It hasn't been a sweet melody.
In Elite Daily’s It’s Complicated series, we dissect the biggest celebrity drama to find out what happened in front of the camera, behind the scenes, and everywhere in between. In this piece, we look at the fallout between Little Mix and former member Jesy Nelson.
Greatest hits albums typically signal the end of a seasoned artist’s career, but after just 10 years together as a group, Little Mix has seen enough success to release one. The British girl group is dropping Between Us on Nov. 12, and it’s full of recognizable tracks like “Wings,” “Black Magic,” and “Shout Out To My Ex.” While the album celebrates their decade together, it also came at a tumultuous time for its members. In December 2020, Jesy Nelson left the group due to mental health reasons, and she’s since fallen out of touch with Jade Thirlwall, Perrie Edwards, and Leigh-Anne Pinnock. Not only are the girls not on speaking terms, but there seems to be a bit of bad blood. For those who are out of the loop on the drama, get ready to be roped right back in.
Little Mix formed the way many girl groups and boy bands do: via reality television. They won the U.K. version of The X Factor in 2011, and they immediately signed with Syco Music, Simon Cowell’s record label. Their reality TV days are now far behind them, and they’ve proven to have staying power. Little Mix has taken home three BRIT Awards since they debuted, and they’ve received nods at the MTV VMAs and the iHeartRadio Music Awards. And while the remaining three members are running for global domination, there’s a lot to unpack surrounding their latest milestone achievement that is their greatest hits album, and their history with Nelson.
September 2020: The first sign of trouble in paradise.
In September 2020, the band’s show, Little Mix: The Search, premiered on BBC1. The show centered around the girls creating a band that would then join them on tour. In the months leading up to the show’s release, the girls were rumored to be feuding after photos emerged of them looking upset after a rehearsal. Shortly after, Thirlwall reportedly spoke out about tensions on set in an interview with New! magazine. "Maybe I went off in a huff a couple of times,” she reportedly said. “It's inevitable that we're not always going to agree about certain people, but we all respect each other's opinion.”
December 2020: Nelson leaves the group.
After first announcing a hiatus from Little Mix for “private medical reasons,” Nelson officially quit the group at the end of 2020. The band released a statement about her departure, and at the time, it seemed like Nelson’s exit was completely amicable.
“After an amazing nine years together Jesy has made the decision to leave Little Mix,” the statement began. “This is an incredibly sad time for all of us, but we are fully supportive of Jesy. We love her very much and agree that it is so important that she does what is right for her mental health and well-being. We are still very much enjoying our Little Mix journey and the three of us are not ready for it to be over."
The band also asked fans to continue to support them as they embarked on their journey as a trio. "We know that Jesy leaving the group is going to be really upsetting ... for our fans. We love you guys so much and are so grateful for your loyalty and continued support of all of us,” their statement said.
Nelson shared more info about her exit in a statement of her own, explaining the pressures of fame affected her mental health. “The truth is recently being in the band has really taken a toll on my mental health,” she said in a now-deleted Instagram post. “I find the constant pressure of being in a girl group and living up to expectations very hard. There comes a time in life when we need to reinvest in taking care of ourselves rather than focussing on making other people happy, and I feel like now is the time to begin that process.”
August 2021: Nelson addresses her relationship with the girls.
In an interview with The Guardian in August 2021, Nelson got real about drifting apart from her former bandmates. She made it clear they don’t keep in touch, however, she still wished them the best. When asked if Nelson thought the group would stay together, she had nothing but supportive words to share. “I reckon they’ll look after their babies, go off and do their own things for a while, then make a comeback together,” Nelson said, referring to Edwards and Pinnock’s pregnancies. “I think they’re just as sick as a three. They’re still doing it for girl power. I still love them to pieces. They were like my sisters.”
Despite her well wishes, Nelson shocked fans when she revealed she and the girls no longer keep in touch. “No, not as much. Not now. I think we all need time,” Nelson said. “It’s a big thing that’s happened.” Still, Nelson spilled some tea and admitted she didn’t like the musical direction they were headed in: “We were given songs and I hated them. I was like, ‘I don’t want to be on them – I don’t like the song.’ I don’t ever want to be an artist that puts out something I don’t believe in.”
October 2021: Nelson releases her debut solo single.
Nelson may not have been all-in on the girl group lifestyle, and she ultimately decided it was time to pursue a solo career. In March 2021, YMU announced they had signed Nelson as a solo artist. Several months later, a cryptic post appeared on Nelson’s Instagram page with the words, “This is a new chapter for me.”
After much anticipation, her debut single, “Boyz” featuring Nicki Minaj, arrived on Oct. 8 along with an official music video. The visual showed the two ladies taking over a house that was up for sale while throwing the ultimate dance party.
October 2021: Nelson is accused of Blackfishing.
