Words: Thomas Stichbury; images: supplied
I've interviewed Little Mix a number of times over the years (I know, boast much), as a fresh-faced, luscious-locked baby showbiz journalist rubbish at sniffing out ‘scoops’ – Jade Thirlwall once did me an absolute solid at a Brit Awards after-party, armed with a shot of tequila, no less – to, well, me now, sporting a few extra lines, sallower skin and a receding hairline no super-sized bottles of Alpacin can seemingly save.
The road has been slightly rocky of late, with the departure of bandmate and linguist Jesy Nelson – my obsession with the “Balegdeh” video is borderline unhealthy – but Jade, 28, Perrie Edwards, 28, and Leigh-Anne Pinnock, 30, are as joyful as ever when we catch up over Zoom ahead of the release of their greatest hits album, Between Us (which also boasts a couple of new tracks), out today.
As reports of a split loom large, the trio insist that this is not the end of Little Mix, even if they do go their separate ways for a bit, as they reflect on 10 years in the music business, taking Attitude on a tour of all the highs and lows, from their long-overdue Brit win for Best British Group, to the misogyny and record label dramas they’ve had to navigate along the way.
When the sound of a gurgling baby interrupts the interview – Perrie and Leigh-Anne recently became mothers – it is a reminder of how much time has passed since they won The X Factor so many moons ago. In some ways though, things haven’t changed at all: they’re still frank, funny (I sincerely hope Perrie never eats a roast dinner before a gig again...) and fiercely devoted to one another. It must be in their DNA…
It has been an eventful few weeks… how are you all doing?
Leigh-Anne: Alright, yeah.
Jade: We are, we’re doing good. You know, obviously the run-up to the album, so we’re very excited about that.
Between Us is a greatest hits record, but there are a couple of new songs. I’m already obsessed with 'No'. Bit of a bop, innit?
P: We came up with that song because we feel like in the industry and in our lives, we’ve been – not always, we like to, you know, think that we’re very independent and we make our own rules in this place, but there has been times in the past where we’ve, kind of, either been bribed or backed into a corner and told, basically, you have no choice, you have to do this. So, we’ve been "yes" people in the past sometimes [and] we just got to the point where we were sick of it and we were like, do you know what, you say "yes" too many times, now it’s "no." We’re going to put our foot down, we’re going to stand united and say "no" for a change. That’s what’s it’s about.
Well, this is a question I was going to ask further on in the interview. You represent girl power and female empowerment, and I was wondering if you’d encountered much misogyny in the industry?
J: We’ve definitely encountered misogyny along the way. It is a predominantly male-led industry. I’m trying to think if I actually know any label heads that are women…
I guess the fact you even have to think is your answer.
J: Exactly. All the top dogs, as it were, are older white men. So yeah, we’ve encountered that along the way… I think as a girl band as well, we’re very easily sexualised, or [it’s] very easily assumed that we’re a machine that just get told what to do. Things are getting better, probably not quickly enough, but little changes here and there, starting with us winning the Brit Award this year, which was amazing.
Congratulations again because that was huge. And overdue.
J: It’s bittersweet because we were so proud to have won that award. But we’ve said this so many times now, it was 43 years of the Brit Awards, and we were the first female band to win, which is like – even in that sense, we still have a long way to go in terms of appreciating and respecting women in every aspect in the music industry.
Why do you think now is the right time to release a greatest hits record? Typically, it suggests the closing of a chapter, the ending of an era, and there have been reports that an announcement of a split will soon follow. As a Little Mix stan… say it ain’t so?!
L: [Laughs] No, we felt like it was the right time to release this album because it’s been 10 years. If anything, we have to think of this as a celebration. It’s not a goodbye, it is a celebration, and the main thing for us is that we’re able to now do our little solo things and venture out a bit on our own. We have been together for so long and yes – the bottom line is, Little Mix is never going to die. Little Mix is always going to be Little Mix. We can’t see our lives without each other… There is still so much more for Little Mix to do, but the important thing is for us to be able to also have our own things going on as well.
P: No matter what we do individually, we’re going to support each other one hundred per cent, because we are best friends at the end of the day. We’re sisters. Like Leigh-Anne said, no matter how much we do individually, and we go on our solo ventures, we’ll always be Little Mix. Little Mix is forever, you know, so we’ll always get back together.
Are you all interested in exploring something musically solo?
