“I’ve done a shit job, I’m going home,” grumbles Jade Thirlwall while she works on a self-portrait. “I look like me mam,” she continues, “not that that’s a bad thing.” When the 60 seconds is up, we all look at her creation. It’s actually fantastic, bearing an uncanny resemblance to its artist. That she ever thought that she’d done “a shit job” is hard to believe and also a little sad. You can’t help but want to give her a little confidence boost.
But from one listen of ‘LM5’, Little Mix’s matter-of-factly titled fifth studio album, out today, it’s clear that self-confidence is a subject they’re tackling head-on. As writers, performers, public figures and women, Jade Thirlwall, Perrie Edwards, Leigh-Anne Pinnock and Jesy Nelson are taking pride in themselves and what they have to offer the world. On songs like ‘Strip’, ‘Joan Of Arc’ and ‘Woman’s World’, they are explicitly putting a feminist, body-confident rhetoric into their lyrics for the first time. They’ve always been absolutely pro-women – that’s evident from rousing anthems like ‘Salute’ and ‘Power’ – but this feels like an extra step into social engagement. It’s most clear on their new video for ‘Strip’, in which they pull together friends, family, activists and advocates to embrace their insecurities and encourage fans to reject the hold that image has on our self-confidence.
That this fresh new honesty and openness is coming at a time when the group are at the height of their powers can only be a good thing. This album’s lead single, the reggae-influenced, ‘Drunk In Love’-referencing ‘Woman Like Me’, comes with a propulsion of hype, not least because it features Nicki Minaj, an artist the girls have been trying to pin down for a collaboration for years. Their performance of the song at the MTV EMAs a couple of days before we meet has been touted by many as the highlight of the night. The track has also got them caught in a crossfire in the ongoing war between Minaj and Cardi B (Cardi claimed, falsely, that she was approached first for the feature). But as they sing on the infectious alt-pop of ‘Wasabi’, “Either way, you talk about me.”
Seven years is a long time in pop. That’s how long it’s been since Jade, Perrie, Leigh-Anne and Jesy were pulled together on the UK version of ‘The X Factor’ to form a group that would soon become Little Mix. It’s fair to say they’ve defied the odds by lasting this long. As the first group to win the TV competition, expectations were low. Coupled with the fact that British pop groups, male or female, aren’t exactly noted for their longevity (even those that stay together longer often lose or swap out members), the fact that Little Mix are still standing is a feat in itself.
But they’re more than surviving, they’re thriving. None of their contemporaries or predecessors – be that Girls Aloud, One Direction, Spice Girls, The Saturdays, Sugababes or Take That – had such obvious fondness for each other, or such great vocal strength across the board. There’s not a weak link to be found in Little Mix’s voices, and the love and compassion amongst the four women is beyond doubt. They have a kind of unity and harmony that is unrivalled in pop music today. Don’t expect that to change any time soon.
We caught up with Jade, Leigh-Anne, Jesy and Perrie in London ahead of the release of ‘LM5’ to discuss the themes of the album, their engagement with their fans on the issues that matter to them, and what fans can expect from their upcoming tour...
...we still, even now, face sexism in what we do. Which is very frustrating, as four women.
COUP DE MAIN: I’ve got to know, what is running through your head as you’re walking towards Nicki Minaj onstage while performing ‘Woman Like Me’ at the EMAs?
JESY NELSON: Well, we’d rehearsed it with her the night before, which was very surreal. Just seeing Nicki Minaj standing there in all her glory. It was a moment that we will cherish forever.
JADE THIRLWALL: I can’t really remember the performance. It felt like a bit of a blur.
JESY: It was all too quick, the performance.
PERRIE EDWARDS: It was too quick!
JESY: I feel like we took in more of the rehearsal than we did of the actual performance.
LEIGH-ANNE PINNOCK: The thing is with us, ‘Super Bass’ was one of the first songs we ever performed together as a group, so little did we know, seven years later we’d be onstage with the woman herself. It’s mad.
CDM: And now that you’ve worked with Nicki, who’s next on your collaborations dream list?
PERRIE: I said Jes needs to just whack them out because everything you say happens.
LEIGH-ANNE: Can you say Rihanna too, please?
JESY: And Rihanna! And Beyoncé. And Bruno Mars.
CDM: You’ve got lots of time, you can fit them all in! What you’ve teased of the ‘Strip’ video looks amazing. You’ve been working with a group of advocates for female empowerment and change from all different walks of life. How did you find them and what can we expect from the video?
