Leigh-Anne on life after Little Mix

Photography by Lucy & Lydia

The British pop star joins THE FACE team to chat about diversity in the music industry and her brand new solo career.

For 11 years, Leigh-Anne Pinnock was in one the biggest girl groups in pop history. In 2022, Little Mix announced an indefinite hiatus, and now Pinnock is striking out with her UK garage-flavoured solo single Don’t Say Love, which she previewed to ex-bandmate Jade Thirlwall on her hen do.

For this week’s episode of THE FACE Podcast, Pinnock joins our Editor Matthew Whitehouse and Features Editor Olive Pometsey to chat about her relationship with the other Little Mix members, campaigning for diversity in the music industry and doing her own stunts in her new blockbuster music videos.

Listen and read the full transcript below.

Matthew Whitehouse: Hello and welcome to THE FACE Podcast, recorded at Spotify HQ, where this week, I’m joined by Olive Pometsey, FACE Features Editor, and Leigh-Anne Pinnock, who does not work at the FACE, but is a former member of Little Mix, who is on the cusp of releasing her first solo single. Leigh-Anne, welcome to the show. Does it feel weird hearing those words: solo-single”?

Leigh-Anne Pinnock: Yes, it really does feel weird. I mean, I was in a group for over 11 years. I keep saying that I’m like waiting for the girls to walk in or something and come and hold my hand. Yeah, it’s bizarre, but I truly feel like it’s time, though, for all of us. It’s definitely the right time.

MW: Yeah, I was going to say why now, why does now feel like the right moment?

LP: I think, as I say, 11 years in a group, there’s gotta come a time where you spread your own wings and sort of just stand on your own two feet. I think we all came to that sort of mutual decision and I think we’re just ready to see what the world has to offer for us just solo and individually. Also, me and Perri having children, I genuinely I don’t know how it would work in that group dynamic with kids now. I just don’t understand how…

MW: What, on tour and things like that?

LP: Just everything, like promo schedules…

Olive Pometsey: Nursery…

LP: Honestly, we already struggled fitting time in to see our partners, because obviously all our partners do different work and different jobs and whatever. So fitting that in was hard enough. So yeah, I just don’t know how we would’ve made that work.

MW: Talking about that time when you decided to disband, can you remember, was there a final conversation when you decided to do it and what did that kind of feel like?

LP: I feel like it was a gradual thing, like conversations kind of happening, but I’m just happy that we all mutually agreed. You know, there wasn’t one person like, No, we can’t do this!” As much as we all had come to the unanimous decision, it was like, we would be on tour, the three of us would be thinking, Are we sure we wanna do this?” We had moments like that, like, I don’t know if this is right.” Because we just had such a beautiful time on the last tour. We’re so close, we’re literally like family and you can’t choose your family. They are just always going to be my sisters. Yeah, it’s weird and it’s hard, but yeah, it’s definitely the right thing to do.

OP: When you were making that decision, did you always know that you wanted to do solo music afterwards? Or was it kind of you just wanted to leave the band or be on hiatus to have a bit of a rest and some time away to focus on your family?

LP: I think I always knew I wanted to do music. It wasn’t something that I’ve spoken about in the band, but just knowing that if we would ever come to an end, that it would be something that I would wanna carry on with. I think I was born to be on a stage. I can’t think of anything else that I’d wanna do. All I wanted to do was be a popstar. So, yeah, I feel like there’s potential that I have that I don’t feel like I’ve truly unlocked yet. I guess with all of us, there’s only so much that you can really show in a group.I think I’m just excited to explore that more, and sing songs that just suit me and my voice, and do choreo that just looks good on me, you know. It’s no compromise. That’s not to say that I didn’t absolutely love what we did in the group and enjoy every second of it, but I think it’s just going to be a whole different thing now it’s all eyes on me. It’s just different.

MW: Well, let’s talk about it then. Let’s talk about the first single, what can you tell us about it?

LP: Don’t Say Love. So it came in the beginning of the process, but for me, I wasn’t done experimenting or writing. And then it kept popping up, I always knew it was a banger. Then I think we got some sort of months down the line and I thought, you know what, this is a no brainer for a first single. I love the fact that I’m taking my fans on a journey as well. I love the fact that it’s garage influenced but then still with a pop topline. But then, as I go through the singles, I will get a bit more R&B and there’s all these influences, music that I listened to growing up, like R&B, reggae, Afrobeats, garage. The album is an accumulation of all these sounds, but that’s what I’m excited for, to take people on that journey and gradually show everybody what I’ve been doing.

MW: Did you have a clear idea of what it was that you wanted to do or did it take some kind of figuring out and feeling your way through?

