Melanie C – I Turn To You

Released: 7th August 2000

Writers: Melanie Chisholm / Billy Steinberg / Rick Nowels

Peak position: #1

Chart run: 1-4-5-8-15-24-30-36-34-48-55-55

Having claimed her first chart-topper as a solo artist, Melanie C now set her sights on conquering the Ibiza nightclubs with a single that was so on-trend, it couldn’t possibly fail.

For those not already acquainted with I Turn To You by the time it hit the charts, it may have come as a surprise to listen to the original version featured on the Northern Star album (before it was promptly re-released after this single). The track runs just shy of six minutes and is a trippy, atmospheric, ethereal piece of pop music. As a single it was inevitably going to require a certain degree of truncating due to its length alone, but what we got with I Turn To You was much more than a simple radio edit. Instead, the track was completely remixed and reworked by Hex Hector. At the time he was hugely in-demand and credited on more than 40 remixes that year alone. It would be easier to list which acts he wasn’t working with, but this was – and still is – one of his most widely recognised mixes. Few invoked such a drastic change as the one bestowed upon I Turn To You, to the point where one could reasonably argue that it altered the very substance of what the song was. Lyrically and melodically, they are the same track. But in all other aspects, they are quite different.

Hex Hector took his inspiration from the Ibiza party scene; its popularity had been growing steadily since the mid-‘90s but had now reached an extent where it spilt over into popular culture. Everyone knew of Ibiza, what it represented and – in chart terms – what it sounded like. As solo artists, the Spice Girls were not averse to jumping on the bandwagon of a popular sound. But what I Turn To You does well – arguably better than any other solo Spice single – is become a defining part of the very zeitgeist that influenced it. A quick look at the compilation chart the week this single charted shows just how on the money it was; there were no less than three Ibiza-related albums in the top ten. The turn-of-the-century fascination with the party island was strong, and I Turn To You captures the very essence of it.

Many fans will have been too young to know whether the single was as credible a club hit as it would have you believe, but it certainly sounded the part. The pounding beats and cutting synth stabs are the perfect summation of what Ibiza represented to the uninitiated. This might not seem the time or place for Melanie C to stretch her distinctive vocals, but she’s able to do quite a lot within the frantic production. There’s an almost transcendent quality to the: “Yooooou-ooh-ooh-ooh” intro, which gives way to the throbbing, pulsing first verse. It’s here, specifically, that the difference between the album version and the remix becomes apparent: “When the world is darker than I can understand, when nothing turns out the way I planned; when the sky turns grey and there’s no end in sight, when I can’t sleep through the lonely night”. There is some bleak lyricism here, albeit expressed in the most beautiful way. The sense of desperate isolation doesn’t translate in the same way when it’s dressed up as a dance track. The verses are still impactful, but also just that little bit more functional as a passage to the chorus.

And what a chorus. It works so well – perhaps even better than the original – in this context. Sensibly, it doesn’t heap on the same amount of lyrical intensity found elsewhere, instead utilising a simple-but-effective rhyming structure: “I turn to you, like a flower leaning toward the sun, I turn to you, ‘cos you’re the only one, who can turn me around when I’m upside down”. This ensures the chorus remains one that is perfectly recitable even in a heightened state of inebriation, which is the market the track was ostensibly aimed toward. The swelling production creates much more of an event out of the chorus, but while a softer vocalist could quite easily have been overpowered by the sheer velocity of Hex Hector’s mixing, that’s never a risk here. Melanie C’s voice cuts right through the production; she’s no passenger on I Turn To You and her identity as a singer is indelibly stamped all over it, regardless of how much genre-hopping has occurred to get there.

Despite the colossal shift in sound, the song never sells its soul. But while the sense of feeling might be muted in some areas, it’s not lost altogether, and it comes to a head during the middle-eight: “Where would I be? What would I do? If you’d never helped me through; I hope someday if you’ve lost your way, you could turn to me like I turn to you”. What we’re essentially hearing is the original composition breaking through, with a light touch of classical strings and some creative vocal layering (yes, Melanie C is harmonising with herself), the song suddenly becomes strikingly poignant. It’s a stunning, beautiful moment, and one that elevates I Turn To You far beyond the confines of a generic dance track. The track never feels like it’s trying to prove a point about Melanie C’s artistry (and isn’t the obvious choice as a showcase of it, either) but the quality of her musicianship still spills out of the song.

Given how clearly the single had defined its target market, there’s little surprise to see that the music video takes place in Ibiza. It’s fair to say that there are some obvious stylistic comparisons to Madonna’s Ray Of Light video, but considering how much inspiration Northern Star had drawn from that album, it’s a neat nod of recognition to show the link between the two projects. Yet looking beyond the convulsive dancing – or the fact that it feels like a tourism video for the Balearics – something more important is happening here.

Despite the harder sound of I Turn To You, the video presents a much softer side of Melanie C. Or rather, one that was (marginally) closer to the image of Sporty Spice than anything else from the album campaign. Having fought so hard against the expectation of what she should look and sound like, the aesthetic of I Turn To You felt like the point where that struggle dissipated and Melanie C bought into the concept of herself as a pop star. It’s significant that she should choose the most aggressively commercial single to convey this, and it suggested that – just maybe – she had started to find some peace with her identity as a solo artist. Thus, it’s the tranquillity within the video that speaks the loudest, even if it is still projected against the backdrop of a frenetic dance track.

I Turn To You was another decisively huge hit for Melanie C. The track became her second consecutive #1 and charted strongly around the world; even managing to top the US Dance chart. It was swiftly followed by a re-release of the Northern Star album – although the only change was the addition of the single mixes of I Turn To You and Never Be The Same Again – which subsequently reached a new peak of #4. It’s fair to say that the campaign had been a bit of a slog, despite the album selling consistently since it was released. But this felt like the moment when the public finally got Melanie C, and she, in turn, accepted and embraced the commerciality of her position. She hasn’t topped the chart in a solo capacity since this single. Still, such was the success it brought alongside the parent album, it justified her decision to move in a surprising – and at times unconventional – direction, something that she has continued to do since.  

I Turn To You remains Melanie C’s third-biggest-selling single and the fifth best-selling solo-Spice track overall. But perhaps more importantly, in terms of the musical landscape of the time, it remains a distinctive and credible interpretation of the Ibiza dance scene, whether you were old enough to experience it or not.

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