop music were often sexualized and had their individuality watered down. You all came from different backgrounds and presented unique personalities and looks, which made young girls feel like they could be whoever they want to be. Girl power was always at the heart of the Spice Girls, but how has this message changed over the past 20 years? What does girl power mean to you now?
Girl power for me has continued to evolve since the ‘90s. When we first started out as a band, we wanted to sing, perform, travel and be famous. We didn’t really think about having a message or even realize we may have a voice to use. We encountered sexism in the industry from the very beginning. We were told, “Only boy bands sold records, nobody is interested in girl bands, you will never grace the front cover of magazines.” And that quite quickly made us realize we had a massive point to prove: We had to be the trailblazers for this movement. We all were on a mission — the mission of girl power.
Initially, when we started talking about girl power, we wanted to have equal opportunities as the guys, and we didn’t want to be told there were things we couldn’t do. But then quickly we started to realize that it was wider than that. There is a history in our culture of women being expected to not support each other. Of course this can happen with guys, too — it’s not just a women thing — but it’s a big generalization between women, often, I believe, perpetuated by men. So it was very important for us to stand strong. We are so different as the Spice Girls we were then, and we still are now. We celebrate our differences because we know that’s what makes us strong. So girl power to me now is wonderful. I have seen it in action. I have seen people live with it, be inspired by it when they were kids and grow into formidable forces of nature. Now I see my daughter, who is 11, and she has more girl power than I have in my little finger, and it’s amazing! I just feel collectively we have taken feminism from all of those strong female icons throughout history and have been able to put it to good use, making each other strong.
What are you most proud of in your career?
The thing I am most proud of has to be the legacy of the Spice Girls when we did our stadium tour in 2019. It was so incredible to see the energy from the audiences and how many people had come from all over the world. Every show was absolutely crazy — the atmosphere was insane. It really brought home how many lives we had affected. We get so many beautiful messages on social media and fan letters over the years telling us how we’ve made such a positive impact on people’s lives, and you can never fully take the credit for those things, but if the Spice Girls had any tiny part in making people feel good and confident, then I am very very proud of that. We made pretty good music too!
The LGBTQ+ community makes up such a huge part of the Spice Girls fanbase, and you in particular have always had such a special relationship with the community — you even joined the Sink The Pink collective on a global Pride tour last year. How has the LGBTQ+ community inspired you?
I had the most incredible time last year. A few days after completing the Spice Girls tour at Wembley stadium, I was on my way to São Paulo to perform on a float at São Paulo Pride with my beautiful drag queens from Sink The Pink. Now, the Spice Girls have had such huge support from the LGBTQ+ community from the very beginning of our careers. They have continued to support us, and we have always loved that and felt so honored to have that support. But to work so closely with this community and travel around the world was a real eye-opener for me. It was quite profound how much it did affect me because I knew I was going to have fun, and I knew there were going to be incredible events. But the people I was working with made me find a new level of self-acceptance, which I never expected, and I don’t know why. I think partly it was because I realized the challenges some of these people had to deal with growing up.
We all have challenges growing up, but hearing perspectives from different communities and cultures about the things they had to battle to just be who they are, who they were born to be, really humbled me and made me realize how lucky I am. I feel very grateful to be a proud ally to the LGBTQ+ community.