Before the Spice Girls graced the stage on their 2019 reunion tour, a mission statement flashed across the stadium’s giant screens: “We welcome all ages, gender identities, sexual orientations, races, countries of origins, religions and beliefs, abilities.”
It was a reaffirmation of the Girl Power principals the group has heralded throughout its career; a pushback against the rising racism that has accompanied Brexit; an embrace of their sizable LGBTQ following, who seemed well-represented in the pit at the final Wembley Stadium show in London earlier this month; and a celebration of their global reach — though the reunion tour only hit stadiums in Ireland and the U.K., devotees of the group flocked from all corners of the planet to slam it to the left and have a good time.
And though it’s easy to be skeptical about the motives of big reunion tours, it was abundantly clear just how much of a ball Scary, Baby, Ginger and Sporty — Posh is sitting this tour out — were having themselves. There’s no shortage of YouTube videos of the pop icons goofing around with one another onstage, and even crying big, happy tears during some of their nostalgia-packed set’s more emotional moments.
“We have had the most incredible time,” Melanie C, aka Sporty Spice, tells Billboard a few days before the last London show. “We were so excited about the show, but we never, never could have prepared ourselves for how incredible it’s been.”
The reunion may be over for now — at least until any new legs, including rumored Australian and U.S. dates, are announced (more on that later) — but Mel is taking the show’s message of inclusion and positivity on the road for a series of solo Pride shows this summer, including a June 30 stop at New York City’s PrideFest. She won’t be entirely alone, however: She’s teaming up with U.K. queer nightlife collective Sink the Pink, and sharing the stage with a squad of drag queens for a set of solo tunes, Spice Girls classics, covers and general fabulousness and frivolity.
“As an artist, sometimes you can take yourself a bit too seriously,” Mel says. “I think when you’re surrounded by these incredible flamboyant drag queens, it’s all a bit of fun. At the end of the day, it’s entertainment.” In other words: When you’re feeling sad and low, she’ll still take you where you gotta go.
Below, Mel C tells Billboard about the origins of her Pride tour, her plans for new music and whether fans have seen the last of the Spice Girls reunion.
Where did the idea for a Pride tour come from?
A couple years ago I did Sink the Pink, which is the most incredible club night here in the U.K. A bunch of people — performers, costume-makers — got together and put on these incredible parties, and it’s just grown and grown. And I think the really special thing about it is that it’s so inclusive. Everybody really goes all-out, everybody looks insane. It’s good fun. When I was first invited to perform, I said, “Oh my gosh, this is going to be so intimidating” — you know, with loads of drag queens and people just looking so incredibly fierce. But when I walked into the rehearsal space, immediately I felt welcome and at home. It’s something that’s really special, and I think it echoed what Pride is all about: acceptance of everyone.
I performed with some of the queens for the first time last summer — they do a festival called Mighty Hoopla here in London — and we just had a ball. The reaction from the crowd was so fabulous, and everyone was talking about it. We wanted to build it, we wanted it to grow. So we just came up with the idea of getting on a Pride stage. I’ve played a few Prides as a solo artist, and I just thought the combination of doing some solo stuff and some Spice Girls stuff with the queens was going to be incredible.
Many pop stars have shared the stage with drag queens and have spoken about how drag artists inspire them — there’s a great history of mutual admiration there. What do you think they bring to your performances?
Well, with the Spice Girls, I’ve been performing with a bunch of drag queens for the last 20 years — but don’t tell them I said that! [Laughs] What’s really fun for me is, obviously being Sporty Spice, I’m not that extravagant when it comes to hair and makeup. I don’t have big hair. I don’t wear lots of glitter. So they totally bring the glamour. I suppose that’s also what we did as the Spice Girls: we all have these different images and these different personalities, and it all complements each other and makes a really good team. We’ve always wanted to inspire people and be positive, and I find drag queens really inspiring: they take on this holy personality when they are fully in drag.