While Nelson’s fans expected her solo debut to go smoothly, things really hit the fan between Nelson and her former bandmates after the “Boyz” music video hit social media. Fans on Twitter accused the singer of Blackfishing, largely due to her attire. As Health.com defines it, Blackfishing — a term coined by journalist Wanna Thompson — is used to describe the phenomenon of non-Black public figures using tools like bronzer, tanning, photo-editing, and cosmetic surgery to appear Black or mixed race. Considering Nelson sported an excessive tan, gold chains, curly hair, and grillz, she caught flack for the video and her appearance.
In an Oct. 8 interview with Vulture, Nelson was asked whether she understood the points being made about Blackfishing. “The whole time I was in Little Mix I never got any of that. And then I came out of [the band] and people all of a sudden were saying it. I wasn’t on social media around that time, so I let my team [deal with it], because that was when I’d just left. But I mean, like, I love Black culture. I love Black music. That’s all I know; it’s what I grew up on,” Nelson said. “I’m very aware that I’m a white British woman; I’ve never said that I wasn’t.”
Nelson was also asked to comment on accusations that she’s blocked Instagram users who’ve called her out for Blackfishing. She told Vulture, “I don’t know about that. Maybe it was my team.” Soon after the interview was published, Nelson’s publicist confirmed to Vulture that her management team deleted and blocked those comments.
“I know comments relating to this had previously been deleted from my IG account, I only found out afterwards that a member of my management team had deleted comments,” Nelson told Vulture in an email. “I’ve spent years being bullied online, so I limit the amount I go on socials. My management team have access to my account & they were trying to protect me & my mental health.”
After cancelling two follow-up calls with Vulture to further comment on the Blackfishing accusations, Nelson’s publicist provided the following statement on her behalf: "I take all those comments made seriously. I would never intentionally do anything to make myself look racially ambiguous, so that's why I was initially shocked that the term was directed at me.”
Then, on Oct. 11, Nelson joined Minaj on Instagram Live to once more address Blackfishing and explain she never meant to hurt anyone. "I personally want to say that my intention was never, ever to offend people of color with this video and my song because like I said, growing up as a young girl, this is the music that I listened to," Nelson said. “These are the videos that I watched and thought were the best. For me personally, ’90s R&B were the best years in music. I just wanted to celebrate that. I just want to celebrate that era of music is what I love.”
Nelson added, “My intention was never, ever, ever want to offend anyone and, genuinely, it actually does really hurt me that may have offended people and actually, like, hurt people’s feelings just by genuinely celebrating something that I love.”
During the Oct. 11 IG Live with Nelson, Minaj came to her defense. Minaj said, "There's a lot of women out here in the United States that tan, get bigger lips ... I wear straight blonde hair when I want to."
Not only did fans on Twitter accuse Nelson of being insensitive, but her former bandmates eventually addressed it, too. The three remaining members of Little Mix spoke out about the controversy in an Oct. 30 interview with The Telegraph. While they said they didn’t want to “dwell” on the subject, they did recognize the importance of acknowledging the problem.
“Capitalizing on aspects of Blackness without having to endure the daily realities of the Black experience is problematic and harmful to people of color,” Thirlwall said. “We think it’s absolutely not OK to use harmful stereotypes. There’s so much to say on that subject that it’s hard to sum up in a sound bite.”
Thirlwall added that the group had previously warned Nelson about Blackfishing while she was still a member of the group. "We've dealt with it in the best way that we know how, and got each other through it," Thirlwall said. “We don’t want to talk about the video, or be critical, but one thing we will clarify regarding the Blackfishing situation is that Jesy was approached by the group in a very friendly, educational manner.”
This was the only official response issued by the group. However, leaked messages previously surfaced in which Pinnock reportedly criticized Nelson’s video and allegedly called her a “horrible” person in an Instagram message to TikTok star Ruari "No Hun" Williams. Ultimately, the leaked messages were never verified and fans believed them to be fake. Minaj also directly addressed Pinnock in her Oct. 11 Instagram Live with Jesy and called her a “clown” for the alleged DMs to NoHun.
Where does Little Mix stand now?
In an IG Live shared by Pinnock’s sister, Sairah Pinnock, she addressed her relationship with Nelson during her 30th birthday party on Oct. 16. “I’m 30 years old. I know my character, you know my character, anyone that meets me knows my f*cking character. That’s all I care about,” Pinnock said in a speech.
Despite the drama, it seems the group is prepared to finally move on. As Thirlwall stated in their Oct. 30 interview with The Telegraph, “We don’t really want to dwell, because we have so much to celebrate as a three.”
While there weren’t many signs of the foursome’s fallout ahead of Nelson’s 2020 exit, Little Mix is hardly the first girl group to go their separate ways and wind up feuding. In fact, most groups who disband tend to do so with some serious baggage. Let’s hope there’s nothing but good stuff to come for these members.