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After eight years as one-quarter of the biggest Britsh girl band since the Spice Girls, Perrie Edwards talks mixed emotions, freckles and finding happiness with her Little Mix sisters.

Perrie Edwards doesn’t care anymore. Well, not strictly; she cares about music, and success, and the legions of fans who swarm to her dressing room to chant Little Mix hits through foggy windows. What she’s over is the bullshit: covert paparazzi trying to snap a nip slip on her beach holiday; getting lacerated for wearing hot pants on television; breakfast show hosts crapping out shit takes for retweets. “When you’re a kid everything makes you worried, you think everything’s the end of the world,” she explains. “And then you get older and start to care a lot less.”


This newfound nonchalance is probably why, despite years of churning through the jaws of the music industry, gossip rags and reality TV, Perrie comes across as remarkably unjaded. She’s the kind of chatty, shiny-eyed woman you’d happily knock back a pint or five with. One who, on hearing my dull twang, inquires, “Have we met before? Are you Australian?”


We haven’t, and I’m not. I’m from New Zealand, I tell her, to which she gushes about the two years she spent there as a young teen. Specifically, in a town called Hamilton, lovingly referred to by kiwis as The Tron, unlovingly as the capital of STDs. But Perrie’s prone to honing in on the good. Growing up, her favourite toy was a cardboard box. “When me mam got a new washing machine it was legit the best day, because [the box] was a rocket, it was a car, it was imagination.”


Her brother, meanwhile, had a sixth sense: “We had bunk beds at one point, and Jonny would wake up in the morning and be like, ‘Ohhh, mam’s making bacon!’, and I’d be thinking, how the fuck does he know that?! I honestly thought my brother was gifted.” He knew what was on the menu because he has a sense of smell — Perrie does not. “I find it funny when someone farts,” she laughs. “Because everyone will walk away and it’s just me with the person and I’m like, what’s happening?” This candidness sums up Perrie’s appeal; perfectly turned out in glowing skin and double denim, straight from flouncing around in a giant tutu on a fashion shoot, chatting about farts.


After those glorious years in The Tron, her family moved back to South Shields, proud home of Geordies and the largest theme park in the North East, and resumed what Perrie describes as normal life in a working-class family. Until age 17, when her mum convinced her to audition for The X Factor. Her audition’s still online, and sees Perrie belting out Alanis Morissette’s “Oughta Know” with an unexpected guttural force. The shows producers hadn’t yet pinned her for a star, granting her Kelly Roland approved performance precisely two seconds of airtime in a montage package, as opposed to one of the indulgent backstories about dead pets reserved for Potential Winners. They underestimated her: Perrie was later thrown in a girl band with fellow young hopefuls Jade Thirlwall, Jesy Nelson and Leigh-Anne Pinnock. And, in probably her greatest contribution to pop music (to date), Tulisa Contostavlos mentored them to the winning title.

Eight years on and Little Mix isn’t quite so little anymore. They’ve won two Brit Awards, had four number one singles, as many certified platinum albums, scored a collaboration with Nicki Minaj, and spawned an army of so-called “Mixers.” They’re so aligned with this fanbase that they decided to name their last album for them: LM5, after common fandom practice of branding popstar eras by their initials and whatever album number they’re up to.


“When I look at the fanbase, it makes me feel like no matter what we’ve done, we’re a success,” Perrie explains. “Because you look out at an arena, you look at ticket sales, you look at —“ she pauses, turning to her PR. “How many [London] O2s are we doing? Is it five? I think it’s five?” She’s lost track of exactly how many times they’ve sold out the 20,000 capacity arena for their upcoming tour, but assures me that “it’s up there with Drake” — he did seven — “And I mean, I’ll take that.”


Little Mix are one of the rare reality TV-forged acts to break the pop ceiling. For every One Direction, there’s thousands of once-hopefuls resigned to ‘Where Are They Now?!’ clickbait or half-cooked tribute acts. It’s equally unusual for groups to last this long, which isn’t really surprising when you remember they’ve effectively been shoehorned into best friendship with complete strangers, and contractually obliged to make it work. Take their American counterparts, fellow X Factor offspring Fifth Harmony, who didn’t exactly break up on the best of terms. The first to leave, Camila Cabello, was replaced by a stand in for the band’s 2017 VMA performance, only to be performatively flung off the stage in the first two seconds like rag doll sucked through an open plane door.


