The world's biggest girlband open up about industry sexism, the barriers faced by working class creatives and the pressures of growing up in the public eye.
Is there anything Little Mix can’t do? With world tours, five triple platinum albums and collabs with the likes of Nicki Minaj, their résumé reads like the wish-list of every young girl singing into her hairbrush and dreaming of popstardom.
But what you should know about Little Mix — consisting of Geordies Jade Thirlwall and Perrie Edwards, alongside Southerner Leigh-Anne Pinnock — is that they’ve made a habit of making dreams into a reality. Originally forming on talent contest The X Factor, their raw talent and natural charisma translated what could have been a mere five minutes of fame into a decade-long career. Armed with their transportive pop — all epic triumphs, effervescent energy and soaring vocals — they help elevate the everyday, giving familiar experiences of love and loss a new vibrancy and weight.
But Little Mix aren’t content with touching lives just through their music. In recent years they’ve become some of the most outspoken figures in UK pop culture. With Leigh-Anne opening up about her experiences of racism in the BBC documentary Race, Pop & Power and Jade and Perrie laying bare their respective struggles with disordered eating and anxiety, as well as the group’s tireless championing of LGBTQIA+ culture, they defy the sexist naysayers who say they should stay silent on social issues and keep their opinions to themselves.
Now, after the exit of fourth member Jesy Nelson in December 2020, the band is preparing to enter their boldest period yet — one that’s filled with heart, soul and, of course, bangers. To celebrate this new phase and mark the release of “Heartbreak Anthem”, their club-ready collaboration with Galantis and David Guetta, we caught up with Jade, Perrie and Leigh-Anne to discuss growing up in the public eye, advocating for trans rights on the global stage, and changing the world.
First of all, I’d love to hear about what your experience of lockdown was like. How was having all of that downtime? It must have been a big adjustment.
Leigh-Anne Pinnock: For us, it was amazing to be able to stop and take some time for ourselves. It was the one positive to really come out of lockdown, knowing that it is okay to slow down. It’s definitely taught us all now that being “go, go, go” constantly isn’t actually healthy. You do really need to take time out.
Looking ahead, do you think that you’re going to be more conscious of mindfulness in your day-to-day?
Perrie Edwards: I think so. It’s given us a bit of perspective on what really is important in life. Through lockdown, we’ve definitely learned the practice of mindfulness, putting yourself first and different ways of dealing with struggles you face and your mental health in a positive way.
Is mental health a topic that’s close to your heart? I know you’ve individually opened up about your struggles before.
Jade Thirlwall: We’ve all been through [mental health struggles] in some way, like most people have. It’s only in recent years that everyone’s talking about it more and more, so it’s becoming a bit more normalised. It’s good to see that there’s more open conversation about mental health. As artists, [speaking about mental health] shows our fans that they’re not alone in whatever they’re feeling or whatever they face. And I suppose it encourages people who put us on a pedestal to remember that we are human. Mental health doesn’t know any boundaries when it comes to race or gender or job title. It can impact anyone and everyone.
Do you feel a responsibility to speak up about that, considering you have such a big platform?
PE: We just try to be as open and honest as we can and use our platforms for good. When we open up about our struggles, what we’ve gone through individually and what we go through as a group in the industry, it resonates with people. A lot of people can relate to it. If we speak out and we can help at least one person, then we’ve made a difference.
On the topic of making change, I can’t think of many major pop groups or musical artists who have shown their support for trans people – but you have. Why is allyship with the queer community important to you?
JT: We’re very much aware that we have an influence, particularly on our younger fans. It’s important to show our fans from that community that they’re accepted, that we love them and that they should be celebrated – and to encourage other people to be on board with that. It’s common sense, really. I always find it strange when people ask me why I’m an ally because it doesn’t really take a lot to do it. We have a huge fanbase and, within that fanbase, we have a lot of LGBTQIA+ fans. We’d be doing them a disservice if we were benefiting from their loyalty to us but didn’t speak up for them. I really hope that, in doing that, we encourage other artists and other people in the public eye to do so, too. Unfortunately, there’s still so much hate and transphobia in our country politically and us posting about it and talking about it hopefully helps things move forward.
