Personality Clash is where we, Clash, pop one artist down with another and basically listen in on what they’re gassing about. It’s sort of like stalking, only we make sure our vict… We make sure our subjects are perfectly okay with us lurking, recording their every whisper, snort and stutter.
For our special Pop Issue – on shelves now - we brought together a true pop queen of the ‘90s with an up-and-coming singer full of pop potential. That’ll be the Spice Girls’ Melanie C on one side, then, and Chlöe Howl on t’other.
Here’s what went down. Or, at least, what we recorded, all sneakily likes…
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Chlöe Howl, ‘No Strings’
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Matt Cardle and Melanie C, ‘Loving You’
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Melanie: I’m quite curious because I went on iTunes today and I downloaded your stuff…
Melanie: And I saw that when you come up, you’re under Pop, and I just thought, “Really?” Would you consider yourself pop?
Chlöe: Um, yeah. I think so. I don’t know if I consciously went down the pop route. I just think it’s so much fun, pop music. It’s such a wide umbrella as well – it can be super cheesy or it can be really cool.
Melanie: Exactly. That’s what I think. Being a Spice Girl, we were the cheesiest, poppiest end of pop that you can get. We had great pop songs, but I think you’re right; it’s such a huge umbrella now. I remember when we were interviewed a lot in the early days and people would talk about music, and they would say: “Well, The Beatles were pop music.” So it’s like, how do you differentiate what’s popular? But I think now there are so many styles and genres and things that cross over, but for me, I see there being two camps: there’s cheesy pop and there’s cool pop, and I think you definitely come in the latter.
Chlöe: Aw, thank you!
Melanie: Without trying too hard as well, which is good.
Chlöe: There’s such a stigma attached to the word ‘pop’, I think though. People who want to be really cool, if you say to them, “That’s pop music, what you’re listening to right now” – even if they’re seen as the indiest band ever, doing all the guitar magazines and stuff, but essentially it’s just pop music with a bit of grungey production – and they’re like, “What? Pop music? It’s not cheesy!”
Melanie: Yeah. And the thing is we’re all following the same format: we’re all making songs that are about three minutes long, they tend to go verse/bridge/chorus/verse/middle-eight… you know what I mean? It’s a pop song! I think the people that are frightened to say they are pop probably are trying too hard to be cool and should just get a grip really. Because pop rules!
Chlöe: Yeah, it’s the best! It’s the most satisfying type of music! My friends can pretend they’re the coolest people on Earth, but I know if I stick on some Michael Jackson or some Taylor Swift, that’s what’s going to get them dancing.
Melanie: I love that: Michael Jackson and Taylor Swift in the same sentence! (Laughs)
Chlöe: Exactly! That’s what’s so much fun about it! I love it!
Melanie: So what artists do you like listening to?
Chlöe: At the minute? There’s quite a few. I grew up listening to loads of different stuff that my dad was really into, like, The Smiths and The Cure and stuff, and then my mum liked girlbands such as the Spice Girls and TLC and stuff.
Melanie: How funny. Does your dad take the piss out of your mum because her taste in music is really bad?
Chlöe: (Laughs) No! I think everyone appreciates a good pop record!
Melanie: Yeah, that’s true. I think sometimes the detriment to pop is there’s so much shit pop out there, so maybe that’s why we all get tarred with the same brush at times. So, I found that… I’m sure already – it’s quite early days in your career – but I’m sure you’re getting the same questions in every interview, and one of the ones is, “What was the first music you listened to?” And I think it absolutely is your mum and dad’s music, innit? Because before you have your own collection you’re playing their stuff. What format did you listen to them on?
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Just some normal girls... completely normal girls... nothing to see...
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Chlöe: It was CDs. I still can’t get behind MP3s. I have to have a physical copy of stuff, because otherwise I feel like I’m borrowing it. I struggle with it; I don’t feel like it’s yours.
Melanie: It’s weird; it’s like it’s not real. It’s virtual. Where is it?
Chlöe: And it’s such a ceremony taking it out of the CD case and looking at the cover.
