Last December, when Jesy Nelson announced her departure from Little Mix to protect her mental health, it felt like a genuine tidal change for music.
Despite her fans’ understandable disappointment at her departure, Nelson’s decision to take care of herself and speak out about the extreme pressures of life in a successful girl band – tortured by comparisons with her thinner bandmates and online abuse, including a particularly cruel comment from Katie Hopkins that Nelson claims led to her overdose – was met with unwavering compassion and admiration. The prospect of true liberty appeared to be on the horizon.
Nelson’s solo career — a long-teased concept finally realized today with the much-delayed release of her debut single – has succumbed to a dispiriting lack of vision almost a year later. It’s a cliche-filled mansion.
After a decade of pop, she is finally making the music she wants to make, inspired by R&B and rap, as she has stated in numerous interviews. To keep the headlines bouncing, each each glossy cover article gracefully twists the knife a little further with her former bandmates – they supposedly haven’t spoken.
Nelson, who won a National Television Award for her 2019 documentary Odd One Out on her mental health challenges, says she is happy than ever now that she is a solo artist in every new interview. Her most recent interview, for Glamour UK, has her declaring that she no longer requires diets or lip fillers to be happy.
Her midsection appears toned in the photos, and her lips are artificially full.
It’s difficult for me to criticize Nelson on this. She appears to be fragile; I hope she is truly happy.
These are actions from an out-of-date industrial playbook that has never yielded much success but is nonetheless used time and time again. With the exception of Robbie Williams, Harry Styles, and Beyoncé (who is in a different stratosphere than her more provincial UK counterparts), few former girl- and boyband performers have been able to carry the luster of their alma mater into a solo career.
If that playbook has been improved, it’s to use mental health and self-help jargon to frame going alone as a form of independence and atonement. Despite this, it’s evident that the demands are the same, if not more, when you’re not surrounded by bandmates.
All of this would be immaterial if Nelson had returned with a fantastic song to shield her from the pressures, but she didn’t. Boyz heavily interpolates P Diddy’s 2001 hit Bad Boys for Life, and even comes with a virtual shot-for-shot remake of the video.
Long hyped, but repeatedly pushed back, apparently because guest star Nicki Minaj was too preoccupied with her cousin’s much-discussed testicular issues to record her verses, Boyz heavily interpolates P Diddy’s 2001 hit Bad Boys for Life, and even comes with a virtual shot-for-shot remake of the video. Given that most core Nelson and Little Mix fans would have been in their infancy, if they were born at all, when the original was released, it’s a bizarre decision that immediately diminishes Nelson’s chances of creating her own identity as a pop artist.
It doesn’t help that it sounds eerily similar to Cher Lloyd’s early songs from the X Factor.
The song’s most unpleasant components are those that feel real to Nelson. Her vocals have a helium smirk to them, which is off-putting. It’s difficult to comprehend what she’s singing the majority of the time.
It might be best if you follow along with the lyrics sheet. Leg-crossing references to a guy who likes her “raw, baby, sashimi” are made. It also idolizes males who are “so hood, so good, so damn taboo,” with Nelson and a posse of Black men and women terrorizing a Nice White Neighbourhood in the film.
She’s been accused of blackfishing, which involves changing her hair, lips, and skin tone to appear racially ambiguous and singing in a blaccent manner. (In the meantime, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, her former bandmate, has released her own acclaimed documentary about her experiences with prejudice and feeling like the least popular member of Little Mix.)
Nelson told the Guardian in August that she was unaware that people felt that way and that she “would never want to offend anyone.” Her debut track, on the other hand, plays wildly with her perceived and undeserved affinity to Black culture.
Ben Stiller appears in the original video as an enraged neighbor who wants to put Diddy in his place but also sucks up to and hangs out with him, a foreshadowing of America’s relationship with rap and Blackness. Diddy knocks in her door at Nelson’s, waggles his finger at her irresponsibility, and wishes her luck.
What was once a crisp, humorous moment is now a prop. (It’s worth noting that one of Nelson’s outfits in the video, a bedazzled union jack bikini with a bandanna and flat-ironed hair, harkens back to Victoria Beckham’s ill-fated solo career, which also drew uncomfortably from rap.)
Boyz also has a weird message. Nelson has admitted that bad boys have caused her a lot of heartache in the past, and she wonders why she is so drawn to them.
The songs could have gone in a different direction, probing further into her infatuation, mocking their posturing, mocking cliched gender norms, but instead they go down the first path. It’s out of date and does her no favors.
Nelson is portrayed in the ad as a neighborhood thug who defies good taste and social norms. Her solo career, on the other hand, appears to have already reached a stalemate.