Interview: Little Mix return with new single
Little Mix’s Leigh-Anne Pinnock talks about their brand-new track ‘Woman Like Me’ featuring Nicki Minaj, their forthcoming album, and why the band’s message of empowerment is needed now more than ever.
Today marks the release of Little Mix’s first new music in over two years, in the form of the single ‘Woman Like Me’. After seven years together, the chart-topping British girl group are stepping up their game, confident that they are now reaching their creative peak. Their fifth album is due for release later this year, and they couldn’t be happier about it.
“It is the album that we’ve always wanted to make,” says Little Mix’s Leigh-Anne Pinnock. “This is our complete favourite of the albums we’ve done. So it’s very, very exciting.”
For the uninitiated, here’s a quick recap. Little Mix – made up of Pinnock, Perrie Edwards, Jesy Nelson and Jade Thirlwall – formed in 2011 during the eighth series of The X Factor in the UK. Initially entering the competition as soloists, they surprisingly failed to progress past the early stages but were brought back to form two separate groups. When those two groups also failed to progress they were again brought back by the judges, forming a group called Rhythmix, then changing their name to Little Mix. They went on to be the first group to win the UK version of The X Factor and only the second in the history of the franchise around the world.
Success came almost instantly. Their first two singles raced to number 1 in the UK, their debut album went top 10 across the world (number 4 in the US), and they’ve since had twelve top 10 hits in the UK and five in Australia. All four of their albums have been hits in the UK, and they have sold an estimated 30 million records worldwide.
So it’s no surprise that there’s palpable excitement around the release of the band’s first new music since 2016’s hugely successful Glory Days album. A teaser of ‘Woman Like Me’ on the band’s Instagram account garnered their biggest ever response with close to 1.5 million views. “We’ve been gone for quite a while, so it’s so nice to see everyone still so interested and so excited to see what we’re going to come out with,” Pinnock says. “This album has so much anticipation and everyone’s just waiting for it … That’s what we want. We couldn’t ask for anything more.”
‘Woman Like Me’ is a powerhouse track, with a sassy R&B groove, electro, rap, reggae and Little Mix’s trademark pop all feeding into its addictive sound. It also had some seriously big names involved in its creation. Not only does it feature a rap from Nicki Minaj, but the song was co-written by Jess Glynne and Ed Sheeran. “Ed’s been writing for us for a while and we’ve written with Jess Glynne before – we absolutely love her,” Pinnock explains. “She’s such a cool, down-to-earth girl and we just have fun – and that’s what songwriting is really about. You just have to enjoy it. That’s when the best stuff comes.”
The band are also big fans of Sheeran’s work. “Anything that Ed does is just gold anyway,” Pinnock says. “When ‘Woman Like Me’ came in from Ed we were just, like, ‘This is wicked!’ Then we went into the studio and tweaked little bits, and made it a little more personal to us.” Down the track, Pinnock says the band would love to write with Sheeran. “We haven’t actually written with Ed yet, but that’s something that we’d love to do in the future because he’s just great.”
And although Minaj recorded her rap remotely and Little Mix have yet to meet her, to have her featured on one of their records was a dream come true, says Pinnock. “We’ve said that we wanted to collaborate with Nicki for our whole career. We just adore her. She’s such a queen … We always said if we had to have another member, it’d be Nicki.” Pinnock hopes performances with Minaj in the US will be a reality soon but laughs about the prospect. “We’re all just going to be completely starstruck, to be honest, when we actually do meet her!”
Lyrically, ‘Woman Like Me’ is sharp, smart and dripping with attitude – a woman who may be trouble but isn’t going to let anyone tell her how she should behave. The song’s opening lyrics set the tone – “‘I always say what I’m feeling / I was born without a zip on my mouth” – and Pinnock says it is a song about empowerment. “Little Mix always stand for female empowerment. That’s something that we’re so passionate about,” she says. “‘Woman Like Me’ is about being the woman that you want to be – being your own woman and being yourself and not really caring about what anyone else has to say about that. It’s about embracing the woman that you are.”
As the world still reels from the upsurge in #MeToo stories about the appalling treatment women endure, the message behind the song is timely. “It’s so important that we do have these women who have this platform to speak out, because when one person does then another person does – and then it kind of sparks a wave,” Pinnock says. “It’s an issue. And it’s not just gender. There are gay rights. Black rights.” And speaking out about it, Pinnock says, is important for women and for men too.
Pinnock has her own female role models – Serena Williams (“I think she’s so incredibly strong”) and Anne Hathaway, who recently made a speech about white privilege and LGBTQ+ rights, are two inspiring figures she mentions – but is also aware of the major part that female pop artists like Little Mix play in shaping the lives of young women today.
“It’s so important for women to use their platform to empower other women,” she explains. “With the new single, we just want to encourage people to be who they are and love who they are because that’s what makes you different, right? No one wants to be the same. Because honestly, the way that you are made is just perfect. You don’t have to change yourself to fit into this weird society we’ve created that has this horrible view of perfection.”
Pinnock reveals that as young women in the music industry, Little Mix faced initial opposition that was based purely on their gender. “At the beginning it was hard for us because we were always told that being a girl band we weren’t going to succeed – girl bands don’t last,” she says cautiously. “I remember [on The X Factor], the producers didn’t want to put us through because they didn’t believe that it was going to work because we were a girl band. We proved them wrong, right? As time goes on, hopefully it will get better.”
Now that ‘Woman Like Me’ is out, next up for Little Mix is the release of the video – something Pinnock is especially looking forward to. “It’s personally one of my favourite videos that we’ve shot,” she says. “The thing I love about it is that most of the video is us all as a group. We’ve hardly got any solos. We’ve never done that before. When we’re standing together and when we’re a group I think that’s when we’re at our strongest.”
When she spoke to Women In Pop, Pinnock hadn’t yet seen the video in its complete form, but cites the styling of the video as another highlight. “I think the styling’s the best it’s ever been,” Pinnock enthuses. “It’s quite chilled-out. It’s not anything too crazy or in-your-face.” The fresh, “high fashion” look has carried over to the stripped-back, glamorous vibe of the single’s artwork.
Pinnock promises the new Little Mix album will be released in November before the band embark on a world tour, including stops in Australia. “We’ll be going on tour next year. So that’s even more exciting!” she says. “Hopefully it’ll be even bigger than the last tour. I can’t wait for that. It’s going to be a very, very busy year.”