Sporty Spice talks about her music highs and lows and explains how the Spice Girls opened doors for Beyoncé…
If ever there was a musician to give an inspirational insight into what life was like as a young female in the music industry from the 90s to present day then Melanie Chisholm (AKA Mel ‘Sporty Spice’ C) is the one.
Speaking at the AIM Women In Music event at London’s City Hall last week, Mel, 44, took us on a journey of what life was like as a Spice Girl, selling 85 million records worldwide, to the aftermath of Geri quitting, and why Mel going solo helped her prove there was more to her than just a ‘sporty’ persona.
As it turns out, her debut album Northern Star became the best-selling album of any Spice Girl and, 22 years on from Wannabe’s release, Mel is still as ‘girl power’ as ever. ‘I’m sick of seeing everybody’s bum,’ she says, discussing the sexualisation of current female musicians. ‘I’m over it. Seriously, nothing is shocking any more.’ Let’s find out what else makes her tick…
Hey Mel, did you have any idea what joining the Spice Girls would entail?
Absolutely not. It was a bit of a fantasy, and when you have fantasies you don’t think of the downside, so it was a bit of an eye opener when it all came true. It’s fantastic and we’ve had an incredible life with no regret, but there’s more to it.
What was it like to be in the middle of the mania?
It was amazing. One of the incredible things about the Spice Girls is that it was a really short period of time but it had such an impact. Even now, there isn’t a day that goes by where one of us isn’t written about, and that’s insane when you think of other bands that achieved similar things. Even though it was the craziest time, and changed my life forever, it was kind of minute really.
Did you have any sense of how successful the band was?
It all became a little surreal when Wannabe was released. We were No1 for seven weeks. That’s when it all got a bit crazy.
At what point did you realise you’d made it?
Switching on the Oxford Street [Christmas] lights in 1996 and thousands of people were starting to line the streets. Also our success in America – that was quite unusual, and still is, for British bands.
Why do you think the Spice Girls connected with fans?
It was the individuality. So many young people were trying to find their place in the world and we were a bit ramshackle. There was one dressed nicely, a tomboy, and a little cutesy one, so there was something for everyone to identify with. I speak to a lot of the LBGT community who say it’s given them the strength to come out, so it’s incredible stuff and we didn’t even realise we were doing it – a bit of an accident but what a fantastic one!
Where did the Girl Power message come from?
It wasn’t something we ever intended. We just wanted to sing, be famous and travel the world, but we quickly started facing sexism. We were told girl bands didn’t sell, and that gave us a bee in our bonnet!
Is that sexism still there now?
Things have improved. We made lots of people lots of money and that’s a funny old thing for changing people’s minds. The wonderful thing we’ve seen in the last decade is the majority of the biggest artists in the world are now women. Beyoncé, Adele, Katy Perry, the list is endless. Women are dominating and I like to think the success of the Spice Girls opened doors for that to happen.
Do you think the Spice Girls got enough credit at the time?
I don’t think we did. We got a bit of stick – it wasn’t cool to like the Spice Girls. We didn’t really get played on the radio, but that’s changed since.
What was it like to come out of the Spice Girls ‘bubble’?
Your life is turned upside down – people treat you differently. You can’t get the bus or tube! It’s a lot to accept and you’re exhausted. When the crescendo comes down, though, you have to find who you are again and that was very difficult for me. When I went to the studio to work on my solo album, there were still four of us – the ginger one had done one but the rest of us were still together. Having that freedom, personally and creatively, I was a bit like, ‘I’m over that Spice Girls thing,’ so it was the kiss of death for me.
So, were you relieved when it all ended?
It was a bit messy. I felt once Geri had left, it was unravelling a little bit and the Spice Girls is like a jigsaw puzzle – with one of the pieces missing it’s not complete. Geri was a huge part of the band – maybe not singing-wise (don’t tell her I said that!) – but we all had a role to play and we all had equal importance because we all brought something different. It’s very rare, but if you get all five of us together there’s this little spark and it’s magical.
Were you deliberately trying to get away from the Spice Girls with your solo music?
Yeah, 100 per cent. I was quite angry and wanted to rebel…
Was your music label supportive?
As long as you’re selling records the label is happy! The album came together easily – it cost lots of money but there was loads around at the time. It’s different these days – looking back, I feel sick! I was unlucky with my second album, it wasn’t as strong as the first. It was quite a fall from grace. I set up my own label and self-financed and I still do. Fool.
Why did you take time out from music to do theatre and TV work?
I released an album called The Sea in 2011 but it did sh*t and I was gutted. I needed to step back, and other opportunities came along. It wasn’t my intention to be away from music that long. Last year, I had a whole year of touring and was bitten by the bug again. Now I want to stay performing because you get rusty if not.
You’re back in music. What about musical theatre?
I’m not ruling it out – who knows! And a Spice Girls reunion? Who knows! It’s not on the cards. All my energy is going into music right now. I want to find more women to work with.
Is the demand for a Spice Girl reunion difficult to live with?
Nah. It’s nice so many people would like to see it. Personally, I think leave it where it is. We’re never going to beat our Olympics performance and we’re not getting any younger!
Would you say that the rise in female pop stars’ runs has made it normal to sexualise women?
It’s always been prevalent in music but now it feels like it’s out of control. My little girl [Scarlet] is nine and she loves pop music, she sings all the lyrics – she doesn’t know what they mean, thank God, but I can’t let her watch the videos, as they’re totally inappropriate. There should be some regulations.
Did you ever feel exploited in the Spice Girls?
I was in a trackie, so I was alright, and people were petrified of us so it was rare for someone to put pressure on us to do anything. Some footage came up recently of us shooting down some guy because he said, ‘Put your shirt down and roll your skirt up’ or something, and Mel B gave it with both hands. There was so much you accepted [back then]. Thank God now we’re standing up, going, ‘No we’re not having it!’
You’ve encountered sexism, but are you expecting ageism?
I already have experienced it in my career. It’s hard getting older but I really hope to still be making records at 82.
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