When I wrote my review of Little Mix’s current album Confetti last month, I mentioned in my parting words that I wouldn’t be surprised if this ended up being their last album for a while. Little did I realise that statement I made would come to fruition quite so soon after the fact.
For the news that wasn’t unexpected – but still sad all the same – broke on Monday evening that, following her sudden absence on the album’s release week that was cited to be ‘for medical reasons’, Jesy Nelson has, after 9 years, left the chart topping girl group.
Now, members of majorly successful pop groups leaving isn’t new for us. We’ve lived through over 20 years of it. For many people of a certain age, their defining ‘end of an era’ was George Michael leaving Wham, or Robbie Williams leaving Take That. In my case, and indeed the other 9 year olds and pop fans of 1998, it was Geri Halliwell leaving the Spice Girls, who are the most obvious touch point here.
Jesy’s reasons for leaving are very well documented, as anyone who saw her bravely honest but deeply heartbreaking documentary Odd One Out that was on BBC Three last year will testify. In fact, her departure is more akin to Geri’s than first meets the eye in that respect. It was equally well documented how Geri struggled with her mental well-being, compounded by bereavement for her father, and her battle with eating disorders and self image.
On the one hand, it shows how far we’ve come as a society that the universal reaction to Jesy’s announcement on Monday was one of yes, sadness, but also support and encouragement and understanding from the fans, and that the now remaining trio of Jade Thirlwall, Perrie Edwards and Leigh-Anne Pinnock’s announcement to carry on was, despite heavy hearts, amicable and full of love for their now departed bandmate. One hopes that Jesy can take great comfort from this and find the peace and happiness she deserves.
But as somebody who loves pure pop music (which Little Mix have provided more than their fair share of over the last nine years), it is a genre which even now still doesn’t truly get the wider credence or respect or air of worthiness that other genres of music are given. And I can’t surely be the only one who feels angry that something so successful and that such a beautiful, funny, talented and charming soul as Jesy have been broken by an industry which still retains toxic narratives and ways of working and thinking – especially towards women – that are as outdated as gone off milk.
No one is expecting the music industry to change overnight – it is, for better or worse, a business, and one that puts our country head and shoulders above many other territories. And no one is expecting it to become a charity case either, not least of all after a year when everyone in it has been battered by the pandemic and total halting and shut down of sizeable sectors such as live music, and which is now learning the hard way what happens when, after years of not being in the habit of asserting their worth and value to the nation and to people, and protecting its artists and the people who really make it happen like tech assistants and musicians and lighting directors, is now the subject of something approaching Government decimation via a patronising ad campaign to “retrain”.
But equally that’s not to excuse that the industry needs to do more. In fact, scrap that; it MUST do more. The people at the top in record labels and management companies need to better look out for their artists right from the beginning, to really ensure that they have the right support networks in place and to not forget that there are humans at the centre of all this as well as great talent.
We should take comfort that things here haven’t taken the sad turn of events that it did when Caroline Flack died by suicide at the beginning of this year, and that Jesy is putting herself, her health and her wellbeing first. But without learning the lessons from this turn of events, and without further change, and without an active pledge and efforts to commit to change and improve things, we will just end up seeing history repeat itself further. Because everybody loses out when that happens.