The Little Mix steamroller chugs onwards. After last week’s rendition of En Vogue’s ‘Don’t Let Go’ they are the new favourites to win the contest, at shorter than 2/1 in most books. Many of our commenters believe the prize is nearly in the bag: Nugget thinks “only Little Mix can win this now”; while bunnyman reckons they should be odds-on.
It may be useful to ponder what stands between the likeable girl group and victory. In our view, there are still quite a few hurdles, some of them discussed in our 2010 review article about why One Direction failed to get anywhere close to Matt or Rebecca despite the sense that – like Little Mix – they were being given every possible assistance.
Ultimately, One Direction found last year that the Simon Cowell endorsement was not a way of winning neutrals over against the far less favoured Matt Cardle. We don’t have Simon Cowell on the panel any more, but we have an increasingly savvy set of viewers who have become more and more sceptical of the show and the way it attempts to manipulate opinion.
As the last series progressed it became common to see One Direction referred to online as ‘One Dimension’, reflecting the general perception that there was a gap between hype and reality. We are starting to detect the possibility of something similar developing this year – along with Cake Mix, Pick’n’Mix and so on, we have recently noticed some references to the girlband as ‘Little Fix’.
This reflects how obvious it is becoming that producers are going all out to bolster their support. Little Mix have been in the penultimate or pimp slot for three of the last four shows. Their VTs and judges comments have been incredibly helpful, with the exception of Gary Barlow looking for something more stripped back – and even this is teeing them up for a future performance. The contrast with the treatment of Janet Devlin, and her succession of early draws and negative comments, has been stark.
Then there is the continuing flow of celebrity endorsements from the likes of One Direction, David Walliams and Holly Willoughby. The inclusion of brief interviews with two stars of the Twilight movie during Saturday’s VT cleverly created the subliminal impression that they were on board the bandwagon too.
Also in Saturday’s VT were The Saturdays. This seemed like a risky move given that The Risk had finished bottom of the vote in the week their VT showed them meeting some established stars in the same marketplace, JLS. The purpose, we assume, was to show one of The Saturdays saying that with their girlband experience they could “tell instantly” that Little Mix are genuinely friendly, hitting on a theme that was pummelled again and again in One Direction’s journey last year.
It certainly seemed like the celebrity gold dust might be rubbing off on the Little Mix girls in their VT. While Janet Devlin looked unmoved by the whole premiere experience, we saw the Little Mixers gushing: “Being on the red carpet and strutting wor stuff was just incredible”; “this could be our life, just going to premieres… oh, it would be amazing”.
And why wouldn’t they be excited? But the sight of the girls rubbing shoulders with movie stars reminded us that in our article about Little Mix three weeks ago, explaining our scepticism about their chances of winning when they first plunged in the betting, we wrote:
programme makers have generally done their best for Little Mix, astutely positioning them as normal girls who other girls can relate to and who, in Tulisa’s phrase, won’t “steal your boyfriend”… The trouble is, while their portrayal as normal girls may have been what’s helped Little Mix to the halfway stage, isn’t it going to be a problem when it comes to winning the show?… The more they start to look like potential winners rather than against-the-odds survivors, the easier it will be to imagine them stealing your boyfriend.
During their Saturday VT and performance we thought the glammed-up girls were starting to look very much like potential boyfriend-stealers. And if we are now entering the phase where we have to leave behind the USP of them being unremarkable and instead move to a USP of them being amazing, they are going to have to start backing up the pimping and the celebrity endorsements with some standout performances.
We know many of you think they did that on Saturday. What we saw was another One Direction type performance – competence heavily aided by the backing track and washed down with over-the-top praise. We know that as punters we always have to be alert against the danger of confirmation bias – did we see a performance that wasn’t gamechanging because of our scepticism that the girls have a gamechanging performance in them? Perhaps.
But we’re not the only ones to find the use of a loud backing track an off-putting experience. This is how The Bitch Factor reviewed their performance: “BixMix were present while a machine played a recording of ‘Don’t Let Go (Love)’ and occasionally sang a line or two when they could be arsed.” (If you don’t get the BixMix reference, by the way, it’s from the most recent series of The Apprentice).
