Little Mix star Perrie Edwards talks new music, panic attacks and knitting

By Mark Savage
BBC music reporter

  • Published
Perrie EdwardsImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The singer had just turned 18 when she auditioned for X Factor in 2011

If anyone can lift us out of the gloom, it's Little Mix.

Britain's most successful girl band are breaking through the fug of self-isolation with a turbo-charged new single that goes by the self-explanatory title Break Up Song.

It was written in a flurry of creativity last year - one of seven songs the band composed in a single day with their go-to writer (and former stockbroker) Camille Purcell.

Straight away, it was earmarked as the first single on Little Mix's sixth album, which is also their first since splitting from Simon Cowell's record label, Syco, in 2018.

Plans for the album are up in the air after the coronavirus outbreak put recording sessions on hold - but they decided to release Break Up Song anyway, in an attempt to keep their fans happy in uncertain times.

Singer Perrie Edwards joined us on the phone from her house in London to explain what's going on; and how the split from Syco has given Little Mix permission to go back to their first love: pure, unfiltered, hands-in-the-air pop anthems.

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Hey Perrie, how are you?

I'm great! I'm in my kitchen making a grilled sandwich.

Excellent news. What filling?

Well, have you ever heard of [swanky Danish juice bar chain] Joe and the Juice?

Yes, there's one next door to the BBC!

Well, I'm a little bit obsessed with that because my boyfriend likes it, so… there's a Tuna sandwich that you get from there, and I'm basically just making my own version of that.

Well, I'm glad we've got all the important stuff out of the way first. Shall we wrap up the interview here?

Haha, yeah.

Or maybe we should talk about the new single...

Oh, alright then.

Image source, RCA Records
Image caption,
Break Up Song is Little Mix's 24th single. In total, the quartet have sold more than 50 million records worldwide

It's immediately recognisable as a classic Little Mix song, but how did it come about?

So basically, the story goes like this…

Sometimes when we do writing sessions you're literally sat there, twiddling your thumbs, doodling on a piece of paper, pretending you're coming up with ideas while you're secretly going on Uber and ordering yourself a car home.

Then there's other days when everything is flowing and it feels amazing. And this was one of those days. We went in the studio with Camille, who's like the fifth member of Little Mix, and we wrote about six or seven songs in one day.

All completed, polished songs?

Well, it was everything from rough ideas to little tiny demos, and one of them was Break Up Song.

It was very basic at the time. The beat was all over the place and it was really, really rough - but it just had something about it. And we thought, "This has got to be the first single. Let's just bin everything we thought of doing before and roll with this."

So it wasn't always destined to be the lead single?

No, but we played the demo to our label and said, "This is going to be a smash - we just need to finish it."

And they were going, "How can you tell it's going to be a hit when it's literally just a verse and the [main] line?"

And we were like, "Trust us. Let us get a really good demo together, and we'll present it to you and see what you think". And as soon as we did that, everybody loved it. We felt really proud because it was our baby.

I've always wondered how you divide up the singing in the studio. Do you each have specific strengths you play to?

Back in the day we used to have a routine about who sang what but, since the last album, it's become almost a free-for-all.

Like, I got to the stage where I was like, "Guys, I really don't want to belt out the big notes and the ad-libs all the time. I want to sing a verse, or something lower [in pitch] because I like to sing low as well".

So we throw it all over the place now. I think it keeps it more exciting for us and the fans.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The band (L-R: Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Jesy Edwards, Jade Thirlwall and Perrie Edwards) are due to play a stadium tour this summer

One of the lines Jesy sings in Break Up Song is: "I'll be good by myself / I'll find a way to dance without you." Obviously it was written before the lockdown, but it seems eerily appropriate this week.

Exactly! It couldn't have come at a more perfect time. I think it'll uplift everybody at home, just jamming out to it.

And, as if by magic, you've just gone viral by dancing with your boyfriend [Liverpool footballer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain] on Instagram...

[Laughing] I can't believe that went viral! I don't understand what made it so good.

I think it's because you float up the stairs like you're in a 1950s Ginger Rogers film.

Aw, I love that. It actually does. But we just did it as a laugh; and then it went massive.

Is that your top tip for isolation, just dancing around the house?

Yeah, dancing, keeping yourself busy. I just keep putting fake tan on like I'm going somewhere when I'm not. And I've been knitting a little bit.

What have you made?

Well, like a grandma, I've knitted a blanket - and it's come in really handy, actually.

What does the lockdown mean for Little Mix? You had a tour, festivals, a TV show and an album all due in the next couple of months.

I honestly have no idea. I'm praying and hoping that our tour is going to happen. But I'm also putting things into perspective. It sucks for us but it's a global pandemic, so we're just going to go with the flow and do what we can to keep our fans happy whilst quarantining and figure it out after.

That's basically what everyone's doing.

This is the thing: Everybody's in the same position. We're all in it together.