Melanie: I think that’s what’s quite sad. Obviously when I started with the Girls it was way back; it was really before the internet had taken off – I’m sure it was about, but nobody really had it. Which to think of it now is bonkers – it makes me sound like a granny! But yeah, I remember going to HMV or Virgin or Our Price… and, in fact, when I was a kid, just saving up, and being so excited to go and get… You know, you’ve saved your pocket money, you go down, you buy your – in my day it was cassettes, and then CDs – but you’ve got it in your hand and you’re going through it, and sometimes you’ve got all the lyrics inside…
Chlöe: That’s the best! I love knowing the right lyrics!
Melanie: And now, you get the lyrics online, and they’re always wrong!
Chlöe: Yeah, they’re always wrong! I found lyrics to my own song the other day, and they were actually hilarious.
Melanie: It’s so annoying! How long do you deliberate when you’re writing on whether it should be “if”, “and”, “the” or “but”, and then you go online and they’ve just totally fucked them all up, and no one cares… But you do! (Laughs)
Chlöe: Someone wrote: “F*ck your no strings / And your hair on a wing,” and I was like, “Hair on a wing”?
Melanie: And did you think, “Oh shit, why didn’t I think of that?” (Laughs)
Chlöe: That’s actually really funny! Maybe I should re-write! (Laughs)
Melanie: That whole transition in music that I’ve seen has been amazing. When I started with the Girls, you sold – if you were lucky enough to be successful – millions of records, and now of course, since the digital age, it’s really hard to sell millions of records. There was a time when the music industry was a place you could really make money – not that that was what motivated me – but I wonder if it’s a good thing in a way, because maybe people who were motivated by money wouldn’t turn to music now, because actually it’s f*cking hard to make money in music.
Chlöe: It’s super easy now to just be like, “Oh, I’ll buy that one song I like,” whereas before you kinda had to discover the entire album. If I heard a song on the radio I could log onto iTunes and buy that one song, and then I won’t think about the others because I don’t need to get the album because I’ve got that one song. But I’m not like that.
Melanie: I suppose a lot of people from your generation are just into buying songs. They want to hear hits, they want things very quickly. But I suppose if you come from a more musical background, you do really love the artist, and when it comes to an album, it’s a body of work, isn’t it? Often it’s just a part of a story, one song. It’s really refreshing to hear somebody… are you 19 now?
Chlöe: I’m 18.
Melanie: I love hearing that from someone your age… Because I’d really hate to think that people are missing out on that, of the journey of an album.
Chlöe: Yeah, that’s the thing: it stresses me out when I’m thinking about how I want my album to flow, like the story I want it to tell. But no, everyone’s gonna hear it so mismatched anyway.
Melanie: It’s true! And everyone has their playlists now. It’s really quite weird. So how are you finding this part of your career? I think it’s probably the most exciting because it’s the beginning and you really don’t know what the future holds. But I suppose it’s interesting, because I’ve learned over the years to not have expectations, but you can’t help but think about the way that things are going to be, can you?
Chlöe: Yeah. I mean, I’ve been working away for quite a few years, but I tend to not think about it too seriously, because it would get quite scary, I think. It’s difficult with music, because it’s just super passionate, isn’t it. Everybody loves music, and to get to do something like that for the rest of your life is just amazing.
Melanie: I watched your video today for ‘No Strings’…
Chlöe: This is so cool! (Laughs)
Melanie: I love it! I love your lyrics; I think they’re really… I don’t want to sound patronising, but you’re quite young, which is brilliant. To be at this point in your career at such a young age is brilliant! But lyrically it’s mature, and I think… I’ve got a little girl, and it’s a scary world, because it’s changed a lot since I was a teenager. My little girl’s only four and a half, but you grow up so quick, and I think the way culture’s changed… I see you as having a really strong sense of self, and that comes across in your music and the way you are in your video and things like that, and I just think, if I had any advice to give to you – and this is just talking about my personal experience…
Chlöe: Oh, please do.
Melanie: Do you know what it would be? It would be: never lose that. I first met all the other Spice Girls when I was 19, and at that time I was a cocky little shit and I thought I was brilliant and I knew it all – and I probably needed to just calm down a little bit. But I think fundamentally who you are when you’re 18 or 19 is who you are, but sometimes when you go into a world like the music industry – you’re going into the public eye – you’re going to be reading people’s opinions of you, or people are going to be putting on you what they expect you to be or what they think of you, and I think it’s really important to not let that affect you.