LP: Definitely some feeling my way, I think. I always knew I wanted to do R&B, because I’m a slow jam girl, like I can listen to slow jams getting ready or in the car. I just love old R&B. For me, it’s like I couldn’t have an album that just sounded the same. Even from Little Mix days, all our music, it was influences from all different types of genres and the album had a bit of something for everyone. I wanna take that with me, if that makes sense, with my album. I think it’s definitely been a process. The camp that I had in Jamaica, I just think we nailed it there. We got some songs that, like, these were the songs that I’m like, yes, now everything has to live around these, if that makes sense?

MW: Right, got it. Yes, like a central point.

LP: I can’t say the songs on the album, can I? I did that in my last interview, I was reading them all off, it was like leave something behind, Leigh-Anne, God! But yeah, it’s been a process.

MW: Have you been quite decisive, quite clear in what you want to do? Do you um and ah a lot? How do you work?

LP: I feel like I’m quite an easy-going, laid-back person. Sometimes maybe too laid back, I don’t know. But at the same time, I am a perfectionist. I am very much like, I know what I want”, which is good. I don’t know, I feel like I’m a good listener, I’m willing to try everything and take advice from the professionals and whatever. But I think ultimately, I am a professional, I’ve been doing this for so long, so it’s like listening to my gut and that is the most important thing.

MW: Who were you working with when you were in Jamaica?

LP: So Jamaica, I had a bunch of like my favourite producers and writers but also new people as well. I had PRGRSHN, who did a lot of the Stormzy stuff, Dyo, who’s just an incredible writer, who is now again like my family, she’s just amazing. Abby Keen, who’s Raye’s little sister.

OP: Oh my gosh, that family is just… everyone’s got talent.

LP: Jackson 5, honestly. I just can’t, they are phenomenal and I love them so much. Abby is just like a rocket. I can’t wait for her to come out with all her stuff, she’s incredible. She did one of my favourite songs on the album – she’s done quite a few. Khris Riddick, who was in The Rascals, did a lot of Ariana stuff and just did Snooze for SZA, he’s done really well. [Dot] da Genius was there – just amazing. Danja, who did all the Nelly Furtado stuff. Just some wicked, wicked people. Everyone got on and it was a really nice camp. It was just a lovely place to be and the music was just chef’s kiss. Really good.

OP: What has it been like being in the studio on your own and without being in a band? How have you found that?

LP: It just was a compromise, as I say. Just being able to write about my feelings and my experience is just very liberating. Yeah, so I did a big camp in, my first camp was in London actually, in Portobello.

MW: And a camp, for listeners at home, you’re not literally going camping, just to clear it up for the listeners at home.

LP: Yeah, so a camp is I guess, at a writing camp, you can gather as many or as little writers and producers as you want. Then you just all make music, but it’s good because it’s not forced. The creative juices just flow and people can go into different rooms, and everyone’s hanging out and relaxed. It’s better than having a one-off studio session because everyone is just chilled and getting on. Yeah, I prefer them to doing one-offs.

MW: And what a liberating experience, I bet, as you say, after so many years in the group, to be doing this for your own project and for yourself. It must’ve felt absolutely incredible.

LP: It really does and this is why I still feel like I’m still on this cloud, because I’m promoting my song and it’s just, to me, it’s like my mind is just blown. I don’t know, I guess that comes from literally being in something for so long and now stepping into something that is so different, like this is my world now and my creation and it’s all on me as well. Before, if a song didn’t do well in the group or whatever, we’d have each other to lean on or it wouldn’t really matter as much, if that makes sense, because we’re going through it together. But I think that’s the hardest thing to deal with, knowing that it literally is just me. As much as they’re on the other end of the phone, it’s just different.

MW: How much have you kind of shared with them about what you’re working on and how much have you wanted to keep for yourself?

LP: I feel like we’ve all kept things close to our chest just because we’re all perfectionists – I think that’s why anyway. We are, we knit-pick everything, so I think we probably wanted to save it until it was done. I actually played Jade stuff on my hen-do for the first time.

OP: Oh wow, what a good hen-do activity!

LP: Oh gosh, I know. I was so scared to play it to her. I don’t know why, but I just think I want their approval, do you know what I mean? I just want their backing.

OP: What’s her verdict?

LP: She loves it. And then obviously Pez. I hadn’t actually seen Pez, so I hadn’t played anything to her. But obviously she saw the teasers and left a really lovely comment about it all. But they’re just proud. I say it all the time: they win, I win; I win, they win, do you know what I mean? We are still kind of weirdly in it together, if that makes sense. I feel like we will always be tied somehow.

MW: Yeah, well you will be. You’ve spent so many formative years together.

OP: And you guys are kind of the only people in the world who will know what it’s like to have been in the biggest girl band in the world for eleven years.

LP: 100 per cent and, yeah, you can’t run from that. They will literally be the only people to ever really get it.

