Released on this day in 1999 – today, October 19th 2019, marks the 20th anniversary release of Melanie C’s debut solo album Northern Star.
Launched during the Spice Girls self-imposed hiatus back in the summer of ’99, the record was Melanie’s very own declaration of independence – a bold visual and musical statement made by a young woman coming of age, and coming into her own, throwing out the rule book to take back control of her life, career and destiny.
A blueprint for any young star wanting to break free from what the world perceives them to be, we here at CelebMix want to acknowledge, and celebrate an incredible body of work, created by one of the U.K.’s most successful female recording artists.
I Gotta Go! Find Another Direction.
The year 1999 was a funny time to be a Spice Girls fan.
Despite Geri’s abrupt departure from the band 12 months previous, the four remaining members vowed to carry on as a group and were adamant that there would absolutely be a third Spice album for fans to look forward to in the not too distant future. But as the girls took a break following the end of their triumphant 1998 Spiceworld World Tour and with the release, and subsequent success, of their third U.K. Christmas number 1 single Goodbye, things seemed to go a little quiet in Spiceworld…
On reflection, this was to be expected – the girls had worked non-stop for over 5 years to earn their title as being the world’s biggest selling girl band of all time, having sold over 50 million records in just over 2 years! But there was only so long the four (once five) could have continued on at such lightning pace and maintained the same level of success without imploding. So a break for and from the Spice Girls was most definitely needed, but that’s not to say the fab four disappeared from the public eye completely…
As individuals the girls kept themselves busy working on various different solo projects, some had babies and some got married, but with every solo project and public appearance it seemed Baby, Posh, Scary and Sporty were plagued with rumours that a Spice Girls split was imminent – the girls were definitely growing up, but where they growing apart?
“The other girls were having babies and taking time out which is great, but I’m not having a holiday, I can’t have a holiday I’m a workaholic, so what a great opportunity to do some things on my own.” – Melanie C, 1999
There Are No Boundaries; There Are No Limits.
Finding and reclaiming your own identity after becoming such a well known (and globally recognised) public figure must be pretty hard. It’s for sure a process, a personal journey that requires looking outside of yourself and to think beyond the boundaries of normality, in a limitless, freeing kind of way – in the hope that trying new things, and going out of your comfort zone, leads you to the thing that will once again spark a fire of passion inside your soul.
This journey of finding herself again post Spice Mania could well be one of the reasons why Melanie was such a musical chameleon on her solo debut – as she explored and experimented with a diverse range of genres and styles across the albums 12-tracks.
From the indie, Blur-esque feel of Ga-Ga to the R&B flavour of Never Be The Same Again, the dance/trance/house beat of I Turn To You to the soft acoustic vibe of Be The One – there is a song on the album for every mood, every emotion and every occasion which not only helped to broadened Melanie’s horizons musically, but also woke up the masses to the fact that this girl was more than just a flavour of Spice.
Be The One
(Chisholm, Thornalley, Munday)
With solid co-writes and production credits from the likes of Rick Ruben, William Orbit, Rick Nowels and Rhett Lawrence, the fusing together of so many contrasting and eclectic sounds worked well, with each track crafted to perfection creating a tangible and emotive connection between the artist and the listener, as Melanie’s honest and frank lyrics act as the thread that brings the whole album together as one.
“I don’t want to be daft and say I had some spiritual awakening or something, but I really did come of age in Los Angeles, where we recorded ‘Northern Star’. That whole experience has kind of reminded me of who I was.” – Melanie C, 1999
Waves Crash Like My Emotion
Let’s get one thing straight, the Spice Girls wrote their own music… that’s just fact! So it should come as no surprise to learn that Melanie Chisholm is credited as co-writer on all of Northern Star’s album tracks and b-sides.
Achieving worldwide fame at such a young and having to navigate her way through her new ‘normal’ during the mid-90’s must have been a lot for Melanie to digest, so by the time she came to put pen to paper as a solo artist in 1999, she certainly had a lot to say…
Listening to Northern Star’s deeply personal and autobiographical lyrics is like reading a page right out of Melanie’s own private diary – introspective, confessional, honest, real… the songs and their subject matter may be a reflection of Mel’s own unique life experiences, but they are written in a way that feels universal, allowing the listener to interoperate what they hear in a way that relates to them and their own lives.
