Little Mix’s tiny yet mighty member, Jade Thirlwall, is a busy woman.
The half-Arab singer calls me from London early on Friday morning, readying herself for yet another full day of promoting her group’s sophomore album, Salute, which came out in stores and on iTunes earlier in the month. She isn’t sure of the specifics, but she knows that she has a few obligations lined up at the Sony offices and that her and her band mates, Perrie Edwards, Jesy Nelson and Leigh-Anne Pinnock, will be recording a TV show later.
“Always full-on,” the 20-year-old says of their promo schedule. “This time of year is always the busiest because obviously you bring out your new single, your new album, so it’s literally so hectic – but I’m enjoying it. Mental!”
Little Mix isn’t new to a life on-the-go. They had their first taste of it in 2011, when they became the only group to win the UK’s X Factor, an accomplishment that even their label buddies One Direction failed to do a year earlier.
The bubbly blend of girls scored a No 1 in the UK with their debut single, Wings, and landed on Mel B’s radar when they broke the Spice Girls’ 16-year record by entering the American charts at number 4 with their album DNA. They became the only British girl group to chart that high in the US with a debut release. (Sporty Spice took to Twitter to commend them on making history: “Congrats to @LittleMixOffic!!! Making and breaking records over here in the states & showing off some #GirlPower!”)
Thirlwall is soft-spoken and tinny down the line, but the awe surrounding her journey comes through clearly. She says that her time on the X Factor feels like it was just last week, though it certainly couldn’t have been with the amount that she’s managed to achieve since – including putting out two albums in as many years. Thirwell shared her journey so far:
Q. Your first album, DNA, is a very pop-oriented record, whereas Salute is much more ’90s R&B. What was the inspiration?
I think with the DNA album, that was more of an experiment of just trying out loads of different sounds, you know? We were brand new as a girl group, we hadn’t been together that long, [so we were] just having fun with it and seeing where it went.
[Salute] is more R&B because that’s the kind of music we absolutely love. We were quite young when Destiny’s Child was our favourite girl band. We’re really happy with this album and we’re really proud of it. Of course, we wrote the majority of it ourselves, so that’s even better.
Q. You got to work closely with Kelly Rowland on the X Factor, and she’s said that she’d love to get into the studio and write with you – do you ever still pinch yourself, or have things like that become normal?
No, nothing is ever normal! We can’t even see that we’re hot stars, like, it’s really weird. We just got thrown into it [and] we haven’t had any time to really adjust to it. Kelly Rowland was so supportive of us on the show. Even though she wasn’t our mentor, the show would finish and she’d come to our dressing room and talk to us and give us advice, and the fact that she wants to write with us is just absolutely mental ...
Q. One of the special things about Little Mix is that you all come from different backgrounds. How do you feel that impacts your reach?
It’s incredible, really. You couldn’t have put four more different girls together, but it works amazingly. Obviously, Leigh-Anne [Pinnock] is half-Bajan, half-Jamaican. I’m quarter-Egyptian, quarter-Yemeni. I just think it obviously reaches out to a lot more people; people who might not usually listen to our music might listen to it because they’ve got at least one person to look up to in the group. Anyone can look at us and relate to us, and that’s the amazing thing about Little Mix.
Q. You’ve got a lot of Middle Eastern mixers (the name given to their fans); do you ever think you’ll make your way to the region, and maybe to Dubai?
I would absolutely love to. I’ve always wanted to, anyway, because obviously it’s my background, being Middle Eastern. I would absolutely love to come over and just see what it’s like over there, see what the fans are like. We obviously see the massive interest on Twitter and Facebook and whatever, like, [but] you never know until you actually get there. It’s our goal, really, to go on a world tour and go to as many places as possible, and the Middle East is right up there. [The upcoming year will see them touring North America in support of X Factor judge and pop starlet, Demi Lovato, alongside US X Factor girl group, Fifth Harmony.]
Q. Some might dub your songs feminist anthems. However, in a recent interview, Perrie and Jesy tried to distance themselves from that label. What does feminism mean to you?
I wouldn’t say that we’re, like, feminists. Obviously, we stand for female empowerment and stuff, but we’re not extreme with it. I think our main reason why we’re so involved in that is because we are just really passionate. Because, especially in the media and stuff, it’s so difficult being a woman, or being a young girl growing up today. Every magazine, someone’s talking about someone’s weight or how they look. When we write our music, we make sure our lyrics inspire – especially the young fans – to feel more confident about themselves and ignore any kind of hateful comments. But, I mean, our music is for boys, as well.
Q. Jade, you’ve been dubbed the quiet one. How do you feel about that label?
I don’t mind it! I’m quite loud at home, and people think I’m the loud one. I think it’s just when [the three girls and I] are next to each other, that’s when it looks a bit different. Everyone’s got a role to play in a girl band, and I don’t mind being dubbed the quiet one. I mean, Posh [Victoria Beckham] was the quiet one, and look where she is now.
Q. In the press, you’re always asked about One Direction. Does it annoy you to constantly be put in the same category as them?
A lot of people say that we’re similar, and I’m like ‘really?’ We don’t mind, obviously, we don’t expect to not be asked. Sometimes when interviewers are like ‘oh, I think you’re heading toward the direction of being as successful as them’, then that’s a lovely thing to say. It’s just when it’s an interview about them, that’s when it gets annoying.
Q. Do you value the privacy that you’re afforded by having a slightly smaller status than One Direction or are you looking forward to a limitless sort of fame?
We would love to be as successful as One Direction, but obviously there comes a price with it, doesn’t there? I’d be a bit scared of not being able to leave the house without someone following us, or having hundreds of fans outside your house. It’s different for boys, especially – girls go absolutely hysterical for them because they fancy them, whereas for us, girls look up to us and they like our sound, but they wouldn’t necessarily come and run over to us and rip a bit of our hair out. [laughs] I think we’re at a good level at the minute, but we would like to be bigger, obviously.
Q. How would you want to be remembered?
I just want people to think that, maybe in ten years time or whatever, to look back and think that Little Mix were an amazing girl band – one of the best in the world. That’s when I know I’ll be proud of what we’ve achieved.