As most of us will know, things vary greatly in music depending on what type of act you are. There’s different rules for different schools, as it were. Whilst those that would describe themselves as “discerning” are this week concerned with the follow-up album of a corduroy loving, cow-milking, banjo-strumming entity known only as “Mumford & Sons”, the rest of us are busying ourselves with something altogether more different. Following the relative success of first single “Wings”, Little Mix have uploaded a lyrics video for their follow-up and album title track “DNA.” Many fans were concerned when they heard that “DNA” was being touted as a mid-tempo affair, but the result certainly needn’t have worried them as much as it did. Those who followed the X Factor will be pleased to know that the track pays homage to their performance of “ET”, which, incidentally, I happen to think is the strongest release from Katy Perry’s ridiculously long “Teenage Dream” campaign. It doesn’t even contain a guest rapper! So for this latest blog, as opposed to merely giving my opinions on the single using terms that have probably been stated far too many times on Twitter and internet forums, i’m instead going to explain why I believe this single is perhaps even more important than their debut, and the reasons I think “DNA” has given them rather a strong chance of a positive outcome.
You see reader… in pop, the second single is in many ways what the second album is for your average indie or rock band. Because the singles charts are the main measure of a pop act’s success, their test of longevity becomes apparent a great deal quicker than other artists. Although occasionally fondly remembered, it is definitely not desirable for an act to join the ranks of one hit wonders. This is especially true of an act like Little Mix. Being the only group and the third female act to have ever won the X Factor in right series, there was more hype behind these girls than many. Unlike many other winning acts, I think the majority perceived Little Mix as a group that fit nicely into the pop landscape of 2012, and capable of huge success with the right songs and marketing. Now before I go any further, I will point out that I am aware that this is not technically Little Mix’s second single, as they released “Cannonball” immediately following their X Factor win too, but with X Factor winners it seems safe to ignore the “winner’s single” as it were. It doesn’t follow the proper conventions of single releases and always hits number one regardless of quality. Little Mix’s first real test was “Wings”, which i’m happy to say safely made the number one spot, but unfortunately only for one week (though i’m quite convinced that part of the explanation is owed to the stupidly long wait for the commercial availability of the track.)
Why is the second single important for an X Factor act? Well, isn’t it obvious? This is where things usually go tits up for X Factor alumni, and tends to determine whether they’re set up for a sustained career or otherwise. The two winning acts directly preceding Little Mix are quite perfect examples of such. Both geordie pixie Joe McElderry and hat cardie Matt Cardle’s second (technically third) singles completely bombed, reaching a peak of 68 and 84 in the singles charts respectively. In contrast, everyone’s second favourite horse-faced celebrity Leona Lewis and one-time “Jane McDonald’s Star For A Night” contestant Alexandra Burke’s follow-ups charted at numbers 2 and 8. It’s clear that “DNA” needs to make the top ten at the very least to prevent Little Mix from becoming another on the long list of reality write-offs.
Another reason that the second single is particularly important? Simply the fact that Little Mix happen to be a girlband. Unlike their male counterparts One Direction, whose fans broke pre-order records buying new single “Live While We’re Young” before they’d heard a second of the song, new girlbands tend to have a harder time of it. Though Little Mix obviously have a loyal following of their own, girlbands obviously cannot appeal directly to the loins of their fans and thus are more reliant on smarter marketing and better songs. Let’s look into this by examining two of their most successful predecessors and most obvious fore bearers. The Spice Girls arguably had an even bigger task on their hands than Little Mix do. They had come from complete obscurity to seven weeks at the top of the singles chart with a song that was effectively an earworm. Mel C herself admitted in the magnificent documentary “Giving You Everything” that even she thought Wannabe “had one hit wonder written all over it.” Their follow-up single had to be a showstopper and define the band beyond the gimmicks. In this sense, “Say You’ll Be There” was a masterstroke. It was about slightly more adult themes and is undoubtedly sexier also, but this is done in a fun way and without alienating their young fanbase. The song hit number one and the rest as they say, is history.
A perhaps even more apt example is that of Girls Aloud. Like Little Mix, they came from a talent show also but one could say that there were definitely less expectations of them. The whole premise of “Popstars: The Rivals” entered them into a direct contest with their male counterparts “One True Voice”, who most people expected to triumph on the basis that boybands are easier to sell. In addition to this and again unlike Little Mix, the girls had not heightened people’s perceptions of them with showstopping performances on their show. Indeed, one might argue quite the opposite. (As an aside, doesn’t Popstars: The Rivals look a bit like it was filmed around 30 years ago in an especially impoverished Eastern European country? How things have changed!) Therefore, Girls Aloud left Popstars with the public not expecting a great deal of them whatsoever, but then came “Sound of the Underground.” Now, it certainly helped that the effort of their opposition, the almost painfully bland “Sacred Trust”, was thoroughly dreadful. Saying this, i’d argue that “Sound of the Underground” is not only comparatively better but fantastic in it’s own right. It’s edgy modern sound took almost everyone by surprise. Pop fans felt that we might just have another success story on our hands… just as long as the follow up was as good. Thankfully, it was. Unlike the Spice Girls, Girls Aloud didn’t vary their sound too much for the second single, but instead essentially chose to prove that they had more where “Sound of the Underground” came from. “No Good Advice” had a similarly brilliant hook and was packed with attitude. I believe this release set the band up for the long run of popularity that they enjoyed.
So what chance do Little Mix stand? Based on “DNA”, a pretty good one, i’d say. Whereas “Wings” exuded Summer bounciness, “DNA” is darker and sets a sombre mood as the calendar heads towards Hallowe’en. Like the Spice Girls, Little Mix are playing with slightly more grown-up lyrics here, moving away from the all-age-applicable themes like friendship and self-esteem. And like “Say You’ll Be There”, it must be said that I expect a truly memorable video for this song too. If this is the case, the band will succeed in clarifying their overall message and showing that they mean business, in the manner that “No Good Advice” did for Girls Aloud. I believe the band have time and place on their side also. The slow demise of the Sugababes means that the band’s only real rivals for the nation’s girl group affections are The Saturdays, who are as disparate in their appeal than All Saints were to the Spice Girls.
Ultimately, I believe “DNA” is a solid effort that matches the group’s debut, and maybe even surpasses it. To Little Mix’s credit, any failure of this single would be entirely down to the poor taste of the record-buying public.
What do you think of “DNA”? Does it reach the bar set by the Alouds and the Spices or sullenly limbo under it? Air your views in the handy comments section below!