Originally written and published by me for PopMatters.
As far as eponymously titled studio albums go, we usually tend to see them emerge within the first few records of an artist’s discography. It’s rare to see one be released as their eighth studio album, but for Melanie C (formerly Sporty Spice), it somehow makes sense. Her last few releases were subject to mixed reviews, especially as her mid-2000s pop rock swagger started to get lost in time. But on Melanie C, her best work in years and certainly her most honest, Mel is finally ready to accept the inevitable: who has the time to be someone they’re not?
Melanie C immediately sets the stage for a record of unabashed honesty. “I was lost in the ruins of who I thought I should be,” she sings on “Who I Am,” the lead single and album opener. “They don’t recognize when I’m being honest / ‘Cause I wasn’t before.” In addition to openly embracing her unapologetic self and finding strength in weakness, the album also finds Melanie C addressing some rather heavy personal struggles, such as depression and an eating disorder. “Unlocking the door / To truths that I’ve been hiding,” she sings on “Overload,” an aptly titled ode to the countless things us humans feel compelled to conceal. “If I said what I thought / You’d realize why I’m still smiling.”
For the singer, the songwriting process for Melanie C was her way of finally working through these issues, which had been mounting since her days as a Spice Girl. “The lows of being famous were devastatingly hard,” she told The Guardian. “I was vulnerable, and the tabloids were cruel and heartless. It pushed me to the point of illness. I was struggling with an eating disorder and suffering from depression. I had everything I’d ever dreamed of, and was desperately unhappy. It’s often forgotten that people in the public eye are human.”
It was learning how to love and accept that very concept—that public figures are still humans—that leads to the album’s warmest and most welcoming tracks. On “Escape,” she learns how to release ugly feelings: “Don’t hold your breath, gotta let it go / Dive deeper in, into the unknown / If you don’t try then you’ll never know / So take a breath, just take a breath / And let it all go.” On “Nowhere to Run,” whose production was inspired by Billie Eilish, she realizes we can only hide from ourselves for so long: “Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide / No mistaking, you’re overtaking / Without me letting my guard down / Why do you do this to me?” And on “Here I Am,” she asserts that she ain’t no quitter: “I was out for a minute / Caught my breath, I’m back in it / I was lost but I’ve found my feet / Here I am.”
Above all, Melanie C has realized that “playing the game” can only get you so far, and that there is no reason to live up to anybody’s expectation other than your own. “Pop bands are a young person’s game,” she said. “It’s unsustainable to keep up with the constant promoting and touring. It’s a catch-22: I wouldn’t have the stamina for it now, but at that stage in your life you’re not equipped to deal with the pressure.” Thus, she would much rather make music that reflects the unapologetically honest woman that she is today, instead of catering to any given pop music market and combatting the ageism therein. And it just goes to show how much interesting we all are when we shed the mask and just be ourselves.
Typically, when a former member of a high-profile pop band launches their own solo career, their debut solo record might be self-titled—so as to begin revealing their true selves, outside of the perhaps manufactured or inauthentic image of the group. Paul McCartney had McCartney. Harry Styles and Camila Cabello did Harry Styles and Camila respectively. It took Melanie C eight solo albums to shed the layers at last, collaborating with a mostly female team to create an electro/disco-infused pop album that does what good pop does best: celebrate our weaknesses, acknowledge our scars, and dance some of the pain away.
Jeffrey’s favorites from Melanie C: “Who I Am,” “Blame It On Me,” “Escape,” “Overload,” “Here I Am,” and “In and Out of Love”