Little Mix may have been brought together on The X Factor but you can’t manufacture chemistry, that indefinable quality that so few bands possess but Jesy, Jade, Leigh-Anne and Perrie have in spades. The first girl band, nay band, ever to win The X Factor, there’s is a unique bond cemented via their shared experiences on the show and one that comes across as a very modern take on girl power in their songs. As their debut single proper Wings has it: “These wings are made to fly” and that’s exactly what they’ve been doing for the past twelve months. With a platinum debut album and their first UK tour selling out venues all across the country, Little Mix are now ready to conquer the rest of the world in 2013.
But it hasn’t always been this way. “I’d never sung in front of anyone before The X Factor,” explains Jesy. “I was working in a bar and then I was a dancer as well. I’ve always wanted to sing but I’ve never had the confidence to do it.” For Leigh-Anne it was a similar story of knowing what she wanted to do but not being encouraged to actually get out and do it: “It just always seemed so far away.” “All my teachers at college said that I’d never get into any of the stage schools in London because I sing too pop and I’m not musical theatre enough and that knocked me for six,” continues Perrie. While Jade was playing gigs around the north-east, she was disillusioned with music long enough to have signed up for an art degree before The X Factor came calling.
While confidence was low and opportunities thin on the ground, the girls knew what they wanted and even when they were knocked back as solo acts on the show, there was always a niggling feeling that something was about to happen. Brought together to form what was then called Rhythmix the producers saw in them a similar spark that they saw in each other. “We’re all fruit loops, but in different ways,” laughs Jesy when asked about why they gel so well. “We all bring out the loopiness in each other.” And while the chemistry when they were brought together was instant, they didn’t rest on their laurels. During the down time between the bootcamp stage and the judges houses round the girls convened at Perrie’s house for a makeshift bootcamp of their own.
It was this dedication that carried them through to the live shows. Perrie explains: “We knew that we didn’t just want to take the songs and just sing them. We put little a cappella break outs in there, we beat- boxed, we rapped. We knew we wanted to stand out.”
With their confidence visibly growing each week, Little Mix (as they had been renamed) eventually made it through to the final, before crowning an amazing night in front of 10,000 people at Wembley arena by winning the show and scoring their first Number One single with their beautiful cover of Cannonball. Once again, the girls had their own vision for the song: “We wanted that a cappella beginning and we tried to put more of a beat in to make it more us,” says Jade. “It’s more of a winners single than a proper Little Mix single.”
That “proper”, band-defining, all important first single was something they knew had to be perfect. “We had two weeks off for Christmas after The X Factor win, so we chilled and then it was straight in the studio and we knew we had to find our first single. It did take us a while actually. We went to so many producers and at one point we were like ‘maybe we’re not going to find it’. We knew exactly what we wanted.” What they wanted was the proverbial moon on a stick, or to use Jesy’s description, “something like Super Bass mixed with a little bit of Spice Girls, TLC and Missy Elliott all in a blender”. Miraculously, that’s exactly what they were able to create with production duo TMS and songwriter Iain James on Wings, a delirious concoction of parping horns, dubstep flourishes and marching band drums. “You can’t really put a label on the song,” says Leigh-Anne correctly. “It’s a mix of everything and that’s why I’m excited about the album because it really is a mixture of all these different influences. No one’s going to get bored of our sound.”
Conscious not to repeat the formula expected of them, their follow-up single DNA isn’t a choir-assisted ballad…Well, actually, it sort of is, but not the one you might expect. Opening with twinkly synths, the love song soon morphs into a mid-paced behemoth, all thumping beats and dark lyrical content: “my heart won’t beat again if I can’t feel love in my veins”. Just when you find yourself settling into its spooky brilliance the middle eight arrives, ditching the musical backing in favour of a massive choir of layered Little Mix vocals, to create one of the most unexpectedly brilliant moments in pop’s recent history.
Elsewhere on the album – which they’ve worked on with everyone from Xenomania to Nicola Roberts to Fred Ball to Future Cut to Biff Stannard to Steve Mac – there’s the life-affirming Change Your Life, which marries big drum claps to an empowering lyric about sticking to your beliefs and trusting your instincts. It’s an album that manages to sample each of the girl’s personalities, while simultaneously encapsulating what it is about the group that’s so special. “All of our songs mean something. We’ve never ever gone into the studio and gone ‘yeah, that will do’. We wanted to make an album of singles,” explains Jesy. “We want longevity,” states Leigh-Anne. “We want to be around for as long as possible so we took our time with the album.” To paraphrase a certain other girl band – you can’t mistake their chemistry.