Deep, poetic, vulnerable and heartfelt, Melanie C was ready to speak her truth, confront her demons and lay her soul bare for the whole world to hear.
I’m Singing It Loud & I Don’t Care!
Throughout her time in the Spice Girls, Melanie C was always praised and given props for her vocal chops, but it wasn’t until the release of Northern Star that the world got to really hear what this young girl from Liverpool was vocally capable of.
“She’s really musically gifted and extremely committed, she gives it her all and is willing to do whatever work it takes to make great art, even if it means singing something a hundred times!” – Rick Rubin on working with
Melanie C on Northern Star, 1999
Experimenting with so many different musical genres on the album allowed Melanie the artistic license to explore and showcase all of the different tones, flavours and textures of her voice – from the soft, delicate almost operatic tone of Closer to the brash, angry and out right vocal anarchy of Goin’ Down – in every which way, Melanie let it all out on this album and the results were breathtaking to hear.
Closer (Live In Munich)
From Liverpool To Leicester Square Tour, 1999
I Bet You’d Look If That Were Me
Everybody in life goes through a phase growing up, where they don’t want to be who people want or perceive them to be, and they rebel – hell bent and determined to be the complete and total opposite of who the world thinks they are or should be! To an extent some of the Spice Girls were no different to any of us in feeling this way… they just did they’re growing up (and rebelling) in front of the whole world.
When Melanie C re-emerged from the sanctuary of the recording studio in late 1999, with pixie short dyed blonde hair, an even more toned athletic physique and a a much rockier, edgier sense of style, Spice fans were SHOOK!
Throughout the course of the year long promotional campaign to promote Northern Star, Melanie’s look continued to evolve and change as she experimented with fashion, mixed up her style and changed up her hair… much to the fascination of the public and the tabloid press.
Maybe people weren’t as open to change as much back then, maybe such a drastic overhaul of image was too much for fans to handle, but it’s worth noting that during this time Melanie C was still only in her mid-twenties, a period in most people’s lives where they are still finding themselves and figuring out who they want to be.
It’s hard to believe or even remember a time before the internet was the monster that it is today, before the blogs, before social media, before camera phones and before it was ‘the norm’ for the ever intrusive paparazzi to hound celebrities all day everyday… so an artist could disappear for a while, live somewhat of a private life, then remerge refreshed, re-energised and rejuvenated having rediscovered who they are. Melanie C wasn’t really afforded that luxury back in 1999/2000, but she fought on, thrived and very much lived to tell the tale.
Northern Star: The Documentary
Airing on Channel 4, August 30th 1999, Northern Star: The Documentary was a behind the scenes look at Melanie C’s life in Los Angeles as she began work recording what was to become her first of 7 (to date) solo albums.
Interspersed with musical interludes, it was first time fans were to hear the music Melanie had been working on as snippets of tracks Closer, Something’s Gonna Happen, I Wonder What It Would Be Like, Independence Day, Northern Star and Why all premiered throughout the half hour programme.
With the focus solely on her, fans were able to see – maybe for the first time, the real Melanie C.
“I’m not the greatest singer in the world, I’m not even that good, I’m just fuc*king lucky.” – Melanie C, 1999
Northern Star: The Singles
Released: September 27th, 1999
Official U.K. Chart Position: 4
Released at the close of summer 1999, Melanie C shocked the pop world with the unveiling of her debut solo single, Goin’ Down.
Distorted guitars riffs and siren like synths intermixed with Melanie’s effected, powerful vocals – musically the track was brash and in your face, yet there was an underlying message and vulnerable emotion that we could all relate to.
Angry, anarchic and anthemic Goin’ Down was an artistic statement of unparalleled power, that saw Melanie fully embody and portray all that she wanted to be as a solo performer.
Released: November 29th, 1999
Official U.K. Chart Position: 4
Gentle, introspective and emotive – Melanie made the smart decision to release this tender, haunting ballad as the follow up to the punk-pop anthem that was Goin’ Down showcasing a softer, more artistic side, further proving her versatility as a legitimate solo artist.
