Little Mix were 40 feet above the crowd at London’s O2 Arena, perched on a floating stage and engulfed in capes of voluminous Day-Glo tulle, when they lost their collective voice. This would have been a horrifying nadir in many a pop star’s live career, but as the backing track to Between Us blared – a love song to one another that the now-trio wrote after attending group therapy – the women smiled through evident tears and pointed their mics towards the masses instead. “It’s really starting to sink in that there’s only three shows left,” Jade Thirlwall croaked. We were witnessing something rare: a celebratory, loving and respectful end to a pop group.
Seven Top 5 albums, five Number One singles, two TV talent shows, one ex-member and – as of last summer – three children later, Little Mix maintain that they are “not splitting up”, but it’s undeniable that after more than a decade together, these women deserve the indefinite break they’re about to take. Pop history is hardly riddled with amicable endings: Spandau Ballet ended up in court; Geri abandoned The Spice Girls on a Nordic runway; Robbie left Take That under a cloud. Little Mix, in contrast, have placed care at the heart of their careers, so it’s no surprise that they were professional about when to stop.
Thirlwall, Perrie Edwards, Leigh-Anne Pinnock and Jesy Nelson were the first all-female group to win The X Factor in 2011, when they emerged into the pop landscape, unforgivingly styled teenagers created by the Simon Cowell machine. Nobody then could have predicted that they’d become the ailing TV show’s most successful creation, outlasting One Direction.
Alongside producing a run of gleaming pop bangers about female independence (Salute, Wings) and the travails of the heart (Sweet Melody, Secret Love Song), Little Mix have spent the past decade transforming our understanding of what a pop group should be. The first all-female group to win the Best Band Brit Award, they’ve made award-winning documentaries on online bullying and mental health, spoken against launching air-strikes on Syria and stood up for trans rights. As the music industry becomes increasingly digitised and plastic, the members of Little Mix have remained infectiously human: how many other pop stars would tell Interview magazine about doing “a panic poo” to tackle stage-fright?
That’s why nobody minded the waterworks last night, the first of three nights that will culminate tomorrow in what’s billed as “The Last Show (For Now…)”. It probably would have been stranger had they not been turned on. Confetti and fireworks were let off every 30 minutes, but feelings accounted for most of the atmosphere inside the O2. I had burst into happy tears by the second verse of the ferocious opening number, Shout Out to My Ex.
This was the group’s first tour without Nelson, who left in 2020, days after an album release, citing too many years of mental ill-health to continue (something for which her bandmates voiced sympathy). Nelson was the group’s best dancer and always the most fun to watch live, but Thirlwall, Edwards and Pinnock have ably taken on her soulful vocal runs: the women’s voices and close harmonies remain their strongest asset. They’ve also elevated Little Mix’s offering as a trio, sharpening their stage performance into something unabashedly camp, sexy and fun.
Previous Little Mix tours have sometimes suffered under the weight of overproduction. The group have a broad fanbase, from little girls to LGBTQ-skewing millennial pop nerds, and plenty of ludicrous concepts and preposterous stagings have been deployed in an attempt to please both. But this, the Confetti Tour, suggested that the trio have finally accepted the maturity at which their lyrics (and increasingly sexualised dance routines) have been nudging for the past five years. Their early hit, Black Magic, was remixed into an fka Twigs-style slow jam, as the three women delivered chair dances to the delighted screams of their wine-guzzling fans; Touch was broken down into an ostentatious twerking session; Woman Like Me descended into wild hair-eography.
The whole thing was ridiculously entertaining. Cynics will crow that the group will be back as soon as they need another cash injection, but Confetti would have sold out anyway; Little Mix only announced they’d be taking a break after they’d begun the tour. Farewell or no, this show was a true celebration of a group that’s been underestimated for too long. I can’t wait to see where their solo careers go – and, inevitably, to welcome them back on stage together.
Until tomorrow. Tickets: theo2.co.uk (in person), dreamstage.live (live-stream)