Jade Thirlwall on how Little Mix’s new era is all about having fun

Has there ever been a time when we’ve needed a glorious new Little Mix single more than right now? Probably not.

The UK’s biggest girl group are back for their sixth era and have brought with them an 80s-tinged pop anthem that’ll swoop you out of your isolation blues.

Written by Jade Thirlwall, Perrie Edwards and Leigh-Anne Pinnock with Kamille, Frank Nobel and Linus Nordstrom, Break Up Song is a whopper of a return, pairing love-lorn lyrics with sky-soaring synths.

While working from home this week, we caught up with Jade over the phone to speak about Little Mix’s highly-anticipated new album, Leigh-Anne’s iconic new mullet, how they have protected the well-being of contestants on their upcoming BBC One talent show and, of course, which queens she’s enjoying on the latest season of Drag Race.

Hi Jade! How are you coping in isolation?
Not too bad. I haven’t got cabin fever just yet.

I follow you on Instagram and saw that you’ve already completed a Disney castle Lego set…
Oh yeah, what a dream!

That’s one way to keep yourself occupied. Have you got any more Lego sets left?
No but I’ve ordered more! I’ve got jigsaws and board games and stuff like that, so as it stands I’m quite highly entertained to be honest.

I love how you’re going old school with it. None of this House Party app stuff.
[Laughs] Well I am a bit of a Nana!

Well a new Little Mix single is exactly what we all need right now. 
Yes, 100%. I love that it’s a very uplifting, happy, cheery pop song. That’s what Little Mix are best at I think. I’m really excited for this new era.

Break Up Song is a brilliant return, so why did you decide on that track to kick-start the LM6 era?
There was actually a different song that was the front-runner for the first single, and Break Up Song pretty much swooped in at the last minute. The video was ready and everything for this other song. We wrote Break Up Song over a year ago and we listened to it again in the playback session and we were like, ‘wait a minute – this should be the first single.’ So we called the label and was like, ‘This has to be it now.’ We got that jittery feeling that we had with Shout Out To My Ex and Black Magic where it just felt special.

It’s definitely one of those songs that you find yourself getting lost in – it kind of encapsulates you.
Yeah, I love that. I agree. It’s one of those songs that you want to listen to again right after. I just had a really good feeling about it, so hopefully everyone else feels the same.

How did the 80s vibe come about?
When we’re writing, we work really well when we’re given a definite brief. Whether it’s an era of music or a very strong concept, that’s when we write the best music. We were playing around in the studio with Kamille, Frank Nobel and Linus Nordstrom with the synths, and it just sort of happened. This was well before artists right now started coming out with more of the 80s vibe. I know The Weeknd brought out an 80s vibe song, and so has Dua Lipa. It was before that happened so it’s quite a coincidence. I guess it’s a good thing now that that’s where Top 10 is at at the minute.

Can we talk about Leigh-Anne’s mullet for a second please. What a serve.
Honestly, it’s iconic isn’t it? Nobody else could’ve pulled that mullet off!

As soon as you see it you’re like, ‘I never knew I needed this in my life’. How did you all decide on which classic 80s look you’d get?
Well hun, I’ve got a bloody mountain of hair on my head so I could never have squashed that mullet on! So I worked with what I’ve got and went for the side sweep and kept all me long hair out. Then obviously the video shoot as well – which is a shame it ended up getting cancelled because of everything that is going on at the minute – but we wanted to go the whole 80s hog and do the full shebang. We came up with the treatment and everything and it was really exciting, but we’re still going to do something really cool for the video. We just like going all-out, don’t we? If you’re going to do something, you’d better commit to it.

For you personally, what’s your favourite thing about 80s pop culture?
I
just love how full-on it was. I’m all or nothing, me. I’m either very androgynous – which really suits the 80s era with that Bowie vibe – or like drag queen vibes. I loved that in the 80s all the lads were rocking make-up and hair like it was nothing. It’s a shame it sort of died down. I loved a bit of Bananarama. I loved Diana Ross when she was going out of that sort of dancey era. Obviously I wasn’t alive in the 80s, but I have memories of sitting with my dad watching VH1 Classics where I’d see it all.

So you’ve been busy at work on the sixth album – what can you tell us about that?
With this era we haven’t over-thought it. We’ve just gone with what feels good and not worried as much about what’s cool or what people will want to hear. It’s very much been, ‘OK, this is an amazing song – it’s going on the album.’ That has lifted a weight off our shoulders really. It was quite a stressful process for LM5 and the change of labels and everything. For this, we were very much left to have fun and get back to what we really love about being Little Mix.

The best music is always made when an artist is having fun with it and there’s an authenticity to it.
Yeah, 100% – and that’s not to say we didn’t love LM5 because we wrote so much of that album and we put so much into it. That whole era was very much about what we stood for; female empowerment, women’s rights and it was very topical in that moment. It’s something we are very passionate about. We really did get that message across. But we’ve done that now, so now it’s time to let our hair down a bit and have some fun.