Delivering a delicate, subtle yet stirring vocal performance, Melanie uses her range to full effect as she sings the tracks heartfelt and somewhat autobiographical lyrics with genuine sincerity and emotion.
Accompanied by sweeping orchestral strings and a melody that pulls on the soul, to this day the single is still a firm favourite among fans.
Never Be The Same Again (Featuring Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes)
Released: March 20th, 2000
Official U.K. Chart Position: 1
With it’s laid-back R&B groove, hypnotic melody and silky smooth vocals 2000’s Never Be The Same Again was a real turning point in Melanie’s career as a solo artist, as the record buying public bought into Northern Star’s third single release in a BIG way!
Singing to a one time friend, now possible new lover – the tracks mid-tempo beat, layered harmonies and sing-along chorus, reaches its peak with a guest feature from the late, great Lisa ‘Left-Eye’ Lopes, who’s cool rhythmic rhymes ebb and flow to great effect.
A huge hit all around the world, the track became the Melanie’s first ever U.K. Number 1 single as a solo artist!
I Turn To You
Released: August 7th, 2000
Official U.K. Chart Position: 1
Selling 121,800 copies in its first week on sale, I Turn To You scored Melanie C her second solo Number 1 single and tenth overall as a songwriter, making her the first woman to top the U.K. charts as part of a quintet, quartet, duo and as a solo artist.
With it’s meaningful lyrics, pulsating baseline, dramatic Ibiza style strings and rousing melody, the track was a coming together of various musical styles mixing electronica with dance, trance and house creating a magical feeling of eternal summer euphoria!
If That Were Me
Released: November 27th, 2000
Official U.K. Chart Position: 18
As the final single to be released from Northern Star, Melanie totally stripped things back, choosing to sing about a cause close to her heart, homelessness.
Simple, understated and thought provoking – If That Were Me was a song that solely focused on the lyric, drawing you in to hear a tale of what life is really like for so many.
With all royalties from the single donated to the homeless charity Centre Point, this was to be Melanie’s last release for nearly 3 years.
Northern Star: The Videos
Never Be The Same Again
I Turn To You
If That Were Me
Where Would I Be, What Would I Do, If You’d Never Helped Me Through…
When an artist delivers an album that’s as deeply personal to them as it is universal in it’s message, there’s an unexplainable, palpable and gravitational pull towards it that simply cannot be explained – the music resonates, the message relates and the artist inspires.
Northern Star holds a special place in the hearts of many, and here some fans want to share why…
I remember when Melanie C released ‘Goin’ Down’ – it was such a shock to the system from how we knew her in the Spice Girls, I wasn’t mad at it but it took me a minute to get onboard with where she was going.
The title track, ‘Northern Star’, was an instant winner for me though. I recall listening to it over and over again. I don’t quite know how long it took me to realise the double meaning for the tracks name, but it’s genius. ‘Northern Star’ – the star we use to guide us but also Mel C being an ACTUAL NORTHERN STAR!
Then of course we had the other releases which were all great in my opinion but ‘I Turn To You’ holds a special place in my memory. It was around this time I spent a lot of time in Ibiza, my parent’s owned a home there, and I would go with all my friends throughout the summer and that track was an ANTHEM. I am immediately taken back to those good memories whenever I hear this song.
Overall, this entire album brings me back to a time in my life where I was going through a lot of changes and figuring things out. I was 18/19 without much sense of responsibility or understanding of romantic relationships so switching between ‘Why’ and ‘Suddenly Monday’ kind of sums up my manic energy during this era.
Northern Star has an eclectic medley of songs and is very different to what we were expecting at that time – however, I think it remains my favourite of album from Mel C… now, I’m off to lip-sync, very dramatically, to ‘Ga Ga’!
I have so many lovely memories attached to this incredible album!