I do call the shots now. I have the ability to be able to make sure that a certain percentage of my team is Black”


MW: You know you talk about those moments of now, when you’re doing this stuff and there’s moments that really authentically feel like you, how did you retain a sense of you [in the band] or did you ever feel like you had to shave edges of yourself off a little bit?

LP: That’s such a good question. Yeah, I think naturally I kind of went into myself a bit. There’s a fear of being too loud or being too quiet, or kind of wanting everyone to have their moment and everyone to shine, which is how it should be. Naturally, maybe you do dull yourself down a little bit, but it worked for the group.

MW: Because it was a collective whole kind of thing.

LP: Yeah, whatever it was, I guess it did work because look how well we did. I think as well my experiences play into that as well like being the Black member and feeling very overlooked a lot of the time, I guess that naturally made me go into myself as well.

OP: I think as well British girl bands have a long history of the Black member being singled out in the press particularly, and having labels put on them that are not fair and kind of basically are racist. I remember when you put out that video, just after George Floyd’s murder, talking about your experience in Little Mix and it actually made me cry. I felt like it actually could relate to it so much, even though I hadn’t been in a girl band. I think it was really powerful for you to put that out there in that moment and show people what it had been for you.

LP: Yeah, because I think as well people, all they would’ve seen of Little Mix is colour and rainbows and happiness, which a lot of the time it was. But I don’t know, I think people were like, Oh, OK… that happened.” I get it, though. I think I was just so happy that I actually managed to get it off of my chest. I did actually speak about my experiences maybe in 2017, this was so long ago, when the world wasn’t talking about race. At that time, it fell under deaf ears, like no one cared. It came and it went. I think that put me off of ever saying anything about it again. But then, obviously such a tragedy, George Floyd, all of a sudden the world was talking about race and my white friends were educating themselves, and people that I would’ve never really spoken about it to before, I was having conversations with them about it. The whole world kind of just flipped, so it just felt right. I remember saying to my sister, I don’t know, I don’t know if I should put it out.” And she’s like, Just do it, you have to do it!” It was the best thing I ever did.

OP: Yeah, given you also did your documentary Race, Pop & Power and you had Keisha Buchanan on it and people like Raye. Do you feel like the industry has actually changed since that moment that so many people were putting out these promises? And do you feel like you have the power, now that you’re a soloist, to be more vocal about those situations?

LP: Do I think anything has changed… I definitely think that there is more awareness, for sure. But I don’t think enough has changed, no. Even after the documentary, I remember when we were doing some of our videos and I was still walking into just all white rooms. I’m like Why?” Like, I’ve spoken about this, I literally like said to everybody involved this has to happen, it has to be diverse. There is no reason as to why it wouldn’t be, so just do it. And for the couple of videos after, it just wasn’t. It was just so infuriating, because it was just like… it’s just frustrating. I guess it got better towards the end. I think it’s going to be interesting just navigating it on my own and seeing the changes, and seeing what still needs to be done.

MW: And presumably now, as Olive said, as a solo artist you can now kind of shape your career in that light, and surround yourself with the people that you want to surround yourself with.

LP: Yeah, definitely. I do call the shots now. I have the ability to be able to make sure that a certain percentage of my team is Black. Even for me, I wonder how I would’ve felt in the group if I would’ve had more Black people to turn to, if that makes sense? Because how could I go for so long not understanding why I felt the way that I did. Like, it was just like how could it be so long and I just don’t know. It was really rare for me to be around other Black creatives. It wasn’t [there in] spaces that we would ever be in. But I found so much comfort when I was in that space, just because I could relate and we could talk about experiences. I guess that’s why in the documentary, with all the artists in the room, Keisha and Alex[andra Burke] et cetera, that was so important because I would’ve never been able to do that before. I wasn’t ever in a situation to do that. But I took a lot of comfort from it, I guess.

OP: Yeah, suddenly a really isolating experience you realise is actually a shared experience for so many.

LP: Yeah, exactly.

Photography by Hugo Comte

MW: And speaking of other artists, what are you kind of listening to at the moment? What’s making you excited right now?

LP: SZA, if I’m honest. I think she just doesn’t do any wrong, like both of her albums are just… I don’t even have the words for her. She’s like no one else, she’s just doing her thing, like lyrically, melodies, just yeah, she’s great. I mean, I love afrobeats at the minute. I’ve always loved it but even more now, like everytime I hear afrobeats, I just feel so happy. It just touches my soul, I don’t know.

MW: And we can hear some of that on the new music right?

LP: Yeah, there’ll be some influences there for sure. There’s some exciting features…

MW: Oh yeah?

LP: Yeah…

OP: Three clues?

LP: I’ll wait till I sign the contract.

MW: OK, fair enough, fair enough. Is the full record finished? Have you got the full album done?

LP: It’s nearly there to be honest, yeah. I think it came together a lot quicker than people thought. A lot quicker than I thought, as well. I’m hoping to have it early out next year

MW: And you’ve had time to do a book? You have a book on the way.

