Chatting equality, pop vixens and… vajayjays, Billie JD Porter rides the Little Mix limo.
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Jade wears blue faux fur coat by COACH, blue cotton top and skirt tow piece by &OTHER STORIES, Jesy wears pink coat by MOSCHINO CHEAP AND CHIC from a selection at HARVEY NICHOLS, earrings models own, Perrie wears pink and yellow faux fur jacket by SHRIMPS, pink cotton skirt by CARVEN, and blue snakeskin stiletto heels by JIMMY CHOO, Leigh-Anne wears green sequin embellished dress by ASHISH.
It’s Little Mix’s first day back at work after the Christmas break. In the four years since their X-Factor victory, the girls have sold seven and a half million records worldwide, won 13 awards and helped raise millions of pounds for various charities. Now, they’re working to complete their third album, following the two top-five records they’ve already got under their belts.
In the UK, we’re no strangers to the manufactured pop band, but the Little Mix machine is different, a feat of finely crafted girl-group engineering – from their styling down to their music videos, they’re a cut above the other acts we’ve seen crash and burn so many times before. Perhaps this is because there is one important addition to the formula that sets them apart from the rest: they can all actually sing.
It’s been somewhat of a pop fairytale; the girls were arguably the last real success of the now-dwindling UK reality singing contest where, under the guidance of fairy godmother Tulisa, they were catapulted from obscurity into the big-time. The first group ever chosen by the public to win the competition, they went on to smash a record held by their childhood heroes, The Spice Girls, when their debut album entered at number four in the US charts.
Not long after dipping their toes into the shallow pool of global stardom, one of our princesses found her prince. The announcement of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Perrie Edwards’s engagement to One Direction “bad boy” Zayn Malik was a Daily Mail journalist’s wet dream. As the internet became overrun with borderline sickeningly-sweet photos of the pair in a somewhat crazed, rigid embrace at Disneyland Paris, it felt like Britain had found its own modern day Britney and Justin (minus the double denim and the chastity). We’ve also got a Cinderella, in the form of Leigh Ann Pinnock – who, before entering the show, was working as a waitress at Pizza Hut.
Then there’s Jade Thirwall, who auditioned for The X Factor twice before being selected to reach the final stages, and now has a tattoo, which reads (in Arabic): “Anyone can achieve their dream if they’ve got the courage.” Not forgetting our not-so-ugly-duckling Jesy Nelson, who was the victim of horrendously cruel Internet vitriol throughout the series because of her weight, and has since spoken widely about body image and the dangers of cyber-bullying. More recently, her WTF Jamaican accent nearly Broke The Internet (if you haven’t seen the video already, it’s a must).
Separately, they’re just girls who defied the odds – but together, they represent something more: true love, determination, resilience and the strength to never give up. They’re a concentrated concoction of feel-good-factor for pubescent girls everywhere. Today, between posing in the back of a pink limo and taking selfies in feather boas, the girls and I chat about what the last year has meant for them.
Perrie wears pink and yellow faux fur jacket by SHRIMPS, and pink cotton skirt by CARVEN.
Perrie wears white cotton custom t-shirt and white skirt vintage from a selection at ROKIT.
2014 saw them embark on their first headline stadium tour of the UK, following the 2013 release of their second studio album, Salute. The girls co-wrote nine of the twelve tracks on the record, which had a sound that harked back to the early noughties and the magical era of the modern diva. “We were naturally influenced by that sound because we all grew up loving that music… Jojo, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera… obviously Beyoncé. And J-Lo – I literally stalk her every day on Instagram,” Edwards excitedly explains. The girls’ most recent single, the title track from Salute, throws a nostalgic nod to Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Women”. From the video’s choreography to the lyrics (particularly the hook “Representing all the women; salute, salute!”), the entire package evokes the same message of girl power that Kelly, Michelle and Beyoncé pioneered before disbanding in 2006.
