After selling 100,000 copies of their newest album in a week and topping the singles charts for a fourth time, Little Mix have entered their imperial phase as the biggest pop act in the land. But their much-deserved ascendance also heralds the re-establishment of the girl band as a major force in British pop music.
Little Mix are bloody brilliant. Despite becoming the first group to win The X Factor just under six years ago, it’s been a long and winding road to see the girls reach the potential that was so potent when they first strutted on stage to En Vogue’s Don’t Let Go (Love). It’s taken four albums for them to achieve this, which seems a bit long-winded when you realise that the girls have been bringing out top-notch bangers ever since they dropped debut single Wings.
The Imperial Phase – for those new to the term – was first coined by Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys to describe the point in the band’s career when their commercial success reached its apex. Tennant describes the PSB’s Imperial Phase as lasting around about 18 months, so give or take the length of an album cycle. You can pin-point this phase for several major pop acts with ease; Gaga with The Fame Monster, Perry’s Teenage Dream and more recently Swift with her opus 1989. For Little Mix, theirs falls on the release of their newest album, Glory Days. The lead single from the album – the impossibly perky Shout Out To My Ex – went in straight at number one on the UK Charts and on the week of its release, the album itself shifted just under 100,000 copies. Its second single, the stunning Touch, has plateaued across commercial radio and everyone just seems to recognise what a quality tune it is.
This is, of course, great for Little Mix. There’s no better thrill than seeing a hard-working pop act finally get the success and recognition they deserve. However, their new-found dominance of the British pop scene has more wide-reaching implications; now it’s time for the general public to fall back in love with girl bands again. No new news to anyone, Little Mix are following in a hallowed history of British girl bands like Spice Girls, All Saints, Sugababes and, the best of them all, Girls Aloud. All of these bands, in some shape or form, changed pop music into something that suited for them.
For the Spice Girls, it was Girl Power jams that turned them into the icons of a generation. For All Saints, it was harnessing the icy, electronica-inspired dream-pop sound of Pure Shores and Black Coffee. As the Sugababes evolved and rotated their members, they found their greatest success with hard-edged, spiky pop anthems such as Freak Like Me and Round, Round before the more saccharine pop of Push the Button and About You Now.
The best of the lot is (obviously) Girls Aloud who, along with their production house Xenomania, re-defined what British pop music could do and what it could sound like. Sound of the Underground, The Show and Biology are all gold-plated tunes yet pop songs that pushed the boundaries of pop music. Bonkers, experimental pop music that the public couldn’t help but lap up.
No matter what calibre of music you make, if the general public doesn’t get behind you then your chances of commercial success are almost dead on arrival. Due to the success and absence of Girls Aloud, many girl bands came out of the woodwork to try and replicate their success – The Saturdays, Mini Viva, Parade and Girls Can’t Catch to name but a few. Some were successful, most were not. Little Mix joined quite late to the party, debuting in 2012 when Girls Aloud would split up for good and the Sats would be one year away from scoring their first/last number one before going on hiatus.
As it happens, the quartet’s hustling appears to have paid off. Glory Days follows up the formula of the group’s third album Get Weird, finding the group in a solidly pop sphere following the more experimental R&B stylings of their second album Salute.
As good as it is, the music that Little Mix are releasing isn’t going to change the world but it is just good, solid pop music. And sometimes that’s enough. And the best thing about Little Mix’s success is that, after a bit of a dry spell, girl bands are once again starting to creep out of the woodwork.
The most notable of these being M.O, a three-piece girl band signed to Polydor (one member, Frankee was previously a part of the aforementioned Mini Viva) who scored their first Top 20 hit last year with the buoyant Who Do You Think Of? with the spiky Not In Love following closely behind.
This teaches us that the life of a girl band centres itself around how much work is put in. For some reason, the public never seems to instantly connect with a group of girls (even Little Mix, who were voted the winners of the X Factor by the British public have taken this long to become genuinely adored), so even if you don’t succeed straight away, stick at it.
Ultimately, right now is a very good time to be a member of Little Mix. It’s reckoned they’ll hold on to significance for another few years (look out for that Jade solo album come 2020) before disappearing into the shadows. We should expect to see a lot of different girl bands appearing over the next 18 months, though we can find solace in the fact that nothing that they release will be as good as Black Magic. Or Move. Or Touch. Or DNA. Or…