When you interact with LGBTQ fans, what do they tell you about your role in their lives? I imagine Sporty Spice means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
In the ’90s, we didn’t realize [what we meant to people]. We were kids. We were growing up in the public eye, traveling around the world and having a ball, but we didn’t really realize the impact we had on people until probably the last 10 to 15 years. A lot of our fans have grown up. They’ve done quite a bit of living, and they’ve had to face some very difficult challenges. So we meet a lot of fans who talk about finding the courage, whether it’s to come out and talk to their family — something they weren’t able to broach as a child — or whatever their situation is. They often say, “The Spice Girls gave me that courage.” People have even told me, “You girls saved my life.” To hear these things is incredibly humbling. We can’t take credit for that. But if what we did as a band gave people the tiniest bit of the courage to go on and do the really scary thing they had to do for themselves, we just feel so incredibly proud that we were able to do that.
When we meet people, they’re sometimes quite in awe of meeting us and can be quite nervous. I always really want to reach out to people and go, “We’re just the same.” And that’s how I feel about the LGBT community: We’re all the same, fundamentally. We all need to be loved. We all need acceptance. We all need to be free. We all need to be creative and expressive. That’s why we breathe. We’re all kind of crazy — there’s no such thing as normal.
Obviously so much of the Spice Girls tour was about nostalgia and familiarity, but I’m curious about what’s surprised you this time — songs you weren’t expecting to reconnect with, changes in your audience, memories that resurface or exist in a new light.
What surprised me the most is how comfortable we feel. We’re playing stadiums, we’re playing bigger venues than we played in the ’90s. It’s so hard to get your head around it. The word that kind of encapsulates the whole experience to me is joyous. It really has been such a pleasure to get up onstage and sing those songs. Some of these songs haven’t probably got listened to for 20 years, you know? And to just reconnect with those, I’m like, “We’re good! Girls, we’ve got really good songs!” I hadn’t noticed them. They’re songs that are wholesome and positive. It’s reignited the pride that we feel about what we created.
The journey to a Spice Girls reunion has been an interesting one — three years ago, you talked about how the group might have peaked with the 2012 Olympics performance, and that anything “less than the full line-up [wouldn’t] be doing justice to the band or the fans.” What led you to realize that this tour was something you wanted to do?
I can’t believe this journey. There was a time when I was like, “It’s never going to happen. It’s not going to happen again. The things we’ve done have been so incredible. We could never do that again.” But I think it was the amount of people that approached me saying how much they wanted to see the Spice Girls, how much it meant to them, how it affected them in their lives.
And all of us girls, we had this on a daily basis. But we just never seemed to be in the same lane. We have our private lives, we have our children, we have responsibilities, we have careers. And all of a sudden — I suppose like back in the day, when we first started — all the stars just seemed to align, and it started to become big and exciting. It almost feels like it wasn’t really a choice, it was a necessity, you know? Here in the U.K. — and I know in the U.S. as well — it’s tough times politically. It’s been dark here in the U.K. for a few years. We felt like what we do is so much fun. We wanted to bring a bit of light and a bit of escapism, even if it’s for two hours. It just felt like it had to happen. Something switched.
When the tour was announced, some of my colleagues and I discussed what else we’d like to see in a dream Spice Girls reunion: A re-release of Spice World with some special theatrical screenings, a tribute album where young artists influenced by the Spice Girls cover those songs—
Love that idea!
Have you and the girls talked about other ways to keep the Spice Girls magic going beyond just touring?
Yeah, we’d love to. We’re constantly discussing different ways in which we can do that. But I think for us right now, the big thing is we don’t want it to end. We’ve had an incredible run here in the U.K. We’d really like to get further afield. We’ve had so many fans that have visited us from all over the world. People have come from New Zealand, North America, South America, everywhere. I think we’d really like to take it out to the fans that haven’t been able to travel but have supported us all these years. So that would be the immediate thing. But yeah, the legacy is important, and of course, we’d like that to live on. There are things in the pipeline, but it’s all a little bit early days for that. [The day after our interview, The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that a Spice Girls movie is in development at Paramount Animation, whose president, Mireille Soria, told the publication that all five members were “very involved.”]