I think for lots of girls in your 20s, you’re kinda like questioning stuff. You’re like, “Who am I? Who do I want to be?” I think when you’ve got all these external influences putting this on you, it’s quite easy to have a bit of a wobble. I just think absolutely don’t. And the one thing I’ve learned is other people’s opinions of you are not your business. You’ve just got to stay strong and stay true to who you are.
You’re with a label at the moment and I’m sure you’ve got a great relationship with them, but all careers have ups and downs, and I found in my career that I’ve thought people know better than I do. But at the end of the day, it’s your name and your music, and you’re the person who has to stand on stage and sing it, so if you don’t feel comfortable with it then you just can’t do it.
I mean, we all have to compromise in life, to a point, but never to the point where you have regrets. I think that’s really important. Because it’s scary! Because you don’t want to do the wrong thing. Like you say, what an opportunity! It’s your absolute dream and passion to work in an industry that you love, and you don’t want to f*ck it up, but do you know what’s worse than you f*cking it up? Someone else f*cking it up on your behalf.
Chlöe: And someone else f*cking you up. That’s the thing that I’m most worried about. Because you see a lot of young artists… When you’re young anyway, it’s about this age now that you are just discovering and going out into the world anyway, and being released from school and that sheltered environment and actually seeing things. And then if that’s the same time that you’re being thrust into such a crazy world like this, it’s kind of easy to understand how some young girls go off the rails a bit.
Melanie: Absolutely. Obviously it was a different time – the ’90s – but there were other bands that were around at the time as the Spice Girls and I got to know people – because you see people round at gigs and stuff – and there’s a lot of f*cked up people! Or, I think a lot of people want to be performers, and often it’s because, I dunno, maybe they have something that needs to be fulfilled in them. Not necessarily if they’re a musician, but more somebody who wants to be famous, who wants to be adored, and I think that’s really dangerous because they are very vulnerable people.
Chlöe: Yeah, if you need that kind of adoration, that’s when it’s going to get tricky, because if you’re not getting it or if someone is saying they don’t like you it’s going to hurt so much more than if you’re doing it just for the love of what you’re doing.
Melanie: I get the feeling from seeing your stuff and listening to your stuff that you’re not one of those girls, so I think you’ll be okay.
Chlöe: (Laughs) I hope so! I’m trying not to be!
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Chlöe Howl, ‘Paper Heart’
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Melanie C, ‘Think About It’
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Melanie: Have you always wanted to do music? Has it always been your passion?
Chlöe: I just was always doing it. Ever since I was really young it was just the one thing that I really took to. It was the only thing that made sense. I wasn’t purposely like, “I want to be a pop star,” I just really loved this and it’s naturally what I grew towards. Was that the same as you?
Melanie: Yeah. Well, it was kinda music and performing really, because I went along the theatre route at first. My mum’s a singer and she’d always been in bands, but I just thought, “Oh my God, that’s impossible.”
I suppose the first music I started asking for was Wham! and Madonna and Michael Jackson – because it was the ’80s when I was a kid – and I think the turning point for me was Live Aid, in 1985. I liked Madonna, but because my step-dad’s a bass player and my mum’s a singer, they kinda had that attitude of, you know, “Modern pop music is rubbish”. But then I saw Madonna sing live, and looking back she probably wasn’t that great, but I thought she was amazing and I just thought, “That’s what I want to do!” That was a defining moment.
I danced as well, and Madonna had all the big shows like Blonde Ambition, so that was the kind of thing that I wanted to do. I actually feel really lucky that I did have a passion and I was so single-minded…
Chlöe: Yeah, because there are so many people who don’t, who don’t know what they’re doing and don’t know what they would ever want to do, and they’re spending this time trying to work that out.
Melanie: And then they go to uni and they’re racking up massive debts, and then they come out of uni and then they can’t get a job and they still don’t know what they want to do!
Chlöe: Yeah, it’s really scary. Yeah, I’m obviously very, very lucky. If I hadn’t got signed and been able to do this, I would be doing that: trying to figure out where I fit. The Spice Girls were together in a house, weren’t you, in Maidenhead?
