By Eve Watling
GO TO ANY trendy South London nightclub and you will see the cool, stylistic influence of Mel C, aka The Best Spice Girl. The club girls who wear block-coloured trackie bottoms, paired with crop tops, trainers and belly rings, might follow Instagram trends rather than Liverpool FC. But there’s still something about the Scouse Spice Girl that feels relevant 20 years after she first high-kicked into our collective consciousness.
Tonight’s fans are queuing outside the Shepherd’s Bush Empire; they are as excited as they were back in 1996. Each individual member of the Spice Girls was an archetype of her own, and we loved them because they represented aspects of womanhood that were seen as undesirable. There was Bitchy Spice, Overly-Aggressive Spice, Slutty Spice, Wimpy Spice and Butch Spice.
This was their subversive draw. For many seven-year-old girls who were just figuring out the world of social identities, the Spice Girls were just five ordinary women who were proudly and unapologetically the things young girls were not allowed to be. It was girl power at its finest; they offered an exciting alternative to the bands that were usually shown on Saturday morning television.
Sporty Spice fans will know that it didn’t end on the surface; Mel C was never just a football-obsessed hard nut. Behind-the-scenes VHS documentaries show her as a soft-spoken, shy girl. There is a scene in an otherwise long-forgotten Spice Girls film; it is early in their career, and the girls are switching on Christmas lights. The shaky hand-held camera seeks out an overwhelmed Mel C, who is sobbing in a corner backstage. Emma Bunton comforts her, saying: “I’m supposed to be the baby!”
The notion of being sensitive while also wanting to be an active force in the world rang true to all the baby Sporties. Although the Spice Girls were highly manufactured, the timeless archetype of the hard-shelled, tender-meated Cancer crab and the athletic Greek goddess Athena seemed to genuinely reflect Mel C’s personality. Post-Spice Girls, she has since spoken out about her struggles with depression, eating disorders and ADHD, while still releasing solo records from her own record label, Red Girl Records, from 2004.
The crowd tonight have all been exposed to her from a young age; she looms large in our imaginations in a way that feels ancient and prehistoric. Ask your Sporty fan friends – I bet you this adoration hasn’t gone away, but morphed into fandom of appreciation for Christine and the Queens, Neko Case, Cat Power and other husky-voiced, sensitive tomboys.
Mel C’s attempt at “grown-up” music may not have set the world on fire, but
she still draws a packed-out crowd. Geri Halliwell is among us on the balcony, waving to the crowd when they spot her and cheer. Mel C appears on stage in a dress and heels that immediately precludes any backflips, and her charming, warm presence woos us into appreciating this new womanly incarnation.
As she launches into “Anymore”, a song from her latest album Version of Me, it’s clear that she is still, by far, the best singer from the Spice Girls. She’s also the worst dancer, headbanging and shaking her limbs in an endearingly awkward way. She pleases the crowd with “Say You’ll Be There”, the classic Spice Girls ode to the kind of unwavering love that many in the crowd undoubtedly feels towards her.
Her final song is also her best solo song, the Y2K club banger “I Turn To You”. The crowd go wild for it: we are all rooting for the Spice Girl who gave us the key to unlocking our tough, tender hearts.