Melanie C was meant to spend 2020 criss-crossing the globe to promote her joyous, dance-packed, eponymously-titled eighth album. But just as its statement-making first single, Who I Am, became a radio staple, the world shut down. Most artists put their plans on hold. Melanie, as ever, went the other way.
Locked down in London, she (virtually) flung open her front door and invited fans inside. From frequent Q&As to filmed performances to a spectacular DJ set for Scott Mills on Radio 1 which saw her mix Spice Girls classics with Lizzo and Nirvana and sing along to Stormzy, the always down-to-earth artist had never felt more in touch with her fans
“I exposed more of myself and my private life than I ever have in the past,” says Melanie. “Something about the shared situation, of us all in isolation, compelled me to reach out. The result was such a positive exchange of support. I loved being so open and letting people see the real me.”
Melanie finding the positives in a pandemic chimes with the message of her new music. Melanie C is her most life-affirming, attitude-packed album to date. Sonically inspired by spending several months last year touring Pride parades with the LGBTQ+ club collective Sink The Pink, it’s a celebration of self, an album of arms-aloft anthems of self-acceptance, a two fingers up to anyone trying to put you down.
“It’s only after I’ve finished a record that I can step back and see what I’ve written about,” says Melanie. “A lot of these songs are me looking back over my life, both personal and professional. We’re always so busy striving to achieve that we rarely take the time to reflect on what we’ve already done. I don’t just mean celebrating the successes, but also all of the shit we’ve overcome.
“The whole album has a theme of self-acceptance, of saying ‘this is who I am’, take or it or leave it. One of great things about getting older is that you gain the courage to care less. In the past perhaps I haven’t wanted to upset the apple cart. Now I’m up for kicking it over.”
In early summer, scorching second single Blame It On spent a month on Radio 2’s A-list. The station invited Melanie to perform the song remotely with members of the BBC Concert Orchestra and the stunning rearrangement took on a life of its own.
Its follow-up, the newly-released In And Out Of Love, is the album’s most frivolous track, a Donna Summer-meets-Robyn glitterball disco explosion about finding romance on the dancefloor. Its stylish video was shot in the former BBC studio at Alexandra Palace with social distancing.
Writing sessions for Melanie C began at start of 2019. Key to the project was working with a host of young artists, among them Rae Morris, Fryars, Shura and Nadia Rose and emerging dance producers including One Bit and Billen Ted.
“I love working with younger writers and young female artists in particular,” says Melanie. “Their influences growing up were so different to mine and they have a more adventurous approach when it comes to melodies. The energy they bring is incredible. They’ve taught me to hear music differently. I am in awe of all of them.”
The album also features established producers and long-term collaborators including Johnny Lattimer (Ellie Goulding, Rag’n’Bone Man), Future Cut (Little Mix, Lily Allen), Tom Neville (Dua Lipa, Calvin Harris) and Biff Stannard, best known for co-writing the Spice Girls biggest hits.
“It was brilliant being back with Biff,” says Melanie, who last worked with the producer on her 2011 album The Sea. “Not least because he has a beautiful studio in Brighton, right on the water front. He’s like family and the two of us always get up to mischief.”
With the album started, last summer saw a busy break for both the Spice Girls’ blockbuster stadium reunion tour and continent-hopping with Sink The Pink. From hosting a float in Sao Paolo – the first international artist ever invited to do so – and performing in New York’s Times Square for World Pride’s closing party to storming everywhere from Stockholm, Santiago and Amsterdam to Berlin, Dublin and London, the tour proved pivotal to Melanie’s new music.
“Being a Spice Girl again was like a fairy tale,” says Melanie, “but standing on that float in Sao Paolo, with three million people out in the streets, was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. It was one of those highs you hope never to come down from. I definitely took that feeling with me when we returned to writing.”
Another influence on the album is Melanie’s latest sideline as a DJ.
“I’d always fancied giving DJ’ing a go, but thought maybe I’m too old to learn a new skill,” she says. “But having worked with lots of electronic producers on my last album, Version of Me, I decided to go for it. Oh my God, what a revelation.
“From the first lesson I took I absolutely loved it. I’m a nerd, I love tech, so it was perfect for me. I don’t really go clubbing anymore, but as a DJ I get to play the songs I love and I can dance. I’ve played everywhere from clubs and private parties to corporate events and festivals.”
It was after a DJ set at London Fashion Week last year that Melanie met the rapper Nadia Rose, who duets on new song Fearless.
“I was already a huge fan of Nadia’s when she came running after me and dropped to her knees,” says Melanie. “It turns out she adored the Spice Girls as a kid. Those sort of mad moments you have to grab, so I asked if she’d be up for writing together.
“Neither of us knew what we’d end up with, but that’s the fun. I’m not someone who can keep churning out the same sort of songs or ever repeating myself. I need new challenges to stay motivated.”
The album was largely completed by the end of last year and the videos for the first two singles shot in February, before Melanie headed to Australia and the States to promote Who I Am.
“In Australia Tom Hanks got Coronavirus and the world started to get weird,” says Melanie. “I was in L.A. facing lockdown when I managed to make it home.
“For everyone, it’s been such a strange time, but also I hope eye-opening. I’ve learnt a lot about myself and what’s important to me. If ever there’s a time for self-acceptance, it’s now.”
Positivity, as always.