Melanie: Yes, we were!
Chlöe: That’s where I’m from.
Melanie: How funny!
Chlöe: When I found that out I was like, “Oh yes, Maidenhead! Come on!”
Melanie: My memories of Maidenhead… oh my gosh. I can’t even remember where that house was. It was maybe 20 minutes from the town centre, because I used to walk down sometimes. But we used to go to this club – is there a club called Second Avenue?
Chlöe: Not anymore.
Melanie: I’m sure on a Monday night it was like rave night or something – come on, it was the ’90s! We used to go down and it was so funny, because we weren’t signed and nobody knew who we were – no one would do – but we used to strut around, the five of us, and try and jump to the front of queues and get in places for free because we were a girlband, and I think that’s what’s so fun about the really early part of your career when you’re so bolshy…
Chlöe: “Am I important yet?” (Laughs)
Melanie: I remember the first telly we ever did was, I think it was like Surprise Surprise with bloody Cilla Black, and nobody knew who we were, so we’d been on telly once, and the next time I went out shopping I just thought everybody knew who I was, everybody recognised me, and of course nobody did. But it was such a weird transition from no one knowing you to actually getting to the point where everybody recognised you.
Chlöe: What was that like? How did you deal with that?
Melanie: It was what we wanted. We were so excited about that happening, but when it did happen we were so busy that actually real life disappeared, because you didn’t just go shopping with your mates on a Saturday; you were flying to Japan to do some TV. So you end up being in this bubble, and there’s always security and you’re never really just out and about, you’re just always working. So then when that kinda slows down – which for us took a few years – trying to get back into reality was really weird.
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Just a normal 18-year-old... nothing to see here... move along...
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Chlöe: Was having to go back to normal things boring or was it a relief?
Melanie: It was a relief. Silly things, like getting the tube, became a bit of a thrill! (Laughs) Because I spent so many years not doing it! Not because you couldn’t, but just because you didn’t need to, because you were getting picked up in a car and taken to some studio somewhere. But yeah, all the normal things in life like going to the supermarket or getting on a bus become a novelty.
Chlöe: How did you cope with the madness? What stopped you from going mad?
Melanie: I think I did go mad a bit! (Laughs) I think there were definitely moments of madness!
Chlöe: It would probably be difficult when you’re a Spice Girl not to have a little moment of madness! (Laughs)
Melanie: Yeah, I think we all went a bit potty at one point! It was just a whirlwind. We were so busy we didn’t have time to think; you were always flying off somewhere. There were times when we would go for months without a single day off. Crazy, crazy times.
I think the thing is in music, and especially in pop music, I don’t think people realise you do work so hard. And if you’re lucky enough to be an artist that works in different territories then people mightn’t see you in the UK for a few weeks but they don’t realize that in that time you’ve been to Germany, South East Asia, Australia and everything, so it’s tough. But it’s your dream, it’s what you want, so when you’re doing it, it’s amazing.
But you live on adrenaline a lot, is what I find. Even now when I’m working, if I’m tired, as soon as you’re on telly you’re fine because that adrenaline’s there. But then you get the comedowns as well – you get tired and rundown…
Chlöe: I always think that when you are a really big artist you always have to seem like you’re happy when you’re being interviewed, otherwise they’re like, “Well, she was a dick.” I always think it must be so hard when you’re so tired because you’ve been jet-setting everywhere to kind of go into an interview and be like, “Oh my God, it’s so nice to meet you! This is amazing! Thanks for having me!”
Melanie: And when you’re getting asked the same questions for the fifty millionth time? Yeah, absolutely. I’m in such a different phase of my career to you now, but I still get excited about going on This Morning to talk about my new song or whatever. It’s just about being really grateful as well. And you do have to smile through the shit questions – I don’t know how many times I get asked about Victoria Beckham, and do I see the other Spice Girls, and it’s like, “Well, of course I see the other f*cking Spice Girls.” But I’m not gonna answer it like that – but wouldn’t it be brilliant if you could?
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Find more Personality Clashes here.
Clash’s Pop Issue is out now – find out what’s inside here.