My final Apopcalypse article is a strange and surprising one. It’s “not often” that I blow the communal trumpet of a girl group but Little Mix’s second album is a game-changer and part of the reason we are so glad they survived the dreaded, slightly fictional, Apopcalypse.
Jesy, Jade, Leigh-Anne & Perrie were thrown at eachother after a string of unsuccessful auditions and line up changes during The X Factor’s eighth series. Individually, they came across as pretty underwhelming and didn’t seem to have enough star quality to earn a chance at winning the coveted title of “desperate artist/X Factor winner” but, under the powers that be at ITV, they formed Little Mix (formerly Rhythmix but thank Christ for that name change, eh?) and took the competition by storm. We started taking them seriously after Halloween and then, where every other girl ground had fallen, they absolutely smashed through Week #7, made it all the way to the end and eventually beat Marcus Collins to become the first ever group to win the show. They released “Cannonball” which simultaneously became the fastest selling single of 2011 and the second-lowest selling X Factor winner’s single. Regardless, it bagged them their first #1 and set them up for a string of well-earned successes.
After settling down from the record-setting victory, the girls got used to their lives as celebrities. They attended premieres and store openings, released ranges of toys and make up before debuting their new single at T4 On The Beach. “Wings” was exactly what we had expected – a spunky, peppy pop-come-r’n’b tale of sticking it to the haters and loving yourself. Packed with impressive harmonies and an eternity of claps, stomps and “HEYS” to join in with, it’s not a bad song by any stretch of the imagination and was a perfect introduction to their direction and sound. Of course, it felt quite contrived: these girls has been put together, told what to sing and given their respective identities as part of a group. Ticks a lot of boxes for the main consumer so who can blame them for going along with it? Girls just wanna have fun after all. Wings debuted at #1 and an autobiography, “Ready to Fly”, followed in August.
November reared it’s chilly head and the girls announced their debut album entitled DNA, with a single of the same name preceding it’s release. “DNA” was a step in the right direction for Little Mix, a dramatic synth driven tour-de-force which, during special moments, sounds like a fantastic sequel to their rendition of Katy Perry’s “ET“. It showed genuine growth and versatility after the predictability of “Wings” and the single reached #3 in the charts. The album was released the following week to warm reviews, mostly commenting on the girls individuality, vocals and “current” sound, although many critics felt the album was a little unsure of itself: caught somewhere between modern dance-pop, 90’s r’n’b and heavy ballads. With tough competition in the form of Rihanna and One Direction, the girls’ debut charted at #3 and they followed up their success with the release of “Change Your Life“, another self-righteous track aimed at the insecure 14 year old inside each of us. The single charted moderately and the girls (management) decided it was time to try and break America.
They did everything right – dyed their hair “kooky” colours, accentuated their quirky traits and created cheeky, fun personas to ensure they came across fresh and exciting. Little Mix even drafted Missy Elliott into a “remix” of their funk-riddled album track “How Ya Doin’?” for a Spring 2013 release. The song felt different to the previous material, fun and airy compared to their stories of heartbreak and insecurity, and became a highlight of the album for me. It didn’t chart well but bridged a perfect gap to America for the quartet – they released DNA overseas to critical acclaim, even beating the previous record held by The Spice Girls for the highest debut entrance by a British Girl Group. With brand new inspirations under their belts, the girls revealed they had been working on their second album and were preparing for an Autumn 2013 release. BUCKLE UP GUYS, this is where it gets really good.
2013 & Their Survival:
They stripped the silly colours out of their hair, dressed how beautiful 20 year old women do, started writing their own music and one of them got bloody engaged to the best one out of One Direction. All in all, they did a lot of growing up this year. Little Mix look like a completely different group but they still retain so much of what made them special from the start. They have always looked like popstars, I’m sure they have stylists and everyone at the X Factor to thank for that, but they look wise and beautiful beyond their years – they’re having fun doing what they love and looking tidy whilst doing it. Jesy, Jade, Leigh-Anne and Perrie (!) promised growth and maturation in their follow up album – something which may have been forced after “How Ya Doin'” was released a few months prior, with all the trimmings of DNA still attached to it. Fret not, they followed through entirely on their promises.