JADE: We wanted to branch out and find some amazing, powerful women who stand for something. We tried to [cover] lots of different types of women. It was our vision, even from when we first wrote ‘Strip’ – we had it in our heads that we wanted to do a video like this and have lots of women in it. The day we shot the video – which we co-directed as well, that was really cool – it was lovely, wasn’t it? It was quite emotional, being with all those women. They’re all incredible. It really meant something.
LEIGH-ANNE: One of the most meaningful videos we’ve ever done, definitely.
CDM: There’s a song on the album called ‘Women’s World’ about channelling the anger you felt after the groundswell of sexual assault and harassment allegations last year. You’re outspoken about these topics in interviews and on social media – why was that specifically something you wanted to express in the music?
JESY: You wrote this one, didn’t you, Jade?
JADE: Yeah! It’s important for us to use our music and our platform – we obviously have a big fanbase and a lot of influence on our younger fans – to speak out about things that are important. ‘Woman’s World’ is about the inequality [faced by] women and how it needs to change. I think that as we’re getting older as women, we are getting a bit more confident with the topics we write about or we talk about in interviews. We’re not as worried anymore about touching on those things. I think women in the music industry are being taken more seriously for what their opinions are, rather than just being deemed as a pop puppet, you know?
LEIGH-ANNE: I remember in the first couple of years, I think our label were a little bit shocked at how much we wanted to be involved with everything. And someone made a comment, they said, “They shouldn’t be involved this much.” And we were just like, “Well, why shouldn’t we?”
JESY: This is our careers!
LEIGH-ANNE: Innit! Are you intimidated by four girls’ opinions? Like, what is this? But I’m so proud that we’ve always had control over our career, regardless of what people have said, we’ve always had that control.
JESY: That’s why we’re still here, seven years going, which is unheard of: because we are in the driving seat of our career. We stand up for what we believe in and we don’t take no sh— from anyone.
LEIGH-ANNE: Yeah, that’s the one thing I think we’ve learnt from this whole experience: to trust our gut. Every time we do that, I always feel like we made the right decision, don’t you?
JESY, PERRIE & JADE: Yeah!
CDM: And do you feel that the music industry has changed how it treats women who want to speak openly about feminism in the seven years that you’ve been on the scene?
JADE: I think it’s getting better. There’s still a long way to go. We still, even now, face sexism in what we do. Which is very frustrating, as four women. I think there is a slight change. I feel like people want to hear what pop artists have to say now about things going on in the world. Especially as a girl band – there’s always that weird stigma attached to girl bands, that they’re pop puppets who just get onstage and sing. That’s just not who we are. We’re strong women with opinions.
CDM: Body positivity is a major theme on the album and you’ve each posted about embracing the things about your appearance that used to make you insecure. Talking about these things is so important – have you seen this openness reflected back to you by your fans?
JESY: Yeah, we just think it’s really important while we’ve got this platform to use it in a positive way. Because Instagram is such a huge part of our lives, everyone’s lives, but it can be quite scary because people are becoming obsessed with an image that isn’t real. Pez [Perrie] always says that people only show you a percentage of what their lives are actually like. Everything’s edited, everything’s filtered. We want to show girls of our generation – all women, young girls, older girls – that this is actually what’s real, and being you is okay! All the things about you that you may not like, embrace them! Because they’re what make you you, and they’re what make you special.
CDM: Is there one song on the album that you feel would have been really helpful for you to have had ten years ago?
ALL [in unison]: ‘Strip’.
JESY: That is literally what the whole video is about.
LEIGH-ANNE: But I feel like it’s got worse. Ten years ago, we didn’t have all the social media and these things that make you feel rubbish about yourself. It just wasn’t as bad as it is now. Honestly, it’s so boring. Everyone just wants to look the same – it’s so weird!
CDM: But on the other hand, ten years ago we didn’t have people like you putting out that message of positivity, and being able to connect via social media with people who need to hear it.
JESY: Yeah, we feel lucky. As much as Instagram is kinda scary, it’s an amazing platform to have.
LEIGH-ANNE: It’s about using it in a more positive way.
JESY: Yeah, definitely.
CDM: If you could have two minutes with the 2011 X Factor versions of yourselves, is there one life spoiler you would tell that girl, one thing she’d never believe you ended up getting to do?
JESY: I think it would be the EMAs, Nicki Minaj.
LEIGH-ANNE: Yeah! “You’re performing ‘Super Bass’ right now, but little do you know, you’re going to be performing with Nicki Minaj!”