Little Mix, however, seem to genuinely get on. They share airtime in interviews and solos on stage, communicate in weird voices, and give the kind of drunk post-award ceremony interviews you’d expect from any twenty-something with access to an open bar. When Perrie broke down crying during an emotional live rendition of “The End” around the time of her high profile break up with One Direction’s Zayn, the rest of the girls stopped the performance to rally around her like a cuddly human shield, deflecting the awkwardness with some lovable dad jokes.


Not that she hasn’t fielded offers to take a break from pop star life. “I’ve been asked to do the West End a few times,” she says, thrilled by the prospect, particularly if it involves Glinda from Wicked. Or anything from Wicked, really. “I’d just be a tree if it means I’m in it. I’ll be a cape when she’s singing a big number if she wants.” She’s similarly self-deprecating when it comes to acting. “I would one-hundred percent be a Jack Whitehall, wouldn’t I, when he gets his line cut from Frozen,” she jokes. “That would be me, I’d get one line and it’d get cut.”


Whether it’s starring in a blockbuster or playing a tree, Perrie’s eager to try on every hat. Despite the can do attitude, her recent Superga campaign is the first thing she’s done on her own in almost a decade of the band. That’s mostly because the relentless popstar schedule doesn’t allow time for a chunky solo excursion, and she doesn’t plan on jumping ship anytime soon. “As long as it’s still happening for all of us,” Perrie mulls, “then we’ll stay together.”


She credits Little Mix’s longevity to hard work: “We’re grafters.” She also notes how willingly they’ve evolved, “switching it up, not doing the same stuff, changing our look, figuring out what it is we like, what we don’t like.” Growing up, basically. They’ve traded the 80s perms and bowties of early days for glossy hair and Off-White belts; graduated from high knees and hand claps to body rolls and thigh slaps.


Their lyrics, too, are more astute and acerbic: where early hits extolled the virtues of listening to your mama or luring in crushes with magic potions, their latest album, LM5, reflects on years under the microscope of the pop machine. Single “Strip” is a throbbing bop about loving your big arse and small tits, but less in a cheerleading fist pump way, and more of a slick fuck you to Daily Mail headlines that trade in body shame.


Sleeper hit “Wasabi” similarly calls bullshit on all the extraneous crap, revelling in the rumours (“She ain’t wearing no clothes / When she goin’ solo?”), and coming to a sort of ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ resolution (“Love to hate me, praise me, shame me, either way you talk about me”) They tone it down for the MNEK-produced and co-penned “Told You So”, an acoustic guitar track that’s less about the lame dude the protagonist’s crying over, more about the mates who’ll be there at the end of the day to put the kettle on. I listened to it on a 30-hour journey back from New Zealand and cried — partially because planes have you weeping over documentaries about plants, but partially because it’s just a really sweet song about female friendship.


“LM5 was hard,” Perrie sighs. “I think with things like “Shout Out To My Ex”, they come so naturally because they’re based on our emotions at that time. What we’re going through, what’s happening in our lives.“ What was happening for her around the release of that 2016 single — which would hit number one and win them their first Brit Award for Best British Single — was a high profile break up with One Direction’s Zayn. “Not that it’s good to be heartbroken, but it does help,” Perrie says of songwriting. “When you’re happy, it’s so hard.”


This time round, she was. She is. References to her boyfriend — footballer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain — are scattered throughout our conversation. When I finally ask about it, she takes the string and runs. “I’ve learnt that it’s nice to be with someone who takes you as you are,” Perrie muses. “I’m a little creep sometimes, I’m a little weirdo. And he loves me for that, and that’s why I’m like, ‘Woohoo!’ You know? I don’t have to put on a front and be this perfect girlfriend.” She continues: “He’s like, perfection. He’s not too much, he’s not too clingy, but he’s not too cool for school. He’s got a perfect balance, he’s super supportive of everything I do, which is so nice. He just wants the best for me, as do I him. So it’s just a lovely balanced healthy relationship, and I love it,” she smiles. “It’s a breath of fresh air.”


