Five years ago, four girls were put together by Kelly Rowland after they failed to individually advance to the judges’ houses stage of The X Factor‘s eighth series. This may have been one of the best decisions ever made on the show, as these girls went on to become the pop phenomenon now known as Little Mix. With three top 10 albums both sides of the Atlantic, over a dozen top 40 singles (with four number ones including the current UK number-one, ‘Shout Out To My Ex’), they have become the most successful girl band in British history.
Jesy Nelson, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Perrie Edwards, and Jade Thirlwall were all sent home by the entire judging panel back in 2011, but the lifeline that they were given – akin to One Direction one year prior – saw them advance as a group. Mentored by Tulisa Contostavlos, they went on to become the first and so far only group in the show’s history to win the competition, with their debut single – a cover of ‘Cannonball,’ the Damien Rice classic – charting in over a dozen countries worldwide and spending a week atop the UK chart.
Within a year came DNA, their debut album, and another number one in single ‘Wings’ to solidify their place as the predominant girl group on these shores. Their success quickly spread, with DNA breaking records across the pond by beating Spice Girls sales records and debuting at number four on the Billboard 200. Within three years, they went from success to success thanks to two more critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums. Salute and Get Weird broke further records for bands of their kind as ‘Move’ and ‘Black Magic’ enjoyed worldwide success, with the latter becoming their most successful to date in debuting at number two at home behind Elvis Presley. Now, the girls are statistically the most successful British girl band in history and contest for the contemporary global title with American counterparts Fifth Harmony.
What, then, is the key to this success? Firstly, Little Mix has a wide market appeal, appealing of course to young girls and yet also bearing an edgier side that draws a broader fan base that includes young men. At the same time, their music always displays theatrical constructions, being more than just the beat and the lyrics with the girls’ individual personalities showing clearly. Parts of themselves are definitely revealed in their music – just take a listen to their autobiographical new single ‘Shout Out To My Ex’ – and this seems to be a common feature on the most successful artists in the last decade. As a group they have brilliant chemistry, with the girls calling friendship the key to their success. Their fans feel part of a family and community that expands as their music does the same commercially. They have managed to diagnose the key to creating a dedicated and quickly expanding fan base: energetic and emotive pop music that connects to fans on a fun and personal level.
That said, the girls have endured some rougher patches. Their second album came with criticisms surrounding the level of filler around the singles and ‘Word Up,’ their Sport Relief charity single, failed to match the commercial success of those that came before it. Some members have even been victims of online harassment over their appearances, however they have fought back and shown that nobody can be beaten down. Large amounts of time are now donated to philanthropic causes, supporting LGBT rights as well as Beat Bullying, Europe’s biggest anti-bullying campaigner. Little Mix truly epitomise the phrase that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Following the singles have also been a series of excessively theatrical live tours that have received critical acclaim. Most recently, ‘Black Magic’ and its accompanying album became the root for a spooky haunted house-themed set that travelled the world in the spring, and a new tour to support Glory Days, to be released on November 18th, has been announced to take place in a year’s time. The new album is said to attempt to blend together the Get Weird vibe with themes of “love and heartbreak.” The concept is admittedly challenging, but their pedigree suggests the girls certainly have the potential pull it off.