It’s refreshing to see Little Mix be so outspoken. It only seems like recently that women in the public eye have been allowed to make their voices heard, twenty or even ten years ago they just weren’t given that space.
JT: There’s definitely a long way to go when it comes to women being able to speak out about misogyny and their experiences within the entertainment industry. Women still don’t get paid the same amount as their male counterparts and still experience sexism or harassment in the workplace. These things obviously exist but we’ve started to feel more like there’s a platform and an understanding, and that when we speak out we’re actually being listened to and heard. There’s power in the solidarity of women standing up for each other and making more noise, especially on social media.
When it comes to your work, you have a lot of control over your output and creativity but I don’t feel like that’s widely appreciated or known. Do you think that sexism is to blame there?
L-A P: I feel like it’s down to being in a girl, pop group. People assume that we shouldn’t have a voice or that we don’t have much to say or that we don’t write our own music. That’s been an ongoing thing, but we’ve done everything in our power to, well, completely get rid of that stereotype. Just because we are in a girl group, it doesn’t mean that we don’t do our own shit. Everything comes from us and it always has. We just laugh at the people that have nothing good to say about that, to be honest. We know who we are and what we do. I’m very proud of how we stand up for things and how we use our voice.
Are there any other misconceptions about you?
L-A P: Where do we begin?
JT: It took a long time to prove to the industry that we were credible enough to be worthy of recognition. I guess that just came with coming from a reality talent show and being in a girl band. We’ve always felt like we’re the underdog and have to prove people wrong, which we quite enjoy, actually, and we’ve got quite good at. Then there’s the [misconception] that there’s animosity between the three of us. That’s a popular one. We always see stories made up about us in the papers. We just have to learn to ignore it.
That must have been very hard when you first entered the public eye to see all this misinformation about you in the press – I remember you were so young when you first hit the charts.
JT: We were literally 18,19 when we got put in the group. We grew up as women within the industry and in the public eye. In the beginning it was a lot to take on and get used to, the constant scrutiny.
What’s a piece of advice you would give to young women in a similar position to you then?
PE: Just don’t lose yourself. Don’t try to cater to every single person because you’ll never please everybody. Do what makes you happy and enjoy the ride.
With the government continuing to cut funding to arts schemes and to creative education in schools, it’s clear that many young people from lower income backgrounds don’t have many opportunities to pursue a career in music. Is that something that concerns you?
JT: When it comes to the arts and when it comes to talent, anyone – if you have it in you, if it’s something you enjoy, and if it’s a passion – can be a great artist. Some of the greatest icons and legends have come from working class backgrounds, we need to encourage that as much as we can and be making sure that the government is supporting that and giving young people the opportunity to be able to live their dream and have a career in the industry. We’re really grateful that we all came from working class backgrounds and were lucky enough to get on a show and be given a platform. It was a hard process for us but it’s definitely not easy for anyone trying to make it from the ground up. It’s funding from the government that helps you get better at your craft and gives you that opportunity.
As a group you’ve had a lot of changes recently. Tell us, what’s on the table for Little Mix’s new era?
PE: For one, it’s a fresh start because there’s three of us. We have so many exciting things planned, so much music and some amazing collaborations. There’s a lot to be excited about, for both our fans and for us. Then, obviously, we’re touring next year. We literally cannot wait to be on tour, it’s been postponed twice now, so 2022 could not come soon enough.
We’ve spoken a lot throughout this interview about the ways you want to use your influence to change things for the better. As a final question, what do you want Little Mix’s legacy to be?
L-A P: When people think of Little Mix I want them to think, “They made some bangers, they used their voice for good, they spoke out about things that weren’t right, and they changed the world.” You know those artists that actively make change? I would love for people to think of us in that bracket.
PE: Like, “God those girls made me feel great about myself, they gave me so much confidence, they really left their mark.” Yeah, that would be glorious…
JT: [Jokingly] Legends, darling, we want to be legends!
21 May 2021