You’ve always pushed the Little Mix sound throughout your career, but have managed to retain a sense of identity with it as well. Whatever direction you go in, you always know it’s a Little Mix song. What do you think, at this point, is the key ingredient for a Little Mix song?
Whatever sounds popular at that minute, we’ll also be like, ‘OK, let’s jump on it and do it, but make it Little Mix’ instead of just cloning what everyone else is doing. We’re a girl band so immediately it’s different for us. I wouldn’t say it’s harder, but we always have to make sure that we don’t sound too cheesy because we are a pop girl group and people automatically have this weird sort of opinion about pop groups in general. So it’s about constantly proving ourselves and it’s why we can adapt with the times. We’ve been together for nearly nine years now, so the proof is in the pudding that we’re managing to adapt and change with every era, while still remaining Little Mix-y. We’ve also maintained the fans who have been with us from the beginning, while keeping the younger audience as well. It’s about being authentic and sticking to our guns in who we are and what we want to do. It’s been a very gradual process. When we were 18, we very much looked 18! But with each year we’ve grown as women.

And now you’re searching for a new band! Little Mix: The Search is coming soon. Talk about coming full circle from being put together on a talent show to creating your own new group all these years later. How have you found being on the other side of that process?
It’s so bizarre – it’s very strange. Obviously we’ve been in their position and we know how that feels to be standing in front of judges and singing for them. So I feel like we really relate to the contestants more and really empathise with them and make sure the process is as fun as it can possibly be for them. It’s been really difficult to say ‘no’ to people, because we’ve had those knock-backs before. It can be really crushing. It has been emotionally draining having to let people go. It’s hard telling people that they’re not quite there yet. But on the other side, we have found some insanely talented people and it’s just so exciting. Every single group that we’ve formed are special in their own way.

As you say, you’ve been through a process like this yourself, so did you all make sure you put in protections for the contestants from the off?
We’ve very much been involved through the whole process. A massive chunk of the budget for the show has gone on after care and mental health. There’s going to be counsellors there constantly looking after the contestants in the house. Even if someone doesn’t get through we have an after care process where the researchers call them up each week to check in on how they are. There’s been a lot of focus on making sure they are looked after, which I think we could have very much done with back in the day! It was really very important to us to make sure that was put in place.

You said earlier that you’re heading into your ninth year as a group, which means that 10th anniversary is on the horizon. Have you started to think about how you’d like to celebrate that because it’s a huge milestone?
Honestly I can’t believe it. Especially with the other girls because they’ve all got partners and they’re settled down and grown up, and I’m just sitting here thinking, ‘Bloody hell, when did this all happen?’ Obviously we’ll be putting on a big tour and we’ll have the new album. I don’t know exactly what we’ll be doing next year – especially with everything going on. Things are being pushed back. We just take each day as it comes to be honest. I’m still having an absolute ball.

Whatever it is it’ll be something celebratory because 10 years is a massive achievement.
Oh absolutely – and you know me, I’ll be at every bloody Pride going next year! Especially now they’ve been cancelled this year. It’s all very upsetting, but hopefully we can perform at some big Prides next year.

Obviously I need to talk to you about Drag Race. You’ve been watching the new season so do you have any early favourites?
Yeah! Who am I liking at the minute? Who’s the really model-y one? Is it Gigi?

Yes, Gigi Goode! We love her.
She is really serving the looks. I do love a Look Queen. But to me, as it stands, there’s not any proper front-runners yet.

It feels like a very strong season from the off.
Yeah exactly, which is amazing. Even last week when Rock M. Sakura got sent home, I was like, ‘Wow I didn’t expect that.’ I didn’t expect the first queen to go home either. It’s very entertaining and it’ll keep us all entertained while we’re indoors. Very much here for it. Who’s your favourite?

I really like Gigi too, and I actually really like Heidi N Closet. She’s really funny.
Yes she is funny! I like the French one as well, Nicky Doll. I think she’s a bit of a dark horse.

When you were a guest judge on Drag Race UK last year was it everything you expected it to be?
When I tell you that that was one of the best days of my life… I was in my absolute element. It was just heaven on Earth. I was proper fan-girling. I was trying my best to act really cool and be the glamorous pop star who didn’t care, but inside I was screaming! It was just perfect. It was amazing being on set and seeing how it all works. Seeing them lip sync to one of our songs was incredible! I made a few friends off the back of it as well. I still speak with The Vivienne quite a lot. I’d love to do it again.

Did you feel the pressure when they did the runway to come up with funny quips about their looks?
When we were on set they actually said for the UK one that RuPaul, Michelle Visage and Graham Norton very much believe in it, so I told myself, ‘Oh here hun, shut your hole’. The last thing I want to do is try to crack a joke that doesn’t get a laugh, do you know what I mean? So I thought I’d just shut up for that bit! But I feel like I served some good lines during the critiques and stuff, so I was happy with that.

As a fan of the show for many years, did appearing as a guest judge change your perception of it in any way?
If anything it made me love it even more. I was especially happy that my first appearance on it was for the UK one. If I’m totally honest, before I turned up I was thinking ‘I dunno how they’re going to make the UK one not feel less…’ But actually when I got there I was pleasantly surprised. After watching it as well, I feel like the UK was the best one for me. I loved the British humour and how they didn’t Americanise it too much. I loved seeing all the behind-the-scenes of the show. The studio is absolutely freezing so that none of the queens’ make-up melted! I was sitting with a hot water bottle on my lap under the desk.

The British queens really pulled through and I’m now really excited for the second season of the UK version.
Absolutely, and now everyone has seen how amazing it is, even more queens are going to want to do it.

Little Mix’s new single Break Up Song is available to stream now.

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