In mid-March, Melanie C was on her way to the U.S. to promote her self-titled eighth album — her first in four years, and her first since the Spice Girls’ blockbuster 2019 reunion tour — when the world turned.
COVID-19 was sending many countries into lockdown, and by the time she arrived in Los Angeles, the singer recalls, “It was like a ghost town.” As she headed back home to London, she wondered if it even made sense to carry on with the release plan. Making Melanie C — a seamless collection of self-acceptance anthems set to bubbly disco and blistering house beats — had lit a creative fire under her. Could she still give the album what it needed to find an audience?
Today, those worries are behind her. “I’m so grateful I’ve got something to focus on, because I think if I didn’t, I would have gone crazy,” she says with a laugh over Zoom in late September. Over the past few months, Sporty Spice, 46, has embraced the new normal of pandemic promo with aplomb, making up for a lack of in-person events with YouTube Q&As, at-home performances and DJ sets, full live-stream concerts and a steady stream of music videos. The novelty of video meetings has worn off for many by now, but the pop icon is still a little wowed by the ease with which she can connect across continents. “It’s a whole world tour in a day,” she says. “I spend the mornings in Australia and the evenings in the U.S.”
It’s not what she expected, but then again, her solo career has always been marked by unexpected twists. Even die-hard Spice Girls fans might be surprised to discover just how diverse her catalog is, from the anything-goes eclecticism of 1999’s Northern Star (which saw her team up with legendary producers like William Orbit and Rick Rubin) to a 2012’s Stages, an album of musical theater covers. Below, Melanie C walks Billboard through new and old favorites — and shares her pitch for a new Spice Girls song.
The Song I’d Tell a New Fan to Start With:
It has to be “Wannabe.” Obviously it was what launched the Spice Girls, which changed my life forever. It enabled me to do the job I love — to keep creating, keep performing, keep traveling. And here I am, eight solo records down the line. So we can’t forget that very precious first single.
The Song I Have to Include in My Setlists or Fans Will Riot:
I always do “I Turn to You” [from Northern Star.] It’s such a great track to do at the end of the night because it’s a banger. No matter the journey you’ve taken people on through the set, once you end with that, everyone goes home happy and sweating. That’s always my intention.
The Song From My New Album That Was the Hardest to Finish:
The first single, “Who I Am” was actually easy to write. Whenever you start working on the album, there’s always a song that gets the ball rolling — the blueprint, the benchmark. What was difficult was the video. The song is about being comfortable in my own skin, and the video was set in this museum of Melanie C. It was all these different eras of my career in different mediums. Putting on that blonde wig for the Northern Star era was traumatic — I was half crying, half laughing, facing some moments in my life that had been quite hard. But when I watched the video and released it into the world, it was almost like I’d made peace with it. It was all part of the journey that I’ve been on creating this album.
The Deep Cut That’s Become a Surprise Fan Favorite:
“Home,” from my second solo record, Reason. I wrote it with David Arnold, a magnificent songwriter-composer who’s done many Bond soundtracks. The original production that David did was very Bond-esque and quite orchestral and cinematic. But on the album, it was produced by a guy called Damian LeGassick [to better fit] with the rest of the songs. For some reason the fans just love it. I got so many messages about it. They’d be shouting it to me all through the set.
It’s interesting that you mention Bond themes, because when I was listening to the new album, I thought “Nowhere to Run” had a subtle Bond vibe to it.
I actually think Bond would be a great way to bring the Spice Girls out of retirement to record something new. It’s an opportunity we’ve never had, and I think it would be pretty good.
The Song That Best Showcases Me As a Vocalist:
“Let Love Lead the Way,” which is on Forever, the third Spice Girls album. Going back to the Spice Girls songs last year [on tour], whoo, that was hard — my voice was high when I was younger! I was like, “Why do I sing all the hard bits! What’s going on!” My voice has changed a lot over the years and become richer with the lower end of my range, but I think people know me for the screechy ad-libs. [Laughs.] On Forever, we worked with Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, and his vocal arranger at the time, LaShawn Daniels [who passed away in 2019], really pushed us all in the vocal booth. That was super challenging, but I loved singing that.
