What’s the Deal with…Little Mix?
|March 3, 2014||Posted by Jess under Celebrities, Ladytexts, Music, Tweendom, What's the Deal with...?|
It’s been a while since we’ve had a What’s the Deal with…?, so let’s talk about my current favorites, who it just so happens I’ll be seeing in concert this Friday because I am twelve: Little Mix! Well, I’ll be seeing Fifth Harmony, Little Mix, and Demi Lovato, and Demi at least will eventually be getting a post because I. Love. Her., but for now let’s stick with one group. So: What’s the Deal with Little Mix?
If Ariana Grande is the 2010s’ answer to Mariah Carey, Little Mix are today’s Spice Girls. They won the UK version of The X-Factor in 2011 (a year after the show catapulted One Direction to fame despite their actually losing the show, making “One Direction, but girls and thus better” almost as good a description of them as “today’s Spice Girls”). Their 2012 debut album, DNA, reached #2 in the UK and #4 in the US (incidentally breaking the Spice Girls’ record for highest charting British girl group in the US), and their 2013 follow-up, Salute, was #1 on iTunes when it was finally released in the States last month. Both albums have been critical successes as well, and all of their videos have millions of hits, no more than ten percent of which are from me.1 The demise of the monoculture means that it’s nearly impossible for any musical act to reach the level of stardom pop acts did in the 90s, but rest assured, their success is nothing to sneeze at.
So what makes them so Spicey, aside from the fact that they’re a British girl group? Well, it’s a couple of things. First off, as I’ve reiterated ad nauseum, the Spice Girls marketed themselves like a boy band, not a girl group: as individuals who are friends and have fun, rather than a matched set blurring into one amorphous blob of prettiness or serving only to prop up a lead singer. There was no lead singer, and even those who couldn’t tell the difference between Mel C. and Mel B. could tell Sporty from Scary. Now, Little Mix don’t consciously sort themselves into broad, cartoonish personalities, but they don’t have a lead singer either (more on that later). Not only do they basically never wear matching outfits, they each have a distinct style – Jesy rocks the hot pants! Jade loves bows! – that serves to reinforce their individuality and gritty up some of that Simon Cowell pre-fab gloss. Also, much like the Spice Girls, they basically dress like crazy people all the time. It’s adorable.2
There’s also something playful about Little Mix that echoes the appeal of the Spice Girls. Despite their massive talent and sheer professionalism when it comes to actually singing and dancing, they don’t present themselves as a polished (and sexy) product for the consumption of men, but lovable goofuses, falling all over each other on too-small couches and making hideous faces when asked to look sultry. They hug and cuddle and compliment (and, um, dry hump) each other.3 Again, I’m not addressing how they really feel about each other because I don’t know their lives (but gosh I hope they’re really and for-true friends), but they (and, admittedly, their marketing team) consciously present themselves as four close friends having the time of their lives. That’s what the Spice Girls excelled in, and why they fizzled when Geri’s departure belied that image, and it’s part of what makes Little Mix such endearing successors.
Finally, there’s the whole Girl Power angle. Now, Little Mix doesn’t explicitly reference Girl Power, and they’ve even said they’re not feminists (although they followed that up with “we don’t hate men” and also they’re like 19 and I want to sit them down and explain what the word means and that P.S. they totally are). But they also reject sexist questions about how to “fix” their boyfriends or whether One Direction will be joining them on tour (“On our own tour?” they repeated indignantly, and my heart grew three sizes).
