The Cost Of Being The Best – Little Mix’s Historic Win At The BRITs

Zoya Gulshin

After making history at the 43rd BRIT awards, it’s evident that the women of Little Mix are unstoppable. Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Jade Thirlwall, Perrie Edwards, and former member Jesy Nelson, became the first girl-group to win in the ‘Best British Group‘ category at this year’s awards ceremony. They’ve managed to become the 5th best-selling girl-group of all time, overselling The Pussycat Dolls and tying with the likes of Destiny’s Child, but at what cost has this success come with?

Despite the BRIT awards having hosted over four decades worth of award nights, no girl-group had ever managed to win in the ‘Best British Group’ category, prior to Little Mix’s triumph. No, not even the Spice Girls, Girls Aloud or The Saturdays. Some of these girl-groups have had enormous success and have influenced the music industry notoriously, making it very difficult to believe that sexism played no role in this.

It seems that Little Mix were aware of this. When giving their speech after receiving the award, they acknowledged the male-dominated industry and how hard females have to work in the music industry. The girls even shared their award with past girl-groups, “the fact that a girl-band has never won this award really does speak volume. So, this award isn’t just for us, it’s for the Spice Girls, Sugababes, All Saints, Girls Aloud and all the incredible, incredible, female bands, this ones for you!”

In an interview with ASOS, Pinnock revealed that they first experienced sexism on the X-factor itself. “We weren’t even going to go through to live shows on the X-factor, they didn’t believe a girl band could do it” she explained. In a 2021 interview with Glamour, Thirlwall admitted that they were the “dark horse” on the X-factor and that “no one expected us to do well.”

They were asked by their record label to ”flirt with all these important men” in order to get their songs played on American radio

Nelson realised how they would have to “work 10 times as hard, as women” ever since they were told by a producer that they should refrain from writing their own music. The girls have spoken out several times about the misogyny they have had to face, even exposing some of the inappropriate stuff they were asked to do. When they attended a radio event, they were asked by their record label to ”flirt with all these important men” in order to get their songs played on American radio. The girls refused to do so, and they believe this is partly why major success in the US has never come to them.

A statement made by Pinnock only reinforces the misogyny faced by women in the music industry. She admitted that “there have been times, like with music labels, where they’ve backed us into a corner and it is obviously mainly men; they see us as four women and don’t take us seriously.” She further elaborated on how her and the girls believe the majority of their success is attributed to their “strong sisterhood.”

Little Mix have been criticised one too many times by the likes of Piers Morgan, Katie Hopkins and even Spice Girl member, Melanie C, for being too “provocative.” Despite Nelson, Pinnock, Thirlwall and Edwards being of adult age, critics want to dictate how they should dress as though they are young children. The idea behind their music video for Strip was to empower but of course, Piers Morgan twisted the narrative and insisted the girls stripped off “to sell albums.”

Katie Hopkins is no stranger when it comes to shaming Little Mix, and member Jesy Nelson more specifically. In 2013, she tweeted out “packet mix have still got a chubber in their ranks. Less Little Mix, more Pick n Mix.” And then again in 2020, Hopkins tweeted out attacking the fact that Jesy was posting images of herself on Instagram … as though that wasn’t the purpose of the app itself. Hopkins said “these desperate daily pics are showing that contrivance of a documentary to be darn insincere. Girls be better than this. Beauty is in strength, not weakness that needs validating daily.”

It’s not only sexism that females in the music industry have to face, but mental health issues caused by unnecessary comparisons, slut-shaming, and racism.

On the 14th of December, former band member Jesy Nelson announced her departure from the group, after 9 years of being together. She stated that “being in the band has really taken a toll on my mental health” and confessed that “the constant pressure of being in a girl-group and living up to expectations has been hard.”

Despite being able to live her dream of performing, she was stuck in a constant nightmare

Despite the shocking news, many fans were not surprised. The year prior to her departure, Nelson had opened up about her mental health struggles in her NTA award winning documentary, Odd One Out. In her heartfelt documentary, Nelson revealed how much she struggled with depression, insecurities with her body image and her troubled eating behaviour. She insisted that being in a group with girls who were skinnier than her had caused her to look at her body in a way she had never done so before. Despite being able to live her dream of performing, she was stuck in a constant nightmare. One that caused her to attempt suicide.

In a recent documentary produced by Pinnock, she sought to explore racism within the music industry.  The NTA-nominated documentary, Leigh-Anne: race, pop & power, shared a clip in which both Pinnock and Thirlwall recalled wanting nose jobs in their earlier days in the industry. This was because of a photoshoot where the editors had slimmed down their noses, altering their ethnic features into more Eurocentric ones.

In the documentary, Pinnock explained how she “felt overlooked and it was down to my colour.” She confesses how she thought she was the least popular member of the group because of her race; “we did a radio tour. We got off the plane and there were some fans waiting for us and I was the first one to walk up to them. They just walked past me and went up to the other girls. It was so weird. It was never like it was someone racially abusing me, but it was little things that happened regularly.” Despite being grateful for all the positives in her life, she shared how the feeling of hurt “doesn’t go away.”

Being thrown into the music industry at the age of 18 was “a lot to handle”

In 2019, band member Perrie Edwards, opened up about her anxiety in an interview with Glamour. In spite of the positives of social media such as being able to connect with fans, Edwards claimed that going on Instagram began to “really mess with her head, and I felt like I was not good enough.” Edwards also believes that being in the music industry, makes you an “actress” due to not being able to show your emotions “because you have to be on, ready for the camera.”

In August of last year, Thirlwall shared a poem she wrote on her Instagram account. In the poem she described feelings of “self-loathing” caused by “an army of insecure adults projecting onto a child.” She has previously said how being thrown into the music industry at the age of 18 was “a lot to handle” and how “having everyone talk about how you look was a lot for all of us.” Just a few weeks before her 2011 X-factor audition, Thirlwall was released from hospital following anorexia treatment.

Though the girls have often thought about what their mental health would be like had they not been celebrities, they always make it clear that they are grateful that they get to live out their dreams. From selling millions of records worldwide, to breaking records daily, it is evident that Little Mix are pursuing said dream successfully. But when this dream comes with a hefty price tag, when does it stop being a dream and instead turns into a nightmare?

Zoya Gulshin

Featured image courtesy of Matt Botsford on Unsplash. Image license found hereNo changes were made to this image. 

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