J: I think inevitably, yeah, that could happen in the future. I’d personally love to hear Perrie’s pipes on a big song, I’d love to hear [Leigh-Anne] doing whatever she loves best. That will probably happen in the future, but like we say, Little Mix is still going to be there. There’s a definite, sort of, safety and lovely warm fluffiness knowing that we always have each other to fall back on. That’s honestly such a lovely situation to be in, to know that we’re always going to be celebrating each other’s wins, whether that was to be in music or beauty or clothing, whatever it is that we’re passionate about. When we first initiated doing little bits on our own it was quite scary because, as you know, media picks up on it straight away. The minute one person does something, oh my God, they’re splitting up, or this is happening. So, for a long time, we put it off, it always felt awkward doing our own thing. We’ve got to a place now where it feels right doing that.
J: Really healthy. Literally, still now, I don’t how to announce myself as a name without saying, “from Little Mix.” Do you know what I mean?
L: I know what you mean.
J: We’re tightknit. The thought of not having you two by my side ever is so scary.
L: I think, are people going to know who I am?
J: We do come as a package still, don’t we?
You’re so cute. If my face could emote – I’ve had a bit too much Botox – I would probably shed a tear. So, Leigh and Perry, congratulations on becoming mothers, I hope it is everything you wanted it to be and more. Appreciate I’m a man asking this question, but has motherhood shifted your perspective on your careers?
L: Even though I’m in mummy world and in my bubble, I need to know what I’m doing for the year. I need to have my plan. But at the same time, I feel like me and Pez have both felt like this, the fact that it just puts everything into perspective
Jade, how annoying-slash-misogynistic is it that, since Leigh and Perrie have had babies, the question you constantly get pitted with is, when/if would you like to become a mum?
J: Hun, honestly, if I had a pound for every time I got asked, I’d be a millionaire. At first, I found it quite shocking, because I thought we’d moved on from being asked – that those questions were alright. Now, I’m like, I’ve been asked it so many times, whether it’s from journalists or friends or family friends. It is interesting to see how programmed we are to assume that I’m, like, ‘missing out’ or, I don’t know, assume that I should be next or will be next. It is a bit annoying. I was saying to the girls yesterday that I saw on Twitter, when the news first came out, some women’s article did a piece that was, like, Are you the Jade of your friends? Are you falling behind in life? [Laughs].
It’s mad that those kinda pieces are run.
J: It’s so wrong, but I take it with a pinch of salt. I’m not offended in any way. I’m just at a different stage in my life. I’m more than happy to be the cool auntie.
You’ve got your tour coming up next year. What can we expect from that?
J: Obviously, now there are so many complications involved when it comes to COVID, so yeah, it’s gonna be much harder to manoeuvre, but we are honestly so excited to get back on the road and perform again. It’s been two years since we toured. We’re gagging for it.
P: I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be on stage… It’s been that long, I’m like, oh my gosh, I’m probably going to s*** my pants!
It’ll be a full sensory experience then.
P: [Laughs] Yeah, full!
Looking back at your catalogue of hits, what song holds a particularly special place in your hearts?
J: I would pick 'Wings' because that was the start of this whole journey for us. It was the perfect first single, it really showed who we were.
P: I have three, but for different reasons. I would go with 'Black Magic', because I remember that time being really difficult for us as a band. We thought we were gonna get dropped, we made an album we didn’t like at all, we scrapped it, started again, and I think we were a little bit lost. And then obviously when 'Black Magic' came around, it revived us and it really helped cement us again in the industry. 'Shout Out to My Ex' was one of our biggest songs… it felt so good at the time, everyone can relate to it… Then 'Touch' because it opened up a wider fanbase for us.
L: You guys said the main ones!
Do you have a least-favourite track? Not necessarily in terms of the quality of the song, but the memories it triggers, maybe, of a difficult time?
J: For a long time, I kept telling myself that I didn’t like 'Woman Like Me', because it would always just remind me of that whole period when we were transitioning labels and it was very stressful. We moved labels right in the middle of our [LM5] album campaign… there was a lot of drama and stuff behind the scenes, I was convinced that I hated the song. But now I watch it back – we all do this, now and again, we fall in a Little Mix blackhole and watch all our old stuff – and I watched the video, and I was like, f***, that’s actually one of our best videos. The song is a great song.
L: The song that we will probably never love is 'Oops' [laughs]. There are certain songs, you just have to be honest.
Was it ever a consideration that 'Wasabi' might be a single? The gays were really campaigning for it – justice for 'Wasabi'!
J: Yeah, it was up for consideration. I’m sure we even talked about video ideas and stuff, but we changed label and I think that meant we couldn’t release it, because it was obviously written and done with the label before.
Have you ever turned down a song and regretted it?
J: We were meant to do a Maluma collaboration, [but] we didn’t like the song enough, so it didn’t end up happening, which was a shame. And there was meant to be a Pablo Vittar collaboration at one point, which fell through. There’s a bit of tea for you!