Interviewed in early 2013, Jesy said the new album would have more of an r’n’b sound to it and she wanted to put more dancey tracks on there. “Not that David Guetta sound” THANK GOD “More like Let Me Blow Ya Mind“. Okay, now you’re talking. What with their exposure to USA centred producers, it was an exciting and nerve racking wait for the first single. “Move” dropped mid September and it was completely unexpected – any trace of a real melody or chorus was replaced with drums, clicks, clacks, “aaaah”s, “mmmm”s and nearly too much cowbell. It wasn’t DNA – it was mature, it was sexy, it was dancey, it was r’n’b and it was amazing. Come October, Little Mix released a video announcing their sophomore effort was entitled Salute, complete with sassy sofa-based artwork.
Salute is as far away from second album syndrome as you can get. Everything about this record has been thought through entirely, each aspect of DNA has been built on and honed over the past year to form this wonderful album. It was a hard feat to promote one album in two huge countries whilst recording another but the ladies have more than proven their worth in the industry through just that. Whilst most of the hair might be smaller, the Little Mix moments are so much bigger this time around: the harmonies are tighter, the vocal acrobatics are perfected and it sounds as though the music means more to the girls than ever before. Salute is a great album for so many reasons, not least of all because it sounds flawless throughout.
This time around, the tracks are largely written by Little Mix themselves adding an impressive and passionate twist on their music. With titles such as “About The Boy”, “Boy” and “Mr Loverboy” it’s not too strenuous to single out the main inspiration for this album but the girls sound genuine and honest in their approach to love and relationships. They’ve been careful not to stray too far away from their successful formula of upbeat pop songs about boys, mid-tempo songs about insecurities and slow jams about feeling sad – their growth is apparent throughout though, especially on songs such as “Salute“, a thundering army march about recruiting women to fight for equality. Tried and tested? Of course. Exhausted? Very nearly. Pulled off because it sounds like a Destiny’s Child song? Almost certainly.
With their undeniable success in America, the girls utilised new contacts to the best of their ability and incorporated a diverse and interesting variety of producers and songwriters to help perfect Salute. Ensuring they retained a touch of original Little Mix, TMS offered up a familiar hand whilst Future Cut, MNEK and Fred Ball allowed the girls to spread their wings and find a concise and mature r’n’b inspired sound. Nearly every track draws inspiration from hip hop or r’n’b – from the early 90s until modern day. The Beyonce and Destiny’s Child comparisons are easy to make throughout but there are trickles and twinkles of Mariah and Whitney hidden in the songs, especially during Perrie’s earth shatteringly perfect operatic falsetto moment in “About The Boy“. The opening minute of “Boy” is entirely in acapella, a bold risk to take but one which pays off with a staggering wow factor.
Perrie and Jade’s vocals continue to soar skywards throughout each track, whilst Jesy’s iconic warbling vibrato sounds trained and she even nails those higher notes, giving her voice a new depth. Whilst DNA forced too many beige, inoffensive raps onto Leigh-Anne, Salute allows her grainy voice to bathe and swim in the lower register, her control and determination both admirable. The girls’ sass and attitude feels genuine and impressive but their vulnerability is equally as raw and evocative. They sound, feel and look like young women this time around: there’s no farce here, only the beauty of post-pubescent wisdom. They cater well to their target market but manage to adhere to needs of the masses at the same time – girls, gays and guys will love this but so too will someone who wholeheartedly appreciates excellent, sentimental and thoughtful pop music. Give it a blast: I can almost guarantee you’ll fall in love with something from this album.
Salute, as an album, is an absolute triumph. It matched the success of their debut, charting at #3, it’s exactly what Little Mix needed to release and exactly what the charts needed to receive. It would’ve been an easy, mindless and hollow success for the ladies to shit out an album of club bangers but they’ve gone the extra mile to offer up something fresh, familiar and genuinely outstanding. With Girls Aloud out of the picture, there’s space for a huge girl group to absolutely dominate and with an album like this, Little Mix are set to get even bigger. I never thought I’d say this but, seriously, who the fuck are The Saturdays?