Melanie C, aka Sporty Spice, opens up in this week's issue of PEOPLE about self-acceptance and her new music

After nearly a quarter-century in the spotlight, Melanie Chisholm — aka Sporty Spice — feels like she's finally coming into her own.

The singer, 46, first shot to global fame in 1996 at the age of 22 with the Spice Girls' smash debut single ″Wannabe." Determined to be seen as something other than Sporty, she launched a successful solo career with the release of her debut album Northern Star in 1999, a year before the Spice Girls went on hiatus, and went on to release six subsequent solo albums.

It wasn't until she reunited with bandmates Geri Halliwell, Melanie Brown and Emma Bunton on their U.K. and Ireland tour last year (fifth member Victoria Beckham did not join the run), though, that Melanie says she ″felt a wave of self-acceptance I've never had before.″

″When I went on stage with the girls, it was such an incredible experience,″ Melanie says in this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday. ″It made me feel very reflective. I loved being Sporty Spice again, and I realize that she's such a huge part of who I am as a person and who I am as a performer. I wanted to really celebrate that.″

″We felt a lot of pride on stage together because we realized the impact that we, as a band, had on this generation of people,″ she adds. ″I started thinking about my life, my career and my personal life.″

Also working on her upcoming self-titled eighth studio album at the time, Melanie channeled that energy into her songwriting.

″I wanted the album to be empowering,″ she says. ″I wanted to make an album people would want to dance to, but I also wanted to make people listen and hopefully be empowered in the way I feel.″

The pop-and disco-infused album, which is set for release on Friday, includes songs which document Melanie's ″long journey″ to self-acceptance, including her single ″Who I Am,″ which was written about embracing all the different phases of her life and career.

″When we're kids, we're often the essence of who we truly are, and then we grow up, we go through our teens, and our early 20s, and there's so much influence and expectation put on us,″ she says. ″I just came to this point where I thought, 'It's time to embrace everything. The good and the bad.' I felt like 'Who I Am' was a perfect introduction to the album because it's about dropping your armor and being comfortable in your own skin. It's a really important song to me."

Melanie brings the concept of "Who I Am" to life in its music video, which sees her walking around a museum full of her past personas, including Sporty Spice and a Northern Star-era Melanie, as paintings and statues.

"It was so weird to shoot," she says. "I was a little bit traumatized at times, but once I'd done it, I made peace with all these moments in my life. It's been really important moving on to this new chapter, which this album feels very much like."

In the new year, Melanie is looking forward to taking Melanie C, the album, out on tour across Europe as long as the coronavirus pandemic remains under control in the countries that she'll be visiting.

melanie chisholm
Melanie C
| Credit: Conor CLinch

″I love being on stage,″ she says. ″It's what drives me. I want to make music, and I want to play music. I want to have that audience in front of me and have that beautiful exchange of energy. That's my hope for 2021."

Victoria Beckham, Mel C, Emma Bunton, Geri Halliwell and Mel B from The Spice Girls
Spice Girls
| Credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

In addition to touring her solo music, Melanie also hopes in the future that she and the Spice Girls will get to do another reunion tour.

″The whole world supported us back in the '90s, so I would love to get back and perform everywhere,″ she says. ″Beyond touring my solo music, I would love to do more Spice shows. I think there's room for both."

For all the details on Melanie C's life now, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.