JESY: We didn’t think we’d even get her on a track, let alone perform with her and meet her and actually become friends with her.
LEIGH-ANNE: Because it was so long coming, like, we said it from the beginning. Year after year, it was like, ‘It’s not gonna happen, is it girls? It’s not gonna happen’ – and it happened!
CDM: ‘Wasabi’ is definitely one of my favourites on the record.
PERRIE: Everyone’s said that, haven’t they?
LEIGH-ANNE: Everyone’s gonna love that.
JESY: It’s my mum’s favourite.
CDM: Who did you write that one with and what was the vibe you were going for with that song? It’s quite different to the rest of the album.
LEIGH-ANNE: Take it away!
JADE: Well, that was written with Mike Sabath, who’s a new, young producer who’s really cool – we did ‘Notice’ with him too – and Shun [Alexandra Govere], who wrote ‘Touch’, and a bit of MNEK, he came in the session. I just wanted a song that I could dance to in [London gay club] Heaven. Have a little vogue to!
PERRIE: In Heaven the club, or heaven…?
JADE: Oh, in the club! <laughs>
PERRIE: I was gonna say!
JADE: But yeah, the concept. It was really funny because Shun was basically eating sushi. She was literally shovelling wasabi in her mouth. I was like, “How are you eating that? If that was me, I would just spit it out.” And then I was like, “Wait a minute! There’s a song in that!”
JADE: It’s quite a sassy song about being talked about all the time, good and bad. It’s like, you’re still talking about us so we’re doing something right. It’s a good sassy number.
HOW WE FEEL ABOUT OUR NEW ALBUM 'LM5' BEING OUT...
HOW WE FEEL WHEN WE HEAR 'DRUNK IN LOVE'...
WHAT THE MONSTER IN ME LOOKS LIKE...
CDM: You’ve all been such incredible allies for the queer community, particularly Jade – I know you’ve worked with Stonewall and marched in Manchester Pride with them earlier this year. How was that experience?
JADE: That was amazing. That was actually my first ever Pride. I’d never had the chance to do one before. I loved that for my first Pride experience, I went there knowing what it was really about. I’d been educated in what being an ally was, I didn’t just turn up like, “Oohhh, rainbows!” I’m glad that when I finally got to do it, I knew exactly why it was that I was doing it. I did the march with a lot of young LGBT people who’ve really struggled with coming out or being disowned by their families. It was really special, and emotional, actually, doing the march. They were chanting with banners and stuff. It’s like being in a movie. And all the kids! They were so cute! It was lovely, I had the best time ever.
CDM: You’re the biggest British girl band since the Spice Girls – you may even be bigger, having smashed a few of their records! What was your reaction to their recent reunion news?
JESY: It was always going to happen, wasn’t it? We love them. We’ve grown up with them. They were our girl band.
LEIGH-ANNE: But they still are! That’s who we look up to. Any other girl band that we could compare ourselves to, it would be the Spice Girls.
JESY: Whenever we have sleepovers, we always watch ‘Spiceworld’. I just can’t get enough of them, I love them!
CDM: And speaking of live shows, do you have any idea of what your tour for this album will look like yet?
JESY: Jade came in today with some ideas, didn’t you? It’s so exciting, I think that‘s the best part of this job.
PERRIE: Yeah, it is the best bit.
JESY: To be able to create our own tour and have it exactly how we want it to be and know that people are going to watch it and be amazed.
LEIGH-ANNE: But it has to be bigger and better than ever before. Like, this is 'LM5'.
JESY: 100%. This will be the most exciting tour we’ve ever done, I think.
LEIGH-ANNE: Yes, it has to be.
JESY: Even the songs are more exciting, like, concept-wise, the things that we can play around with…
LEIGH-ANNE: Can you imagine ‘Wasabi’? Like the screens… Oh my god!
JESY: I know, we can go crazy. Go mental. ‘Joan Of Arc’, everything. It’s gonna be epic. I’m so excited!
CDM: It was amazing to have you in New Zealand last year! Do you know yet if there are plans to come back?
JADE: Oohhh, well the plan for next year is to go to as many countries as we can. That’s the dream. We want to really focus on places that we haven’t really been to, so like South America. Do a bit of Europe. If we get to go to New Zealand properly again, that would be amazing. It’s just hard fitting everything in!
Little Mix's new album 'LM5' is out now - click here to purchase.
Watch the 'Woman Like Me' music video featuring Nicki Minaj below...