WHEN Little Mix sashayed their way to victory on The X Factor a decade ago, wide-eyed with excitement and as cute as buttons, a big future was predicted.
But no one, not even their mentor Tulisa Contostavlos who’d championed the girls from day one, could have guessed how mind-bogglingly successful they’d become.
They brought an instant breath of fresh air to the UK music industry, which had been crying out for a modern brand of girl power since the end of the Spice Girls. Releasing pop hit after pop hit, including Black Magic, Shout Out To My Ex and Woman Like Me, has kept them at the top of the charts since the very beginning.
Over 50 million record sales, four platinum albums, two BRITs and six arena tours later, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, 29, Jesy Nelson, 29, Jade Thirlwall, 28, and Perrie Edwards, 27, have become multimillionaires before the age of 30.
We’ve watched the four of them grow from being the girls next door to powerful, intelligent and outspoken women. They are more world-weary than when they started (and much less rough around the edges), but they have never lost the humour or relatability so key to their initial success.
And so when Jesy announced she was quitting the band last month to focus on her mental health, it marked the end of one of the most extraordinary eras in pop history.
They love each other dearly, but they are also four very strong-minded women who all have their own opinions on how they want to work, and so of course there isn’t always going to be a consensus.
The remaining trio have wished her well and vowed to carry on without her, but all have various solo projects and ambitions, and only time will tell how long they continue as a threesome.
Lockdown provided time and space to reassess, and although the girls managed to film their hit show Little Mix The Search and release their sixth studio album Confetti in November, which went to No.2 in the charts, rumours of an imminent split had been circulating all year.
A showbiz insider who has known the girls since their X Factor days said: “They’ve had nearly 10 years of what has often been a gruelling schedule and so it’s only natural that they might want to explore what else the world has to offer them now.
“They love each other dearly, but they are also four very strong-minded women who all have their own opinions on how they want to work, and so of course there isn’t always going to be a consensus.
“No boy or girl band lasts forever and Little Mix has already exceeded the normal five-year shelf-life. There must come a point where being able to make decisions completely independently is more appealing than constantly having to compromise.
“Jesy’s departure might well accelerate the inevitable now. If, Covid permitting, the Confetti tour goes ahead this year, then it could turn out to be more of a farewell to the fans than anything else.”
While the Little Mix juggernaut has brought plenty of highs, all four of the girls have had their crosses to bear over the last 10 years and there have also been some incredibly challenging times to overcome.
They have battled through anxiety, trolling, heartbreak and, most shockingly, Jesy’s suicide attempt, following years of sustained online bullying. Jesy has said of the relentless schedule: “I was going to see a therapist at six o’clock in the morning, crying, and then going to a photo shoot.”
But the deep, genuine friendship that was always at the heart of everything they did, helped each one through their darkest moments.
At every Fabulous shoot we’ve done with them – they’ve appeared on our cover five times over the years – that tight- knit bond has been crystal clear. They make each other laugh easily, they finish each other’s sentences and together create an energy that is infectious.
This was evident the first time we shot them way back in 2011, when they were still competing on The X Factor.
We also shot their fellow female finalists, but it was the Little Mix girls who stood out. While Kitty Brucknell, Janet Devlin and Misha B (remember them?) moaned about tiredness or became upset because they didn’t like the styling, Perrie, Leigh-Anne, Jesy and Jade were a joy to work with.
They were fun and easy-going, focused and eager to please and, above anything else, genuinely thrilled to be on what was their first cover shoot.
Jesy would often take the lead in interviews, answering first and providing a platform for the rest of them to bounce off each other.
There was plenty of good-natured teasing – all of them were more than capable of laughing at themselves if it was their turn to be the butt of the jokes.
In 2015 we saw just how close and intuitive that friendship was when an exhausted Perrie, still reeling from her split from fiancé Zayn Malik, broke down in tears on stage during a live performance in New York as Jesy, Jade and Leigh-Anne abandoned the set to scoop her up and form a protective human shield around her.
Jesy turned to the concerned crowd and said simply: “It’s been a long day,” which was the perfect response to a difficult situation – she knew instinctively what to say to acknowledge what was happening while also reassuring the fans.
Perrie would later recall the incident in an interview and said that it was easy to forget they were “real people going through real things.”
From the beginning
The girls audition as solo artists on The X Factor.
