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Jesy Nelson is leaving Little Mix
Via Instagram (@jesynelson)

Jesy Nelson’s departure from Little Mix is a victory for her, not trolls

The Little Mix member with a stunning voice, sparkling charisma, and nerve has announced she’s leaving the band to focus on her mental health

It was a lonely Saturday night in with a Chinese takeaway when I first watched Jesy Nelson’s now acclaimed BBC documentary Odd One Out. Slumped on the sofa and with the house to myself, I quickly found myself sobbing into my kung pao chicken, as Jesy opened up about the effects of the constant trolling and scrutiny she’d been enduring since she and her bandmates became the first group to ever win The X Factor in 2011. As I listened to the Romford native and Little Mix member detail some excruciating experiences of online and press abuse with her typically engaging, endearing, and honest manner, I reached for my phone and opened an app with a pit in my stomach.

I was 15 when Little Mix won The X Factor, and I remember live-tweeting along to the Cowell machine like everybody else did. Now aged 23, I watched Jesy speak candidly about how, on what should have been the best night of her life, she could only see endless comments about her appearance and person. The jibes were chipping away at her self esteem, her body image, and her mental health. She spoke of the ruthless tweets and the abusive direct messages she received. I felt gross that I might have contributed to it. Scrolling through my old tweets, I was thankful to look about and see that I hadn’t shared something glib or spiteful, even in jest, believing in the distance between myself and a foundling celebrity. It wouldn’t have been out of the question for a pop music-obsessed 15-year-old to have laughed along with the “fat and ugly” jibes, which that particular era of reality TV and celebrity allowed to proliferate monstrously.

These days, it’s well known that, to some degree, The X Factor had always been about ridicule. In a piece for Tribune, writer Jason Okundaye astutely defines this era of 00s television, in which the show first debuted. The broadcast output, in a Blairite Britain, stoked “an open, pro-establishment hostility to marginalised people, in which entertainment and politics were engaged in reciprocal dialogue”. Onwards from that, The X Factor plodded on with this tone, and for the best part of a decade, anyone badly dressed, overweight, or with a shit enough singing voice was herded into the audition room, shoved in front of Simon, Sharon Osbourne, Louis Walsh, and the nation to cackle at on Saturday nights. 12.9 million people tuned in to see Little Mix win live at Wembley.

While Jesy’s path was a journey to success, she found herself, time and time again, social media’s favourite punchline. Odd One Out went on to win Jesy a National Television Award, and arguably made her the most independently successful member of Little Mix. Despite the huge impact that doc had, and the conversations in the press and on social media about reevaluating conduct towards celebrities, it clearly wasn’t enough to fix all she’d been through.

When Jesy posted her announcement that her time in Little Mix was over on December 14, I felt profound sadness for the end of an era, the about-face for one of the world’s biggest girl groups. At the same time, I couldn’t help but let out an empathetic sigh of relief for the 29-year-old. Prior to the announcement, things had felt off. On the release day of Little Mix’s recent sixth (and best) album Confetti, a promotional video briefly circulated on Twitter of the band. Fans noted that Jesy looked visibly upset and distant. This was followed with the news that she was going to be absent for the final live shows of their new and rather brilliant BBC singing competition, in which the band themselves take the judges chair. Then, there was the most recent PR announcement that she would be taking a hiatus from the band for the foreseeable future. Bittersweet memes circulated instantly, comparing the situation to Geri Halliwell’s first Spice Girls absence live on The National Lottery in 1998, with Mel C uttering the infamous line, “Get well soon, Geri!”. It all led to her definitive announcement feeling imminent, but that didn’t lessen its sad blow. 

“While Jesy’s path was a journey to success, she found herself, time and time again, social media’s favourite punchline”

The important thing to focus on is that this will be a turning point for Jesy, her happiness, and her future. In 2018, Little Mix released a triumphant video for their LM5 track “Strip”. In it, Jesy and her bandmates Jade Thirlwall, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, and Perrie Edwards appear naked and make-up free, their bodies scrawled with the insults the press and the public had hurled at them throughout their careers. “Slutty”, “Fat”, “Ugly”. They are joined by an array of activists too. For their fanbase, many being young women, it became an instant hit and anthem for self love – and deliciously, it received ire from mouthpiece Piers Morgan that they were confidently able to brush off. “Rub off all your words, don't give a uh, (they're) over it,” they sing. Despite it’s impact and message, it wasn’t released as a single by the group’s label. Days before the album’s launch, they parted ways with the Syco machine. It seems they were done having their career dictated. 

We can look forward to seeing more of this surge of independence from the Little Mix women, and Jesy in whatever she endeavours to do next. For nine years, Jesy has been the heart and soul of Little Mix, the gal you could count on to say something iconic while bladdered after the BRIT Awards, the one you always knew was gonna put in that extra oomph in a live show or music video. Her growling vocals and quivering vibrato have inflected on British pop music for nearly a decade, and her openness, big personality, and presence has helped her thrive in interviews. She has earned herself an army of fans ready to support her next career endeavours. Making the choice to publicly say you’re doing what’s best for your mental health and wellbeing when you’re as famous as Jesy sets a precedent to any young person struggling, not feeling worthy, feeling like speaking out is admitting failure. Jesy has made millions see that it’s OK to talk honestly about what you’re going through. This departure isn’t giving up, it’s Jesy Nelson creating a whole new world for herself.