Sporty Spice's Brass Ring
Photo by Rankin"JUST BECAUSE YOU'RE A SPICE GIRL, you can't have everything," claims Melanie C., formerly Melanie Jayne Chisholm, a.k.a. Sporty Spice. It's a claim most would view with incredulity, particularly when coming from a 25-year-old millionaire whose bubble-gum band has weathered scathing tabloid trashings and a member's departure while transcending all predecessors' success, who's traveled across the globe, and whose maiden solo effort, Northern Star, has brought her generous press support, an even broader fan base (adults without kids, hardcore lesbians, rockers) and the opportunity to work with production deities Rick Rubin and William Orbit. So what exactly can't she have, then?
"Oooh," she puzzles. "I was very lucky making the album. Everyone was quite excited to work with me, so I didn't get any turndowns. Hmm. Gosh. I can't really think."
Melanie tries, though. And tries. And tries. But before Jesus' second coming, a proud outburst: "I know! Adidas have got these new sneakers, right, they're silver with blue stripes and have a little thing with how many calories you burnt, like a little clock on the front. So I got my assistant to ring Adidas and say, 'Can Melanie have them?' They said, 'Yes, we'll send some out in December.' They weren't out until December! So that was a bit of a letdown. The Spice Girls can't have everything."
Northern Star has been hailed as an unexpected slice o' indie rock. But it's not. Well, not really, not in the Lida Husik or Sleater-Kinney sense. See, some of Melanie's songs could well have been lifted from the Spice songbook ("Suddenly Monday," "If That Were Me"), while others echo Garbage ("Ga Ga"), Madonna ("Go") and Hole ("Goin' Down"). Only when held against her posse's solo efforts does Melanie's indeed garner comparatively "indie" status. To wit: "Scary" Melanie B. eased down R&B's madly mainstream avenue, collaborating with Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott on 1998's No. 1 single "I Want You Back." "Ginger" Geri Halliwell reunited with Spice co-writers Richard Stannard and Matt Rowe for her critical disappointment Schizophonic. "Baby" Emma Bunton covered Edie Brickell's accessibly quirky hit "What I Am" for her recent Tin Tin Out produced debut single. And "Posh" Victoria Beckham, well, she's still working on it, and who ever paid mind to her singing, anyway?
No matter. Melanie places little import on the Rock Spice, Punk Spice or Indie Spice designations. "They're quite cool," she laughs, "but I never necessarily tried to have an image. It's just how other people see you. A lot of people presumed I was gonna do a rock album, and I do love rock music, but I'm inspired by a lot of different styles and wanted to incorporate that on my album."
Chisholm was born in January 1974, and grew up in Widnes, Cheshire. When she was 3, her parents splintered off -- divorcing, remarrying and spawning with their respective new spouses -- pushing poor Melanie to the periphery. In response, Melanie found solace in performance, wishing upon a star she'd become one -- and, perhaps, capture attentions unjustly deprived?
"I think so," she acknowledges. "I'm very ambitious, hard-working and determined. Very true to my star sign. But I think what happened to me when I was younger really enforced that."
Or maybe it was Mum. Once a professional singer, "she made the decision to have a family," explains Melanie. "I think it was quite different in the '60s -- it wasn't as easy to have both a family and a career in the music industry. But she's very happy with her situation and the way things worked out. She's very proud of me."
BY THE LATE '90s, THE SPICE GIRLS had conquered the world. But that wasn't Melanie's dream. It's this, the veritably good Northern Star and all it entails: solo status, solo achievement, public recognition as a bona fide songwriting and performing talent -- which Melanie C. is. "I'm doing something I want to do for the rest of my life, really," she nods. "I'm starting the future." That may be, but the Spice Girls ain't done yet, as their Virgin contract stipulates five records, and they've released only two. When asked about the recent recording of No. 3, Melanie launches into a safe, spinny promo diatribe. "It went really well, I'm really excited about this new album . . ." But it's obvious there's something else this Spice Girl can't have, not until a good while after those Adidas arrive.
Liberation. To just be Melanie C., formerly Melanie Chisholm. Not a.k.a. Sporty, Indie, Rock, Punk, Country, Industrial, Emocore or Standards Spice. That's her brass ring, and the Spice Girls was the fortuitous carousel horse Melanie rode to seize it. Of course, she's still riding it, and likely has to. But such is the price of having almost everything.
"I'd like to do a second album," she says, pocketing the shimmering brass ring and prepping to zig-a-zig-ah once again. "I just want to make lovely music and take it out on the road."
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