Gig Review: Little Mix at First Direct Arena, Leeds

Little Mix at First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture: Jenessa Williams
Little Mix at First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture: Jenessa Williams
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You know you’re dealing with a new generation of music listeners when a band bounds on stage no longer with announcement of CDs to sell, but rather the invitation to follow them on TikTok.

Introducing New Rules – the boyband for our modern times, blending Jonas Brother pep with an Ed Sheeran everyman realness. For their second-ever show, they certainly know how to whip up tonight’s crowd of glowstick-grasping pre-teens – power-pop songs about love and loss provide a great backdrop for their performance chemistry to flourish, their ease on a stage of this size clearly evident. A cover of Dominic-Fike’s viral hit ‘Three Nights’ goes down a storm, but pales into insignificance next to the screams that accompany their own track, ‘Happy Ever After You’, which has racked up nearly 30,000 youtube views in under a fortnight. A future arena-filler in their own right? You certainly wouldn’t bet against them,

Growing up between Highgate and Kentish Town, Mae Muller has been moving in all the right circles. Picked up by Capitol Records off the back of her soundcloud experimentations, she fuses all the popular sounds of the day into her set – a touch of reggaeton, a hint of RnB, a dash of sweary rap. For someone so early into their career, this experimentation should be encouraged, but if her witty pop feels contrived at any point, it’s because she never quite lingers long enough on an idea to see it to fruition, flitting between accents and nervous, calculated banter. Is the real Mae Muller the cockney everywoman, or the Instagram baddie with inflections of Caribbean patois? Still, there is hope in her set – unlike its subject matter, ‘Anticlimax’ hits the sweet spot just right, putting the spark of Lily Allen through a BooHoo filter in a way that feels current and vibrant.

To suggest that Little Mix may have possibly watched Beyonce’s Coachella performance more than once is probably an understatement, but if her take on Marching-Band activism was their foremost influence for this tour, then it’s easily their most fully-realised concept to date.

Like the Spice Girls before them, ‘Girl Power’ is the order of the night, but it’s one that is constructed with Generation Alpha in mind – the audience full of young girls who will grow up nothing no different than a life spent in the metric of social media likes and shares, where worth is attributed through what a strange thinks of you and insults are dismissed as ‘free speech’.

A big-sisterly hand from four women who very much been there and done that, the LM5 stage stow is a crash course in shrugging off the haters – from the fist-pumping rally cry of opener ‘Salute’ right through the costume-change facilitating VT that precedes ‘Wasabi’ – a montage of all the times Piers Morgan has shamed the girls for their sexuality, sped up to mocking levels. It’s remarkable sense of self-awareness (not to mention good humour) puts them head and shoulders above their contemporaries – from outfit’s adorned with the phrase ‘Ally’ to their traditional outing of ‘Secret Love Song’, dedicated as always to their LGBTQ+ fans, acceptance, tolerance and being yourself permeates the room, and drips from their song selection – gender-stereotypical ditties such as ‘Move’ are dropped in favour of ‘A Woman’s World’, ‘Joan Of Arc’ and video interludes that promote empowering slogans – ‘Standing As Sisters Forever’, ‘We Are The Activists’, even a quote from activist legend Gloria Steinham, left lingering in the dark.

Of course, all of this political messaging is worthless if the show doesn’t stand up as a piece of entertainment. And it does, with ease. Despite tonight’s show being at the end of a long touring stretch, all four women are nothing but consummate professionals, putting 100 per cent energy into every step, high note and moment of eye-contact with the tiny girls screaming from the front row.

Five albums deep, you’re struck with the recognition of just how many huge singles they now have at their disposal, all co-written by themselves, all rich with positive messages that speak to women of all ages.

As they sink into the floor at the end of ‘Touch’, I’m distracted by a girl, no older than 8, whose spent most of the gig in awestruck silence, watching with her eyes as her mum takes pictures on her phone. ‘Mummy, are we feminists?’ she asks. Mum looks smug. Little Mix have done their job.