Even better, their music centers around themes of independence, self-confidence, and female solidarity. Their breakout single “Wings” delivers this nugget of maternal wisdom: “Mama told me not to waste my life/ She said ‘Spread your wings, my little butterfly/ Don’t let what they say keep you up at night/ And they can’t detain you/ ‘Cause wings are made to fly.’” Out of the other three singles from their first album, DNA, only the titular song is a love song; “Change Your Life” is about rejecting criticism and the importance of friendship, and “How Ya Doin’?” is a fabulously fun kiss-off song, with a supremely rad video featuring Missy Elliott to boot:
Similarly, the title song of their new album Salute is a rallying cry to “ladies all across the world,” while its second single, “Little Me,” is a song offering comfort and guidance to the band’s younger selves. Though both albums contain their share of love songs, they’re packed with odes to female friendship, maternal wisdom, self-acceptance (“Mama made me the way I am/ My face, my eyes/ Someone turn me up, I’m speaking my mind”), independent thinking (“I take a look in the mirror and I like what I see/ So baby I keep marching to a different beat”), and kicking jobless X-Box-playing losers to the curb. The feminism of Little Mix is far from radical; we’re not talking about dismantling the patriarchy here, just ignoring fashion magazines and insisting that our boyfriends treat us right. This isn’t meant as criticism, just as an example of how Girl Power-y Little Mix is. They’re a bunch of 20-year-olds telling teenagers to respect themselves and other women and that they’re beautiful just as they are, and I’m completely fine with that. Those are important and age-appropriate lessons, and after all, the personal is political.
So, enough about how Little Mix is like the Spice Girls. How are they different?
Well, frankly, sheer talent. As much as I love the Spice Girls, with the exception of Mel C. they aren’t the strongest singers; their music was always more about fun that vocal virtuosity. Little Mix, however, consists of four powerhouse voices. Any one of them could easily carry a record on her lonesome, and deliver something different: Leigh-Anne’s clipped, sassy warble! Jade’s gorgeous, bell-like tones! Jesy’s smoky, sexy rasp! And man, look at cute little blonde pixie Perrie and just try to predict the booming thunderclap that is her voice. I dare you.
With such strong individual voices it would be easy to give them all a little vocal spotlight and call it a day, but this is a girl group and the Little Mix team is smart enough to use them as such. By which I mean to say: oh my God, y’all, the harmonies. They are gorgeous. Salute in particularly frequently experiments with stripping out everything but, leaving a lot of a cappella and per cappella and pared-down instrumentation because when you have singers like that, you don’t need anything else. Like. Just listen to “Boy,” which is a cappella for like a minute and a half before sneaking in a drumbeat and baseline and you don’t even notice because their voices are so rich.4 Or their beautiful work on the acoustic “Little Me” that ends the deluxe album, with nothing but piano backing them up. Or, ugh, when they scat on “Stand Down” because they are trying to kill me, Jesus Christ it’s so good.
Oh, P.S. did I mention they have the best dance music and choreography and they’re gorgeous and their videos rock? Here, go watch this four hundred times like I did:
Basically I’m reaching the point I always get to when I talk about something I really love where I just dissolve into “And! And this thing! And the other thing!” But it’s so important that you know that “Loverboy” is giving Ariana Grande’s Modern Day Mariah thing a run for its money, and that “They Don’t Know You” is part of the proud tradition of girl group songs about how parents just don’t understand the singer’s bad boy boyfriend, and can we talk about the military themes on Salute and the album’s call to collective feminist action? And how cute Perrie and her One Direction fiance Zayn are (and how weird it is that boy band members can get away with being engaged6 these days when if Justin Timberlake or even Chris Kirkpatrick had tried that in 1999 the teen girls of the world would’ve gone all Lord of the Flies)? And how Jesy is one of the most magnetic dancers in pop music today and also has adorable freckles? And Leigh-Anne’s everything and Jade and I just. Just. I love them a lot, you guys.
So, Little Mix! They are tremendously talented and oodles of fun and you should go buy their albums immediately. Me, I’m off to watch “Move” twelve more times.
- Okay, that’s a low estimate. I JUST REALLY LIKE “MOVE,” OKAY??? ↩
- And so appealing. Listen, I’m totally An Old, and I still wish I could get away with shorts, suspenders, and a giant polka dot hairbow, Jade-style. ↩
- Like I said, “the girl One Direction” is also an applicable descriptor. This is another reason. ↩
- Rebecca pointed out that “Boy” is basically if Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody?” and Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” had a baby, with the bridge from Dream’s “He Loves Me (He Loves You Not),” and she’s so right, but that just makes me love it more. ↩
- Dear Zendaya and Alyson Stoner, TAKE NOTE. Please stop hiding your dancing light under a bushel! ↩
- Or married, Carlos from Big Time Rush. ↩