They change their band name to Little Mix after realising a company is called Rhythmix.
They win The X Factor and single Cannonball goes to No.1.
First album DNA is released, which reaches No.3 in the UK.
Second album Salute goes platinum.
They kick off their first headline arena tour.
Album Get Weird reaches No.2 and sells nearly 1 million copies in the UK alone.
Their first UK No.1 album Glory Days is released.
Shout Out To My Ex wins Best Single at the BRITs.
Album LM5 gets to No.3.
Jesy’s Odd One Out documentary airs on the BBC and wins an NTA.
Little Mix The Search launches on BBC1.
Sixth studio album Confetti reaches No.2.
Jesy announces her departure from the band.
Single Sweet Melody reaches No.1.
The girls showed how steely they’d become in 2018 when, days before the release of their fifth studio album LM5, they announced they would be leaving Simon Cowell’s record label after seven years.
They signed to RCA, with Jesy and Jade saying the split from Syco was “horrible” but “necessary” in order to gain creative control over their music and image.
“It came at a bad time, as we were releasing new music,” said Jade. “We were so close to the people that were there with us every day.”
She later added that the experience had been a lesson. “We’ve learnt to really stick to our guns and do what we believe in.”
But of all the girls, it is undoubtedly Jesy who has had the most to contend with.
From the outset she was subjected to the most horrific trolling over the way she looked and in her brave, soul-bearing documentary Odd One Out she revealed for the first time the heart-breaking toll it had taken on her.
In 2013, she had felt so beaten by it all, she attempted to take her own life.
“I wasn’t known as one of the singers from Little Mix. I was always known as the ugly one,” she said. “I just remember thinking: ‘I need this to go away – I’m going to end this.’ I hit such a low point in my life.”
She added: “It sounds bad to say, but you don’t think about the people that you’re going to leave behind. You just want the physical pain that you’re feeling to stop.”
The documentary deservedly won a prestigious National Television Award last year and Jesy was universally praised for her courage in bringing the issues of trolling to the fore.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the public eye or not,” said Jesy. “You cannot get away from social media, and it’s ruining a lot of people’s lives.”
But her personal troubles resurfaced again in September last year, when she suffered a panic attack during the band’s Live Lounge performance at Radio 1.
In between the two tracks they were singing, she was seen holding her hands up to show how much she was shaking as Perrie, Leigh-Anne and Jade rushed to comfort her.
Just two months later, she missed the final of BBC talent show Little Mix The Search and it was announced shortly afterwards that she would be taking a hiatus from the band for medical reasons. By December she had decided to walk away for good.
“The truth is, recently, being in the band has really taken a toll on my mental health,” she explained. “I find the constant pressure of being in a girl group and living up to expectations very hard.
“There comes a time in life when we need to reinvest in taking care of ourselves rather than focusing on making other people happy, and I feel like now is the time to begin that process.
"I need to spend some time with the people I love, doing things that make me happy. I’m ready to embark on a new chapter in my life – I’m not sure what it’s going to look like right now, but I hope you’ll still be there to support me.”
The remaining girls released a joint statement saying that they loved Jesy “very much” but that it was important she did “what was right for her mental health and well-being.”
She’s hilariously funny, sharp as a tack and completely at home in front of the camera. She might not be the most obvious one on paper to be the break-out star, but trust me, she will go far.
Whatever happens next, all the girls have promising careers ahead of them if they decide to go it alone. Perrie has the pipes to become a successful solo artist and Leigh-Anne already has her own In A Seashell swimwear line and is breaking out into documentary-making with the BBC.
She will front a programme on racism and colourism following her compelling Instagram posts during the Black Lives Matter protests last year, which she said gave her the confidence to talk about her own experiences for the first time.
And Jade? Jade is perhaps the one to watch most of all, according to industry insiders.
She has already dipped her toe in the presenting water with RuPaul’s Drag Race and her lockdown MTV show Served! With Jade Thirlwall, which saw her compete with celebrity drag queens to cook a themed dinner from a package of mystery ingredients.
She is said to have quite a few potential television projects to start exploring this year.
“Jade has something very special about her,” said one source close to the band.
“She’s hilariously funny, sharp as a tack and completely at home in front of the camera. She might not be the most obvious one on paper to be the break-out star, but trust me, she will go far.”
We’re sure she will. We’re sure they all will. Together or not, Little Mix – we Salute you.
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