The girlband’s supporters rightly pointed out that Marcus had a whole gospel choir drowning him out, though at least this support was visible, whereas a loud backing track only enhances the sense of behind-the-scenes manipulation. Here once again, we can’t resist quoting The Bitch Factor on Marcus: “He’s got a gospel choir behind him, presumably because the show wanted to save money by using them for something else beyond pre-recording the vocals for BixMix this week.”
How well is it all working? That’s the question. Little Mix clearly have enthusiastic fans – they stormed Twitter this week, according to Sofabet commenter Toby’s blog, but don’t forget Twitter is dominated by the young and female demographic which also seems most likely to be supporting Little Mix.
It certainly seems conceivable that Little Mix may not be setting the phone lines alight. After hilariously making an explicit call for the High Wycombe vote in week 6, Tulisa’s “they are not safe” appeal this week didn’t feel acted.
Don’t get us wrong. We like the girls, think Perrie has a fantastic voice, and believe they are a breath of fresh air in the competition. We just find it hard to find anything special about their performances – their harmonies when they can be heard are not very tight, as evidenced when coming in together after Jesy’s introduction to ‘Please Don’t Stop The Music’ in their week 5 pimping.
One of our commenters, Wolfstar agrees and goes on to make an interesting point. “the main problem is that I think their look and styling as a group is really off – it absolutely screams amateur. Visually they just look like every other wannabe failed girl band from the past decade or two – there’s no overall styling/presentation concept, no uniform look, no attitude or brand statement.”
This only reinforces our sense that Little Mix have not been Plan A from the begininng, as some have reckoned. JLS were each given a colour to differentiate themsleves from the beginning, One Direction were clearly planned from long before the lives, but we continue to suspect that initially the judges’ praise for Rhythmix (as they then were) merely indicated a desire for the girlband to avoid the embarrassingly traditional first week exit.
Week 3 is intriguingly suggestive that hopes for them might not have been high. Presumably worried about losing Frankie or Kitty, producers put Marcus on in the Strictly zone followed by Janet to put him down the memory hole. And then, in slots 3-4-5, were acts that we assume were the back-up sacrificial lambs in case Collins survived, as he did. These were Sami (who did eventually leave in week 3), Sophie (eliminated in week 4) and… Rhythmix, who also faced the classic vote-dampening tactic of an argument on the judges panel over song choice.
Of course, you could see that as an indication they got a strong vote in week 2 and producers were confident they would survive. We’ll see when the votes come out – if their week 2 vote was low, it would back up our sense that producers at that stage viewed them as expendable if necessary.
The embarrassment of being forced into a name change by a legal spat with a charity gave producers good reason to want to keep Little Mix safe in Week 4, which they did with the brilliant VT showing Jesy’s tears over comments made on the internet about her weight. This was when the steamroller began – our guess is that their decent performance of ‘ET’, combined with the sense that The Risk’s revolving door was starting to make them look ridiculous, persuaded producers to give the girlband a go.
Thus in Week 5, they got the full pimping with the VT introducing us individually to each girl and their hometown, and the final slot in the running order, just a week after having the penultimate slot. That week, The Risk were lost in a double elimination – we suspect accidentally – leaving Little Mix as the only remaining hope in Tulisa’s category.
Everything since has pointed to the producers being desperate to get them to the final, and we fully expect them to succeed. But will producers be as desperate for Little Mix to win as they evidently are to get them to the final? That seems like more of an open question.
We don’t think it would be the end of the world for Syco if Little Mix don’t win. As our commenter shoulders explained, “I think that the show does not need Little Mix to win to earn the most money from them (the only reason for them to win would be to break the duck of a group not winning)”.
We also agree with how Richard expanded on this point: “I think there’s another reason why they might not want Little Mix to win. The winner’s song will be a Gary Barlow-penned ballad. Bear in mind that a lot of record-buyers don’t watch X Factor, and their first exposure to the winner will be their winner’s song. For Janet or Marcus that would be fine, but Little Mix need something up-tempo and a bit more imaginative than Barlow is likely to write.”
Coming second or third, and waiting till the following summer to release a more suitable first single after months of planning, is no barrier to success. Ask JLS, Olly Murs and One Direction.
So it may not be in the bag for Little Mix after all. What do you think about the hurdles facing Little Mix? Will producers want them to win, or will it be job done if they get to the final? How much pimping will they need, and how much danger is there of that feeding the ‘Little Fix’ meme? Do let us know in the comments section below.