LP: Yeah.

MW: When’s that, when’s the book out?

LP: So, that’s coming out – it’s called Believe – it’s coming out in October.

MW: And it’s a memoir?

LP: Yes.

MW: What was the process of that like? Presumably, having never written a memoir, did looking back and reflect on these things make you remember things differently, see things in a different light? What was it like?

LP: I definitely learnt a lot, like how my parents were with us and understanding why I am the way I am today. I think you don’t really get into things like that on a day-to-day basis. You don’t really talk about that part of your childhood or growing up like that. It was interesting. I think the one thing that sticks out is the fact that I always wanted to sing, even from probably just coming out of the womb, to be honest. The fact that I was so adamant to everyone that I was going to be a popstar. Going back and looking at my facebook statuses [that were] like Leigh-Anne is going to be performing at Madison Square Garden”, Leigh-Anne is not going to be broke soon”. Oh my God, I genuinely like manifested this! It’s crazy.

OP: Yeah, you look back and you’re like, Tick! Tick! Tick!’

LP: Yeah, like what? How? I think I learnt a lot about myself and how I have always had this fire in me. Even though I had those experiences in the group as well and I felt like I lost so much confidence, I didn’t give up, I didn’t stop. Ad I’ve still got this fire going and I think that’s why I’m so passionate about my solo [stuff] as well, because it’s like I almost owe it to my younger self I think.

MW: Yes, I understand. What do you think is the biggest way that you’ve changed, from starting in the group to now?

LP: I just think I’ve gone on this mad journey of knowing exactly who I was and having all this confidence, and anybody that told me I couldn’t do it, it was like, Oh, whatever.” I ignored every person from my hometown that ever put me down, or shouted out something rude when I was on stage or whatever. I just blocked it out. I’m like, how did you take all of that and still have all this confidence to be like I’m getting my dream? And then you get your dream and then it’s not exactly what you think it’s gonna be. It’s like, why do I have this other weird feeling of not being as loved as the others? Why is this coming along with it? That was like the icky bit and then, in turn, that took my confidence away and sort of stripped me down a bit. Now, I’ve kind of gone full circle and I feel like I’m being the young girl again and it’s like she’s got it all back. It’s been like a weird journey, to be honest. But I feel like, I know your question was what have I learnt, but just to not doubt myself, I think. It’s like, I’m annoyed that I’ve wasted quite a long time in that sort of doubtful era, I guess.

MW: What’s interesting is that you’re sort of hinting at a kind of circulatory as well and a return to that kind of confidence. I mean, you auditioned as a solo artist originally and now you’re finally sort of fulfilling that original promise. Even some of your influences on the record, you know UK Garage and stuff that you like listening to, presumably it’s kind of like coming back to what you were listening to when you were growing up as well.

LP: 100 per cent, yeah. Like I say, I guess owing it to my younger self. But no, I feel like I’m in a really good place. I think I need to do this for myself, like I need to step out on my own, I need to just smash it.

OP: This is day one of a whirlwind press tour. Are they keeping you busy? Are you doing lots of these interviews?

LP: Oh yeah!

OP: Back to back…

LP: And so it begins. But like I said, I’m literally just on this cloud, floating, and I just love the song so much. I’m so proud of the video.

MW: Oh, tell us about the video, I’ve not seen the video.

LP: The video… So, I basically decided I wanted to be a stunt woman in the video and create a movie. I’m jumping off buildings, I’m diving into water… I always envisioned running away. I think about my experiences in the group, I think about that feeling of being unheard and unseen and whatever, and I wanted to express the frustration, the emotion that came with that. So, yeah, it’s like this journey of me running. There’s this scene where I’m doing this sort of improvised movement, which symbolises the frustration, and then I dive into water and that’s to symbolise the cleanse and the rebirth. Then I end, as I jump into the water, the second single starts and you can kind of hear it underwater. It’s like a little teaser of the next single. For the second video, I’ll rise out of the water, so it’s like I found myself.

MW: Very nice.

OP: So we’re getting a full story here.

LP: Yes! I thought, you know what, if I’m gonna do this – you do this once, don’t you? You just gotta go for it.

MW: I bet you terrified the record label’s insurance department.

LP: Oh yeah! They honestly are petrified of this and I’m like, I don’t care, it’s what I want, we’re gon’ do it…” And did someone say budget? A three day shoot is it in Istanbul? Sorry, Joe.

MW: Well, Leigh-Anne, thank you so much for joining us, and we wish you the best of luck with Don’t say Love, and we hope that we can chat again soon. Best of luck to you.

LP:Thank you so much.


HOST Matthew Whitehouse EXECUTIVE EDITOR Davy Reed PRODUCER Hunter Charlton DIGITAL DIRECTOR Brooke McCord MUSIC Louis Culture

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