It’s nice to hear and see, given how gruellingly public her split with her former fiance played out in the press. Problem was, new romance isn’t necessarily conducive to creativity. “All we wanted to do was write about how great our relationships were, and how happy we were,” Perrie says of LM5. “And it just was a bit like — mearrhgh,” she groans, citing the fairly on-the-nose lyrics of “Motivate”: “He struts like a, struts like a baller.” Perrie and Leigh-Anne’s boyfriends are footballers, Jade’s is in a band called The Struts, Jesy was on holiday so her beau didn’t get a namecheck. So, instead of a supercut about cute texts and couples escapes to Mykonos, they settled on LM5’s “sassy, girl power, confident-in-your-ownskin kind of direction”.

The whole girl power schtick can be — and has been — easily picked apart, given it’s storied history of reducing feminism to a catchy slogan to sell records. Especially in a commercially-driven #GirlBoss age, where politics are so often sidelined by sparkly pink diaries studded with positive affirmations about manifesting your passion, or something. It’s undoubtedly tough terrain to navigate for young pop stars growing up in the age of cancel culture, with little room to screw up, learn and grow. Particularly when Little Mix’s USP is essentially uplifting anthems for young women. But they seem to at least be plugged into the conversation, and making an effort to reflect the times.


Their “Strip” video featured a cast of women of all colours, ages and shapes, slapping their arses and wobbling their tits. When the breakfast show host [redacted] trolled them for flashing too much flesh, they barely batted a perfectly curled eyelash, bar Jesy (rightly) branding [redacted] a “silly twat”. As fellow pop titan Ariana Grande tweeted in defence of Little Mix, “women can be sexual AND talented. naked and dignified. it’s OUR choice. & we will keep fighting til people understand.”


Perrie’s keenly aware of the impact their platform can have on a personal level. “That girl going to school who’s covered in freckles, who hates them like I did, she needs to know it’s not a bad thing,” she says of her Instagrams advocating self-acceptance. Last year, she posted a topless beach shot with just starfishes covering her nipples, exposing a scar tracing down the centreline of her abdomen. It was captioned, “Mermaids have freckles and scars too… embrace them. I think they’re beaut!” I tell her I have a similar scar from a botched appendix removal and that had my younger self seen something like that, I probably would’ve felt a lot better about it at the time. “Thing is, if it wasn’t for these scars then we might not be here,” she says, like a cool big sister bundling you up in her safety blanket. “So I look at it and think: I’m alive.”


The same ethos propelled her to post publicly on her Instagram about suffering anxiety. It kicked in a few years back, not that she knew what was happening during that first panic attack. “It starts as a tingle down your spine, then your arms feel a bit limp, then my vision goes a bit blurry then you can’t breathe. In that moment you’re like, ‘I’m dying I’m dying I’m dying.’” This lead to a crippling fear of being alone: she didn’t want to fly, she didn’t want to get in the car to work, and to this day still won’t take the train alone. A turning point was seeing fellow public figures Fearne Cotton and Ellie Goulding discuss their own experiences with it. “It made me think, ‘It’s normal, people go through this.’” She adds, “Now I think, the way I felt when I found out they had it is the way I wanted my fans to feel.”


Obviously, pop stars can’t solve the mental health crisis — that’ll take significant funding hikes and a government that actually cares — but they’re not really meant to. What they can do, as Perrie proves, is showcase women who are simultaneously funny, relatable, sexy, weird, successful, messy and emotional. They can shower you with boisterous anthems to flail naked around your bedroom to. They can make you feel part of something bigger, even if you’re really just weeping alone in a tin can 38,000 feet above the Atlantic ocean. As she hugs me goodbye, Perrie says, “You know, if we lived in New Zealand at the same, I think we could’ve been friends.” Same.

Order Perrie’s issue of Notion 84 here!

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