And yet some people still seem to be taking unnecessary risks.

It's weird, I don't understand why people don't stay at home, it isn't that hard.

It's like people want a sick day at work all the time - but now they're being made to stay at home, they're like, "Well, I don't want to!"

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Little Mix won their second Brit Award, for the single Woman Like Me, in 2019

So what stage is the album at right now?

To be fair, it was shaping up very nicely before the whole corona-situation happened. But there's still work to be done. If it was all finished and it was sat there, we'd say, "Do you know what? Let's get it out," but it isn't…

Your last album, LM5, came out a day after you split from Simon Cowell's record company, but it was still on their label. A lot of fans felt it didn't get the promotion it deserved... What was your perspective?

It was a weird time in our careers. There was a lot going on, but it's one of those things. We were proud of the album, we were happy with it and the fans seemed to love it.

I think, moving forward with our music, instead of trying to mature our sound and try different genres, we're just going to do what makes us happy - which is pop and feel-good music like Break Up Song.

Is that what happened with Syco? You were being pushed in a direction you weren't comfortable with?

Hmmm... I think we just wanted to try something new. It was our fifth album and you get to a point where you want to switch up your sound, switch up your look, try different things. You don't want to keep doing the same stuff every day.

You're basically in uncharted territory now. Girl groups don't usually last for three albums, let alone six.

Thank you, yeah. It is pretty unheard of to do this well for this long, so we are really grateful. I think it's just down to friendship and hard work and dedication.

Do you find people underestimate the amount of work you do?

Exactly. I think people think we get on stage, we look pretty, and then we insert a memory card into the back of our necks and the performance just happens.

I don't think they realise it takes weeks and months of preparation and rehearsal and time and effort. It's not easy being a pop star!

Image source, Neil Mockford
Image caption,
Each of the band auditioned for X Factor as a solo act before being put together as a four-piece, initially called Rhythmix

What was the diary like before you went on lockdown?

It was intense. It's always the same in Little Mix world. Our schedules are normally planned out two years in advance.

Wow. I don't know what I'm doing tomorrow, Perrie.

Well now neither do I!

That must be weird.

It's a bittersweet situation. It's quite refreshing but it's also quite daunting because I'm used to having my life planned out for me. But it is quite nice not to think about work for a little while.

You wrote a really powerful and brave Instagram post last year about your anxiety and panic attacks. How did that affect your ability to be part of the band?

It's weird. It affected it in a huge way, but it also didn't affect it at all, if that makes sense?

When the panic attacks got bad, I didn't want to leave the house. My mam and Sam, my manager, had to meet at my house to take me to work because I couldn't bear the idea of being in a car on my own.

And I've always been really independent. I've always loved my own space. I lived near fields with nothing around me and that was my happy place. Then all of a sudden it slipped and now that's my idea of hell. So I like to be surrounded by people now because I feel like if I was to have a panic attack, it'd be better if I had somebody with me.

So it messed up work in the day-to-day sense, but it's never affected being on stage, because performing's what I love to do. That's where I feel most comfortable and the most safe, I suppose.

It must be hard, though, to get up on that stage after going through all that stress just to get there.

It's the worst thing in the world. It's quite frustrating, 'cos if someone broke their leg, you wouldn't say, "Oh, just get on stage and perform, you're fine." But because you can't see anxiety, it's a mental illness, people don't necessarily believe in it as much.

Image source, Perrie Edwards / Instagram
Image caption,
The singer posted this unfiltered photo while discussing her struggles with anxiety

Has it subsided at all, or have you worked out ways to cope?

Touch wood, the panic attacks have stopped, but anxiety is quite hard to shift, so you've got to try and find coping mechanisms, rather than thinking you'll get rid of it.

Therapy has helped; and so has figuring out the things that trigger my anxiety and trying to avoid those situations somehow. And if not, just try to keep calm and breathe.

In happier news, you've just passed your driving test, is that right?

Yes I did! I never thought in a million years I would pass my test but I absolutely love driving now. It's the best thing ever,

What car did you get?

It's a big truck! It's huge. It's a beast but I absolutely love it.

And do you still play guitar?

A little bit - but not as often as I should. I've got long, natural nails now and I can't play guitar with them.

Aren't they useful as guitar picks?

No! It's really hard when you're pressing the strings to make the chords because your nails get in the way. So I'm putting beauty before guitar talent here!

Have you ever considered doing an acoustic set with the girls?

I've thought about it but I don't know… I'd be really worried because I'm not that good at it. I can play the basic chords and that's about it.

Well, you only need three.

That's true! Every single song is basically only three or four chords, so you never know!

Right, well I'd better let you get back to that tuna sandwich. Thanks for chatting.

Thank you! See you when it's all over. Stay safe!

Little Mix's new single, Break Up Song, is out now Since this interview took place on Wednesday, their BBC TV show, The Search, has been postponed.

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