Pick 'n' Mix
Little Mix are determined to build on their X-Factor success and prove they are more than just another slice of pre-packaged pop, they tell LAUREN MURPHY
IT’S EASY to be cynical when you’re interviewing a shiny new pop band, but it can be a tricky task, too. Media training means a there is often a reluctance on the band’s part to speak negatively about anything or anyone, there is generally a dearth of “crazy” stories – and forgive us for generalising on this point – usually, not that much life experience. You can anticipate the uniform buzz phrases before they’re ever uttered: “so grateful/ supportive”, “amazing opportunity/ experience/time/fans”, “working really hard”.
That’s not to say that any of the above applies to Little Mix, of course, but interviewing a pop band – on speakerphone, too – when they’re travelling in the back of six-seater van certainly exacerbates the difficulties.
It’s the morning after their gig at London’s O2, and the girl band are trundling down the motorway on the way to their next show in Brighton. This is the sort of life the young foursome have led since winning The X Factor in December 2011: a constant treadmill of travelling, rehearsals, meet-and-greets, shows, the odd recording session and the occasional rushed 15-minute interview snatched in the back of a car.
Pop life isn’t always as glamorous as this, though. Although they made X-Factor history by being the first group to win the competition, Little Mix’s debut single – a cover of Damien Rice’s Cannonball – was the lowest-selling winner’s single since Steve Brookstein’s Against All Odds in 2004. It led many to quickly dismiss their chances of having a lasting career, but that criticism just made them more determined, claims Jade Thirlwall.
“To be honest, we were really happy because we got to number one, and that was what we aimed for,” she says tactfully. “And it was one of the highest-selling singles that year – I think in the first week we sold more than most artists that year. We did really well with Cannonball. Obviously some years, winners have sold more – but that’s just the music industry. Sales are down.”
“Yeah, every year the number of records sold has been descending,” interjects Leigh-Anne Pinnock – although that’s not quite true: the successor to their throne, James Arthur, sold 490,000 copies of his single in its first week.
“And straight after that, we brought out Wings, and that went straight to number one and was one of the highest-earning singles of 2012,” adds Perrie Edwards. “So . . . y’know.”
One thing the foursome probably hadn’t counted on was the level of media intrusion they would have to suffer. It really hit home recently, when the boyfriend of Edwards – One Direction’s Zayn Malik – was very publicly accused of infidelity. Having your personal life be subject to such public scrutiny must be a difficult facet of the pop star life.
The line goes momentarily quiet. “The media comes with the music industry, and it’s one of those things that you’ve just gotta deal with,” says Thirwall tentatively, avoiding any specifics. “I think when we were first thrown into it, it was a bit of a shock, and it was a bit hurtful, yeah. But now, we just kind of laugh it off, really. At the end of the day, for every bad comment that you might get from someone in a paper, or whatever, there’s a million nice comments from the fans and the people who are actually going out and buying your music.
“And the main thing is, we’re in a group with each other to support each other. So whenever anything nasty does happen, there’s three girls ready to be there for you. So that helps.”
While the group’s debut tour is also selling well, it’s difficult not to draw parallels with the rise and success of other girl groups – particularly Girls Aloud, who were formed through a similar reality show process.
“We do get told that we’re like the Spice Girls, which is a massive compliment – but I think that’s more down to our personalities, and the way that we dress individually,” says Edwards. “But I think we’re all different. Girls Aloud are different to us, The Saturdays are different to us. It’s really important to us that we do everything ourselves: we sing, we dance, we harmonise, we rap, we beatbox. We just want to show everybody what we can do. I suppose it is hard for girlbands – there is this kind of persona attached – but we really hope to prove people wrong. There’s enough room in the market for every single band out there, at the end of the day.”
There is certainly no rivalry or bad blood between them and their reality-show predecessors; Girls Aloud’s Nicola Roberts wrote a track that was included on their album, which also includes songs co-written with other female pop stars such as Shaznay Lewis of All Saints and Tionne T-Boz Watkins of TLC. The writing credits also reveal that the four Little Mixers were heavily involved in crafting their debut album – but really, how much influence does a manufactured pop group actually have over their musical direction?
“We have loads of input in everything we do,” insists Edwards. “We said from day one – as soon as The X Factor started – we’ve always known exactly what we want to do, and all of our team and everyone around us has been so supportive of us. I think at the end of the day, if we were being told what to do, what to wear or how to act, it would just be fake and you’d see straight through it.”
“I think what’s cool about the album is when we were writing it and in the studio, we kind of wanted every song to be different,” says Thirlwall. “We wanted some to be really old- school r’n’b, and we wanted others to be modern; we wanted the album to have something for everybody, so that everybody likes at least one song. So that’s why we made it really different – it’s a little mix of everything, pardon the pun.”
Yet the track record for previous X-Factor winners isn’t exactly great: many have crashed and burned within a few years (if they’re lucky – Leon Jackson, Joe McElderry). What makes Little Mix different?
“I think it’s down to timing – I don’t think it’s down to being from The X Factor,” says Pinnock. “We’re just going to work as hard as we can. I mean, we love doing the music that we do, and that’s what it’s all about – we just love what we do. So we’re just gonna work really hard and hopefully it all goes good.”
The “X-Factor winner” label must feel like a shackle at times, though.“Well, obviously, we would like to be known as being our own artists, but I don’t think we’ll ever be bothered by being known from The X Factor,” says Nelson. “That’s what’s got us where we are now. If we didn’t audition, or apply for The X Factor, we wouldn’t be in this position – so we’re just really grateful. It’s an amazing platform to start off with.”
There is certainly no lack of confidence in the Little Mix camp – and that will serve them well on their quest to crack the US later this year. Initial chart placings have shown promise, and with acts such as One Direction, The Wanted and Cher Lloyd blazing a trail Stateside, the group reckon there’s no reason they can’t continue the trend.
“It is harder to break America, but we’re just hoping to get there and show everybody what we can do,” says Thirlwall. “There’s definitely a gap in America for a new girl band – and hopefully we can fill that spot. We always say that in five years’ time – well, not even five years’, maybe two years’ time – we wanna be performing on the Madison Square Garden stage. You gotta dream big, right?”
Little Mix play two shows (matinee and evening) at Dublin’s Olympia tomorrow, and Waterfront Hall, Belfast, Sunday. The X-Factor Live Tour 2013, featuring James Arthur, comes to Dublin’s O2 on Monday