British girl group Little Mix have every reason to celebrate. Since their X Factor win in 2011 they have gone from strength to strength, becoming one of the biggest talent show acts this country has ever seen (19 UK Top 10s, tantalisingly close to Girls Aloud’s 21) in a pop landscape that has changed a lot over the past decade – what better time to release a greatest hits record? The standard format is chronological, and although the representation is a little inconsistent, all stages of their career are documented in some form, providing an odyssean trip through styles and musical trends before arriving at the present day with four brand new songs.
Their first single, a gloopy winner’s-song cover of Damien Rice’s Cannonball, is skipped and Between Us begins with the defiant, upbeat Wings. It is DNA, however, that proves the best statement of intent for the years ahead: massive dubstep-inspired production, science concept that trod a fine line between endearing and unsettling in its intensity (“It’s all about his kiss, contaminates my lips / our energy connects, it’s simple genetics”) and a killer hook. Up until this point the most interesting music from an X Factor winner had been Alexandra Burke’s Bad Boys or Leona Lewis’ Bleeding Love, and in this context DNA was every bit as radical as Sound Of The Underground had been 10 years prior.
2013 comes around and so does their second album, Salute, marked by lead single Move and its title track. Move is a good example of a ubiquitous mid-2010s pop trend, in that the first hook is a deliberate anti-climax to the bombastic bridge. The rhythms are irresistible though, and by the end of the track they’ve built up a good head of steam. Meanwhile, Salute goes heavy on wartime aesthetics over booming trap bass and an ascending vocal sequence that’s very simple but very effective.
Black Magic gave Little Mix their first #1 since 2012 with sugary sweet chanting vocals and an infectious backbeat inspired by Girls Just Want To Have Fun, a well deserved triumph. Jason Derulo is subtly snubbed by the inclusion of Secret Love Song Pt. II, rather than the main version featuring himself, but both are maudlin and uninspired so the effect is minimal. Hair, featuring Sean Paul, opens with a great burst of energy, but by the middle section momentum is flagging somewhat, and a version that was closer to three minutes in length might have fared better.
It’s a fine display of nominative determinism that no less than five songs are taken from the group’s fourth album, Glory Days. The first single Shout Out To My Ex was at first accused of ripping off Ugly Heart by fellow girl-group GRL, but is superior in its spiky attitude and unintrusive country influences. Touch eclipses it as one of the most accomplished pop songs of the 2010s, a bassy moombahton beat underpinning anthemic vocals and a decidedly raunchy approach. The other singles are nowhere near as remarkable, although Stormzy puts in a good performance on the otherwise rather goofy Power.
Woman Like Me, featuring Nicki Minaj, came at something of a crossroads for Little Mix as disputes with Syco over artistic direction were to result in a change of labels, and for all its star-power behind the boards (Ed Sheeran! Steve Mac!) the song is little more than a Side To Side ripoff. No other songs from LM5 charted all that high, so we move briskly on to their 2020 release Confetti featuring absolute banger Sweet Melody. The titular wordless vocal has a surreal clipped quality, the lyrics are disarmingly frank for a song this explosive (“He was in a band, wrote love songs about me / I wasn’t crazy ’bout the words, but the melodies were sweet”) and MNEK’s production gives the hook an extra boost of energy with pumping bass and melodic flourishes.
And what of the new content, intended to prove that Little Mix can hit just as hard as a three-piece? This compilation’s title track is an irredeemable pile of sludge, but No and Cut You Off are archetypal examples of the sass we’ve grown to love over crisp, punchy production, while Love (Sweet Love) goes for a more stylish sound with lyrics about self-esteem and the occasional masturbatory innuendo. The chemistry is still very much alive, and with these tracks or a subsequent album Little Mix stand every chance of knocking Girls Aloud off their perch (certainly they stand a better chance than Jesy Nelson).
One can gripe about certain aspects of selection – How Ya Doin’ featuring Missy Elliott and their Sport Relief cover of Cameo’s Word Up wouldn’t have gone amiss – but as it is Between Us provides an impressive account of a chart-conquering legacy that any act would be rightly proud of.