The Collaboration I Can’t Believe I’m a Part of:
“Never Be the Same Again” with Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. I feel so lucky having had the chance to work with her [on Northern Star before her death in 2002]. It’s such a big song for me — it was my first solo U.K. No. 1. And being a little Spice Girl, before we were unleashed onto the world, we really looked up to TLC. They were an incredible girl band. So to have that collaboration was really special.
The Song on My New Album That Feels Closest to a Spice Girls Song:
Ooh. [Pauses to think.] I don’t know! What do you think?
“Fearless,” which features British rapper Nadia Rose. It feels like it could fit into the back half of the group’s first album.
Really?! You know what’s funny? I got a message from Emma [Bunton a.k.a. Baby Spice], and she loves it. She hadn’t heard [the album] yet because I haven’t seen her in a little while, and she commented on that one. And I thought, of course Emma likes that. It’s very much Emma’s vibe. I call it “expensive” — it’s very luxurious sounding.
And working with Nadia — the Spice Girls raps were very unique, let’s be honest. [Laughs.] She’s super talented. I just love the real cheeky element she’s got. There’s a bit of humor there. The grime scene in the U.K. is huge and so male-dominated, so it’s really good to see these amazing women coming through.
The New Song I’m Most Excited to Play Live:
I think I’m surprising myself here: “End of Everything.” It’s probably the most traditionally crafted song on the record. I wrote it with Sacha Skarbeck. The record is so dance-y, a lot of the songs started with beats and tracks. But this was the two of us in the studio — just vocals and keys, chords and melodies. On the album it’s produced by Future Cut and has a more electronic feel, but I’m excited to experiment with it because it’s quite epic. I can’t wait to play it acoustically.
The Song That Best Showcases Me as a Lyricist:
I’m going to go back to Reason again with the title track. It’s about my meeting my little girl’s dad. Inspiration is so weird, I often don’t feel responsible for the work that I’ve done. You look back and go: How did I do that? It’s almost like — not to sound like a twat — you’re a vessel, this conduit, and whatever it is just comes through you. I’ve always enjoyed expressing things that are very personal and very raw, and sometimes you know when you’ve done it, like, ooh, yeah, I really got it across. That’s a song I feel very proud of. I wrote it with Peter-John Vettese, who’s this incredible songwriter and virtuoso pianist — some of his biggest hits were with Annie Lennox, like “Walking on Broken Glass” and “Why.” He draws the brilliance out of you.
The Old Song I’ve Recently Reconnected With:
Over lockdown I did a Northern Star tweet-along with fans. It was the first time I’d listened to the album in such a long time. It was such a special record: It was my first moment of freedom and expressing myself as an individual, and I spent most of my time writing and recording in L.A with people I really looked up to, like Rick Nowels, Billy Steinberg, William Orbit. Before lockdown, I met up with Rick — he was in London and invited me to perform at his show — and we listened to “Closer,” which was an album track we worked on together. The production on the album is so beautiful. Obviously budgets then were quite different, but I had so much freedom with these big long outros and loads of ad-libs and ethereal vocals. It just blew me away.
The Song That Gets a Totally Different Reception Overseas:
With my last record, Version of Me, I went to Brazil to do a little promo trip. We were doing this fan event, and they all just started screaming for “Room For Love.” The record had just come out, and it wasn’t a single at the time, but there was this massive build of everyone wanting it. I had two musicians with me, and we hadn’t even rehearsed it. We just winged it. It’s quite strange — usually the same songs will hit everywhere, but you have really interesting situations like that. When Version of Me was out, I went and did a show in Mexico, which I hadn’t been to since the Spice Girls days, and they were singing every word — more than they would in the U.K.!