Are Little Mix on their way out? Of course, tabloids are inferring so: “Little Mix’s latest awkward interview is biggest hint that they are gearing to split up”, reads a Mirror Online headline from 3 November. The group was unable to give a clear answer to the question “What’s next?” on an Australian radio show. You’d have thought Jade Thirlwall – who had been asked the same question on Kiss FM earlier that week – would have had an answer prepared the second time.
These rumours have abounded since Jesy Nelson decided to leave the group in December 2020. Little Mix, which have sold over 60 million records, became three, with Thirlwall, Leigh-Anne Pinnock and Perrie Edwards sticking around. This summer the group made headlines again as Nelson was accused of “blackfishing” in the music video for her debut solo single “Boyz”, which resulted in a public disagreement between the remaining Little Mix members, Nelson and Nicki Minaj – who featured on the track – across social media.
No one beyond Little Mix’s immediate team knows for sure how long they plan to keep the group together. More pertinently, on the release of their greatest hits album Between Us, is the question: are they flogging a dead horse?
Between Us – a 22-track compilation album that was announced on 19 August, the group’s ten-year anniversary – features just four new songs; in its very make-up, the record holds Nelson within its grip. Her soulful, often raspy, voice unmistakably carries the lead-in refrain on “Sweet Melody”, a reggaeton track that secured Little Mix their fifth UK number one single in October 2020. On “Shout Out to My Ex”, the group’s glorious party-starter from 2016, Nelson takes the second verse, growling as she sings “Oh, I deleted all your pics/Then blocked your number from my phone, mmm,” leaning into the spotlight with indulgent ascending runs as she goes on: “Yeah, yeah, you took all you could get/But you ain’t getting this love no more.”
So many of these songs – “Wings”, “Black Magic”, “Touch”, “Power” (which features Stormzy), “DNA” – are such out-and-out tunes that it seems a bold move to include four new songs alongside them. It’s even brasher to slip these new tracks in right at the end of the record, as though acting as a coda – a treat for fans who get through the previous 18 songs (never mind the super deluxe version, which clocks in at 40 tracks).
But in truth, Nelson’s voice isn’t missed. It’s notable that Edwards – whose range is undoubtedly the largest, across pitch and tone – doesn’t begin any of these new songs, as she so regularly has over the past decade. Instead it is Pinnock who leads the charge on “No”, an understated dance track that acts as a consent anthem for the masses, marrying irresistibly catchy pop riffs with a feminist message, as Little Mix have always done so well.
“Love (Sweet Love)”, an ode to caring for oneself, nods to the group’s penchant for R&B, and here all three singers bring the vocal roughness that Nelson used to offer. “I’m gonna give it to me/Give me some of that,” they sing in turn on the chorus: Edwards first, then Thirlwall, then Pinnock, each outdoing the previous one with verve. The final few moments of the song epitomises the undisputed joy of listening to a group of genuinely talented singers interacting with and riffing off one another. That there are three voices here rather than four doesn’t lessen the song’s momentum.
“Cut You Off”, a fiery address that features the clink of metal on metal, is the most obvious reference to Nelson’s departure. “Don’t think I believe ya/Is the grass out there really greener?” Pinnock asks. Though of course she might ask just the same of an ex-lover.
It’s the title track that is the weakest link, though even the most buoyant pop show needs some light and shade. A soppy ballad livened up by a perky drum track, it underlines the group’s intrinsic affection for one another. “Yeah, we got synergy/If they hurt you, they hurting me/That’s just the way it be,” Pinnock sings, before Thirlwall repeats her. Unity, togetherness, loyalty – these are all perfect themes for Little Mix to sing about, particularly when they’re referring to female friendships, to each other. But lyrics don’t always reflect reality.