On the day it was released I was in Tenerife with my family, so I gave my Nan strict orders to run down the high street to Woolworths as soon as it was open on the morning of October 18th 1999. Luckily for me, Melanie had done an interview on the radio just before my holiday where she went through the album track by track with each song being played (which I taped) – this was my saving grace, I had it playing constantly on my Walkman and it became the soundtrack to my holiday!
This album has helped me so much in many many different ways – especially the title track ‘Northern Star’.
Happy 20th Anniversary ‘Northern Star’ and thank you Melanie for making such an incredible album.
KENNI HOWARD SANG:
‘Northern Star’ came out at a time in my life where I had been kicked out of my family home for being gay. I had just got my own place and I had no family in my life, I was very much alone, and this album lifted me in my lonely days.
I immediately connected to ‘Feel The Sun’, would dance around my flat to ‘Never Be The Same Again’ and ‘I Turn To You’ and because at one time I was homeless I really related to ‘If That Were Me’.
This album is Melanie at her best, there’s not a week that goes by where I don’t listen to this it – even after all these years later it still sounds so fresh and I never get bored of playing it.
It’s mad to think it’s been 20 years but I’m proud to be a Melanie C Fan, I love her and always will.
P.s. I’m holding out for a 20th anniversary orange vinyl edition (hint, hint!)
I remember the anticipation just before the album came out and being to young to go to Melanie’s show in Madrid as part of her first solo tour, so I had to settle for blasting the CD in my room and performing all the songs in front of my mom instead!
My favourite song was always ‘I Turn To You’, from the first moment I heard it. I remember being slightly shocked when the Hex Hector remix was released because it was so different, but I grew to absolutely love it and it’s remained one of my favourite solo singles ever since.
The Northern Star documentary, broadcast shortly before the album’s release, introduced me to the infectious ‘I Wonder What It Would Be Like’ (which was left off the album but became a ‘Never Be The Same Again’ B side) and ‘Independence Day’ (again, left off the album but appeared on the ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ movie soundtrack).
But it is the stunning ‘Northern Star’, the title track of the album which remains my absolute favourite from this record. Its production, beautiful lyrics and catchy mid-tempo beat took my breath away.
I also must mention the album’s cool Los Angeles/desert vibes artwork which fit the eclectic mix of musical styles on the record whilst complimenting it’s mature-pop feel.
All in all, a wonderful beginning to a long line of Melanie C albums that followed.
I was 12 years old when Northern Star was released and I remember I was disappointed at the time, as I guess I wanted more a Spice Girls sound and couldn’t understand the musical style that Melanie had chosen… how wrong and foolish was I?
‘Feel The Sun’ is probably my favourite song ever!.. and if I wasn’t so scared, I’d have so many of the songs lyrics tattooed. ‘Closer’ is another beautiful ballad that I love, along with albums the title track and ‘Ga Ga’ (a song that I didn’t fully appreciate until recently) is AMAZING live!
Northern Star to me hasn’t aged; it’s an album for all, full of different styles that worked, and still works, so well.
Happy 20th Northern Star – you’ve done us proud x
I Am The Person I Was Looking For
If you’re looking for a way to verbalise the true meaning and feeling of Northern Star, than you need look no further than the albums closing track Feel The Sun – a beautiful, poignant ballad that explores and expresses every tangible feeling, and heartfelt emotion that Melanie had been holding in for what must have felt like her whole lifetime.
“These thoughts can be evil and they often deceive,
Gotta believe, that I can overcome.
My fears are the worst and they always return,
I never learn, feel like I don’t belong…”
Northern Star is an awakening of the soul, a liberating piece of art that perfectly captures that anxiety infused feeling of longing to break free from ourselves, our past and a place of which we feel we have no control.
“Lost in the wreckage of a million bad dreams,
Hard to function, I just need some routine,
God, it’s obscene – when did they stop the fun?”
Embodying the notion of finding your own independence, re-claiming your power and remembering who it is that you always wanted to be, Northern Star is a coming of age record, timeless in its themes, heartfelt in its message and authentic in its everlasting, enduring sound.
“Feel the sun, waves crash like my emotion
Life has begun, now I will be safe from the storm.
I found the one, this angel’s my salvation
I’m feeling strong, I’ll never fall
You are there when I call.”