In Billboard’s recent Billie Eilish cover story, she talked about how meaningful it was to meet you and hear your advice about navigating the industry as a young woman. What young artists are you excited about today that you feel carry on the spirit and the attitude of the Spice Girls?
It has been a really interesting time in music for women. Post-Spice Girls, women seemed to take over. The biggest artists in the world were Beyoncé, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Adele. And what was so amazing about that is how a lot of the young artists today talk about the Spice Girls and how they were influenced by us. So that’s something we feel very proud of.
I’m a huge fan of Billie. I think she’s incredible. I was lucky enough to see her perform here at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, which is a relatively small venue for someone with such a following. Her music is just off the scales. Her voice is beautiful. I love that she doesn’t give a fuck. It was sold out, absolutely packed. There were so many girls in there — it was predominantly a female audience — and they sang every word, sang every ad-lib. You could barely hear Billie, because they were just doing the whole show. And it was so exciting to see a room full of girls going crazy for another girl. Historically, we always think of boy bands and male artists as having all these teenage girls going crazy for them. And I think to see that for another woman was really exciting. She’s definitely tapping into something that young women are feeling.
Another artist I love is MØ. I’ve been lucky enough to perform with her a couple of times, here in London and then in Copenhagen, where she’s from. She was inspired by many things, one of them being the Spice Girls. When I’m inspired by her and inspired by Billie, it’s almost like this thing that has come full circle. I’ve been listening to a lot of new music, and I’m really excited to just take all of these experiences that I’ve had over the years and see where that takes me. It’s been an incredible ride.
Your first solo album, Northern Star, is turning 20 this year. You already have a lot going on with the Spice Girls and your solo shows, but are you thinking of ways to celebrate that milestone?
It’s funny — over the last couple of years, I thought, “Maybe I should do a tour or maybe an acoustic version of the album or something.” But I think what excites me more at the moment is looking to the future. I still love listening to new artists and new genres, and I love how music is sounding right now. My last album [2016’s Version of Me] was a lot more electronic. And it’s funny, because thinking back to Northern Star, it’s quite electronic, too. For me, Northern Star is such a perfect piece of work — you don’t really want to mess with it, you know? So I’m excited about doing some new stuff.
Yeah, I think I’d like to stay in that electronic lane. I’ve really enjoyed doing that. I’d like to go a little bit further. I’d like to work with some new songwriters and producers, as well as some older collaborators. Sometimes as an artist, because you can be quite vulnerable in the studio, you tend to keep going back to the people you know and you feel safe with. I want to break the mold a little bit. There will definitely be some uplifting stuff on there. There will be some more moody moments, but it will definitely be more of an electronic album than some of the albums I’ve made in the past.
Northern Star was such a bold album to put out as your first record — it covered all these different styles and really announced who you were as an artist. What advice do you have for other artists who got their start in a group and are venturing out with solo work?
It’s such a fantastic opportunity if you’re coming out of a band which has had success. You can shape who you want to work with. I was so lucky to start working with writers like Rick Nowels and producers like Rick Rubin and William Orbit. It was just an incredible experience and opportunity, and I learned so much. Coming out of a group environment, we always worked together. It would be the five of us in the studio with other songwriters and producers. Once you’re out on your own, you have this opportunity to really express yourself as an individual.
You don’t need to know who you are right away. I think you can really explore that — and also, it’s going to change. Who you are when you’re 25 isn’t who you are when you’re 45. There’s still this essence of you, but if you never [explore the] change, your work will become boring. It would always be the same. Life keeps chucking stuff at you. That gives you the inspiration to create more work.
So I would just say: Enjoy the ride. Enjoy the journey. And it really is a journey, because you can have this high, especially with your first album after coming out of a successful band. That’s your springboard. I was lucky — this album was a fantastic album. It did really, really well. But you know, there [have] been some lows, and there’s been some of the highs. So you just have to kind of prepare yourself. Nothing stays the same. Just try to take it all in and use it for your work.