“When we were growing up, we had Destiny’s Child and The Spice Girls, but then there seemed to be a huge gap where there wasn’t really anyone around to inspire young women in the same way,” Jade points out. “Except Jessie J, who we LOVED – in her music, she spoke on behalf of women and girls everywhere,” Jesy Nelson intercepts. It’s no surprise, then, that the girls have teamed up with Jessie J to work on their next record – due for release sometime this summer. The album also sees sessions with the Grammy-nominated MNEK and Marina of Marina and the Diamonds.
We’ve recently had a swathe of female talent dominating the charts; Taylor Swift famously sold a million copies of her fifth studio album 1989 in the week of its release. In 2014, it felt like sisterhood was at an all-time high, with some of the defining songs of the year being collaborations between women. We saw, “Bang Bang” unite the forces of the aforementioned Jessie J, Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande and, despite the lyrics seemingly an ode to one-upping your female competition, the tune was also an anthem for girlfriends everywhere, with the video (which now stands at 221 million views on YouTube) – featuring a majority female cast, and the trio cheering each other on as they attend a Beats By Dre rave on a helipad. When Iggy Azealia and Charli XCX teamed up to bring us, “Fancy”, it held its spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for seven consecutive weeks.
As she teases out her clip-in hair extensions, Leigh Ann Pinnock gushes about the band’s ethos. “It’s so refreshing to see females owning it right now. Girl power is what we’re about. It’s what we stand for as a group. We want to do everything we can to make women feel better about themselves.” And its clear the girls make themselves feel better about each other; their chemistry is undeniable. Between takes, they take turns to DJ, at one point erupting into a rendition of Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” and collapsing into fits of laughter. They’re sweetly tactile with one another, and truly seem more like family than band-mates. It’s heartwarming to see, considering they all originally entered The X Factor as solo artists.
Jade wears blue faux fur coat by COACH, blue cotton top and two piece by &OTHER STORIES.
Jade wears white cotton custom t-shirt and denim skirt by TOPSHOP.
Last year, the Sony hack was one of the biggest news stories, not least because of the supposed threats issued surrounding the cinema-release of the depressingly mediocre The Interview, but also the leaks of emails showing a shocking disparity between the pay cheques of men and women. From the actors, to the in-house Sony staff, we were given a bleak reminder of the ongoing struggle for equal pay. The girls, who are signed to Sony, were angered by the reports.
Edwards pipes up. “I just don’t understand it. Why should we be paid less because we have boobs and a vajayjay?” “It’s crazy, you wouldn’t think that it was the case anymore in this day and age. If things don’t change, all women should just go on strike,” suggests Pinnock. “Can you imagine if all the women in the film industry just stopped working, or turned down parts ’til they got equal pay?” Nelson asks as the others applaud Charlize Theron who, following the leaks, demanded a 10 million dollar payout, to match the rate of her Snow White and The Huntsman co-star, Chris Hemsworth.
The group has never openly discussed such topics before, and quickly sidestep questions about sexism in the music industry. They seem a lot more at ease talking about TOWIE and making fun of me for fancying Simon Cowell than gender inequality but, in their own way, the Little Mix message is one of feminism – despite their reluctance to use the word.
Pinnock seems genuinely emotional as she speaks about the girls’ biggest hit to date, “Wings” – a song that the girls co-wrote about overcoming bullies: “Every time I listen to it or I’m on stage singing it, I believe and feel every word of the song. The message is so strong. We’ve all got things we dislike about ourselves, but a song like that can make you feel so much better about everything.”
“We’ve had mums come up to us and literally thank us for making the music that we do, saying that, since listening to Little Mix, their daughters have been happier and more confident in themselves,“ says Nelson. “If a girl is being bullied, or heartbroken, or just feeling like utter shite, if our music can make them feel better… then we’re doing our jobs right.”
Amen to that.
Jesy wears pink coat by MOSCHINO CHEAP & CHIC from a selection at HARVEY NICHOLS.
Jesy wears white cotton custom t-shirt and black leather skirt by MOSCHINO CHEAP & CHIC from a selection at HARVEY NICHOLS.
Leigh-Anne wears green sequin embellished dress by ASHISH.
Leigh-Anne wears white cotton custom t-shirt and faux leopard print by COACH.
Words: Billie JD Porter.
Fashion Editor: Danielle Emerson.
Photographer: Bella Howard.