Always appreciated… Is there a difficult period [of your careers] that you grew and learned from?
P: Every time we’ve gone through personal stuff. It’s really f***ing difficult to go out there and put on a brave face and pretend like everything’s fine, when really you’re dying inside. But I think that’s why we’ve been so lucky to have each other; I think if we went out there on our own and we were going through such horrible times and the whole world was looking at us, it’s like a magnifying glass, you feel like it’s being held at you the whole time. Having each other really helps take the load off. If you’re not feeling it at the time when you’re going through something s***, you know you’ve got the other girls who will pick up more on interviews, or who will pick up more in fan interactions, and cover it for you.
J: Probably the same as Perrie. I feel like, for me, I kind of had a, sort of, weird Little Mix ‘curse’, where every time we’d initiate a new campaign someone in my family would die.
Oh god, I’m sorry.
J: How weird, like literally, every first single, something would happen, but like Perrie says, being in a group, every time it was the girls who would get me through that and pick me up and support me. No matter whatever happens in our lives, personally, professionally, as long as we’ve got each other, that’s all that really matters to be honest. And also, I would say probably the label transition… because it was one of the moments in our career where we did say “No” and we weren’t OK with the way things were ran and stuff, and I think that turbulence in our career, so to speak, really strengthened us and helped push us to have even more of voice and speak out when we weren’t happy about things. That process was the beginning of bad bitch energy coming through.
Few individual questions for you. Perrie… when are you going to appear as a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK?
P: I don’t want to say it out loud, because it just sounds dirty coming out of my mouth, but… I’ve never watched an episode in my life!
Gasp! Right, how do I leave this Zoom call…
P: I know, I’m sorry! Actually, I take that back, I did watch one with Jade in America.
So, then my next question, will you be appearing on series four, I gather the answer is "No"?
P: Unless I do my homework and watch it all really quick [laughs]. It’s bad, isn’t it? I know I’d like it.
J: You would.
Jade, you helped write Billy Porter’s new song 'Children', right?
Is there anyone else you would like to write for?
J: Any gay icon is at the top of my list. Writing for Billy was phenomenal, he’s a legend. That was incredible. I was such a fan of Billy’s any way, I really understood the assignment when we wrote 'Children'. I’d love to write a Kylie Minogue song [too].
And Leigh, one of the highlights of your year was the release of your documentary, Race, Pop and Power. Since that aired, what conversations have been had? Where are we at with that?
L: A big thing for me was trying to diversify my team. For so many years, I just didn’t feel like that was the case. It took me to have quite a few conversations, but yeah, I feel like I’ve finally – the last couple of things we’ve done, the last couple of video shoots we’ve done, it really felt like there’s been a massive shift. I was walking into work and seeing people that look like me and that was just amazing. There is definitely change happening, which is great, but yeah, there’s still obviously a lot more work to do.
What is the most ridiculous story you’ve read about yourself?
J: Dating ones are always annoying. I remember it circulating that I was going out with Jason Derulo.
L: I remember that.
J: I’ve seen a lot recently, things in the media saying I’m on I’m a Celeb or doing Strictly, all these shows… I always think if me and Jordan had dated a few years ago, it would have been a journalists’ wet dream of Rizzle Kicks and Little Mix as a headline, you know, ‘Little Kicks’, ‘Rizzle Mix’ [laughs].
What is the most awkward showbiz encounter you’ve had?
L: It was in the studio, and I went to the toilet. I came out and Ms Dynamite was about to go in right after me. And it was really bad…
P: I remember that.
L: How embarrassing. But you know what, when you have to go, you’ve got to go.
P: Jade, what was that one in America at the Teen Awards when that famous actress ran behind you and grabbed you?
J: It was Nina Dobrev. She thought I was one of her friends from behind and I had a skirt on, and she ran up behind us and put her hands up my skirt and felt my arse. I turned around and she s*** herself: “I’m so sorry, I thought you were my friend!”
P: It was so funny. Jade was like, “We’re friends now!”
J: That was worse for her than me.
Tell me something that you’ve never told another journalist before…
P: We were on tour once and I think I’d eaten a really big meal before going on. We were going up in the lifts to do 'DNA', and as I was going up in the lift, I vomited in my mouth and had to swallow it. Is that not the most disgusting thing ever? And why did that come to my head, I’d like to know.
Yeesh... Finally, what does Little Mix stand for?
P: Self-confidence and love.
L: Unity and solidarity.
J: And history.
Little Mix’s album Between Us – including new song 'No' – is out now.