“You know what I love right now?” Melanie Chisholm coos to me through the phone, “athleisure wear and sporty chic. It’s so hot, isn’t it? So I’m loving that. I’m loving that I can wear track pants now and be considered cool.” But for Chisholm, better known as Mel C or Sporty Spice, track pants never really went out of style. After all, if there's anyone who has always made them look cool, it’s her. But almost two decades after the Spice Girls first rose to fame, becoming the best-selling female group of all time while shouting about “girl power," Chisholm is still in the game.
Version of Me, Chisholm’s seventh studio album, wrestles with identity, the struggle of living with raw honesty, and the constant journey into discovering who you are. Chisholm says:
This album is me taking responsibility for myself and my actions, my fears and vulnerability, and sharing that with people. It’s an album that I’ve always really wanted to make, but didn’t have the courage—either stylistically or emotionally—to accomplish. I’ve delved into topics and subjects that I’ve never really had the courage to talk about before.
This album was the culmination of risks, trusting her own instincts, and, more than anything, putting her own faith and trust into herself. “This time I thought, You know what? I have nothing to lose. I’m just gonna go for it.”
With high risk comes high reward: Version of Me has been Chisholm’s most successful record in a decade, solidifying her as one of Britain’s true icons. With upbeat, dancey numbers like “Escalator” and “Numb” alongside slower yet powerful numbers like “Loving You Better,” it's clear that Chisholm is not afraid to explore the many versions of herself. Whether it’s through entering motherhood or bringing out her more feminine side, this album is an ode to Chisholm in her many facets:
My little girl [Scarlett] is seven, and [having her] was a huge change; it changed me in ways I never expected. I feel more confident, and I feel as well that I’m so responsible for this little girl as she grows and her self-esteem. It’s made me make better life choices for myself because I feel like I need to lead by example.
Perhaps the greatest example she could have given Scarlett is the Spice Girls' legendary “Girl Power.” The pop group's approachable feminism was infectious, and for many young people at the time, myself included, a primary introduction to feminism. Whether the group was shouting that “all you need is positivity” to “spice up your life,” or “if you wanna be my lover, you have got to give,” the Spice Girls were always been big advocates of equality and empowerment. For Chisholm, this is one of the most important takeaways from this era, this mainstreaming of feminism; by screaming “GIRL POWER,” the Spice Girls were speaking directly to girls about their own power:
What was so wonderful was everything we did with the Spice Girls was so organic and evolved. When we first got together, it wasn’t part of our ethos to talk about girl power, but because we were in a very male-dominated industry here in the U.K., we were making records, and we were being told that girl bands don’t sell records. We were told by magazine editors that having girl bands on the front cover of magazines didn’t sell magazines, and we were like, "Get lost! Fuck that we’re not having this!" It was really through our experiences that we started to shout about this, and we were like, 'We’re doing this for the girls. We are girls for girls, we will prove you wrong." And we did that! But not only that, we had a huge gay and lesbian following as well. It wasn’t just about girls, it became just about empowerment and individuality.
This sort of feminism has come to transcend the Spice Girls-era, infecting millennial youth culture through intersectional and inclusive communities that empower the individual.
The legend of the Spice Girls can also be seen through artists like Lady Gaga and her Little Monsters. As Chisholm points out, “Nobody’s normal, we’re all weird! If you’re not weird, there’s something wrong with you.” This sort of ease in her own individuality and skin has been a constant for Chisholm as she’s worked on her latest release. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin, and probably become a bit more feminine as well. You know I’m still super athletic, I love to work out. I actually did three triathlons last year, so I’m kind of sportier than I ever was, but along with that I do feel more feminine," she says.
And although there may have been a time when she was scared of fashion, nowadays she’s more adventurous than ever. “I’ll wear a skirt and get my legs out, and it’s really fun! I started wearing heels about 10 years ago, so I think you just have to have fun with fashion and I’ve really enjoyed learning about designers—there are so many great designers out there,” she says, going on to name Isabel Marant, Alexander Wang, and Yves Saint Laurent as favorites. “Really rock and roll but really wearable as well!” she emphasizes.
But not to worry, she is after all still Sporty Spice, this time just a bit more sophisticated and refined. But that doesn’t mean she’s lost the fire from the Spice World days. And although she says that ballads like “2 Become 1” and “Too Much” have a special place in her heart, “Spice Up Your Life” is now her favorite:
When we did the Olympics here in 2012, we did a couple songs; we did "Wannabe," and then went into "Spice Up Your Life." That was such an incredible night. When we came out in the '90s, we didn’t have social media. We had incredible fans wherever we traveled in the world, but being at the Olympics on that day, we could see internationally how people were getting really excited about our appearance. You could just feel the love, and it was amazing. We went out and played to about a billion people across the world, and "Spice Up Your Life" will now always be one of my favorite Spice Girls songs because I’ve got such a great memory attached to it.”
I do know. As a '90s child, the Spice Girls were my first introduction to being myself and owning my own girl power. Even if I didn’t identify as a feminist back then, I already had the fire in me. Whether I was dancing around with my Sporty Spice Barbie or singing along to Spice with the windows down, the Spice Girls have always been my heroes.
Chisholm hopes to cross the pond for some solo performances in the U.S., and she also hopes to delve more into the sporty part of her spice. “I’m so excited about how people are really investing their time and energy into health and fitness, and it’s something that’s always been such a big part of my life. I’d love to work more in that area too.” When asked if that meant a collaboration on her very own tracksuit, Chisholm says, “I think so, that would be cool, wouldn’t it? I am the original Sporty Spice.” That she is.
Chisholm's album Version of Me is out now.