Before Little Mix became the international powerhouse they are in 2020, they took the stage solo as Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Jade Thirlwall, Jesy Nelson and Perrie Edwards. The four women auditioned individually for British The X Factor nine years ago, building the foundation for what became a strong pop quartet that launched almost a decade (so far) of memorable bops with unmatched stage presence and polished dance routines.

Little Mix, which thrives on collective star power rather than one front-facing lead, clearly has a winning formula. The girl group is one of the best-selling of all time with 50 million records sold worldwide, charting four number one songs in the UK, including Brit Award-winning single "Shout Out to My Ex," making it onto the Forbes' 30 Under 30 in Europe just two years ago and dropping five studio albums that feature other mega-artists like Nicki Minaj, Stormzy and Charlie Puth.

After the success of LM5, their late 2018 album release featuring the Brits' British Artist Video of the Year-winning track "Woman Like Me," the group came back better than ever in 2019 with "Bounce Back." Their latest single, "Holiday," dropped on July 24, peaking at #6 on iTunes charts in the United States, and the accompanying video — which was created, socially distanced, only weeks ago — has already amassed millions of views on YouTube.

Co-written by Pinnock, Thirlwall and Edwards with frequent collaborator and hitmaker KAMILLE, the track combines Little Mix's signature brand of on-your-feet dance pop with romantic lyrics, a double chorus and another taste of the evolved sound that is likely to debut on Little Mix's forthcoming sixth album.

The song is certainly fit for quarantine times, documenting the feeling of being with someone who makes you feel like everyday is a vacation in lyrics like, "Up all night, we don't stop feel up on my body, babe/ We're just dancing the night away/ Boy, you feel like a holiday."

PAPER sat down with Pinnock over Zoom to talk about writing the song, creating socially distanced art and the evolution of Little Mix's sound after nearly a decade of curating pop hits. "Holiday" is just the latest addition to an already iconic discography, and she is ready for the track (and its mermaid-centered visual) to make a splash.

You, like the other girls, auditioned for The X Factor as a solo act nine years ago now. When you look back at those years, what stands out to you as an artist?

We won a Brit Award — our first-ever Brit — for "Shout Out to my Ex." That was one of our dreams to perform at the Brits and to have a Brit Award, and we did that in one night. And then we flew to Madison Square Garden the next day, well, that night, we flew and we performed with Ariana [Grande] at Madison Square Garden. It was literally an absolute dream. We just felt on top of the world. It was just amazing because that was another one of our dreams, Madison Square Garden, to perform there. So to do both of those back to back was just like, "Is this our life?"

That's a big one. I was going to say it's a big year, but that's a big two days.

I know! [Laughs] Honestly, it was mind-blowing. Wow.

During that same timeframe, in what ways do you feel like you've grown as a person and as an artist individually?

Yeah, I've grown massively, especially my confidence. I started off with a lot of confidence when I auditioned, but then I kind of gained it when I got paired to the group with the other girls. I really felt like that was my calling, like it was fate that we got put together. And then if I'm honest, I actually lost a lot of confidence throughout the nine years just from my own issues, but I would say now within the last kind of year, I'm really just finding it a bit more and not caring about what everyone thinks and just loving me, for me.

That's a long journey, self-love. It really is, especially being in this world and in this industry. It can really affect you in different ways, and I feel like we've all been on a strange journey within this sort of mad world we live in. I think the journey to self-love does take time, but you do get there.

You're working to keep your individual identity while being part of this bigger group identity, too. Has that been part of the challenge for you?

Yeah, definitely. I remember at the beginning, I was really trying to find my place in the group, and some of the girls would do a hairstyle that I did, and I would be annoyed with it. I was thinking, "Well, no, that's my thing. I'm trying to make that my thing!" I look back now and I'm like, "Oh, come on, Leigh-Anne." But at the time, I was really trying to cement my place. There's definitely an element of that, just finding out who you are. There's only four of us in the band and it takes time to get to know each individual. I feel like we're at a place now where we each stand for something, and from the beginning, we all have our part to play in this group.

One thing that seems like you have been able to dive into a little bit more lately is songwriting; you're one of the songwriters on "Holiday," too. Looking at your individual approach to songwriting, how do you know when a song is finished? What makes it a great song for you?

It depends. Sometimes it can be pretty instant, and you'll hear it and you'll be like, "Oh my gosh, this is it. This is a banger. This is a hit." And then sometimes you just think it's a good song, and it grows on people, and then it ends up becoming the next single. I feel like you have to kind of judge by, I don't know, maybe like how you feel on the day. It can change, so it's a weird one, but I feel like you know what a good song is. If it's a bad song, you know it's a bad song.

What was it like to co-write "Holiday" with Perrie Edwards, Jade Thirlwall and KAMILLE, who I've been reading is practically an honorary fifth member of Little Mix?

She is the queen. She's written our biggest hits, "Shout Out to My Ex," "Black Magic," "Power," "Holiday," "Breakup Song." She's honestly one of the best songwriters ever, and we have such a close relationship with her. It just makes it so natural when we're writing, and we know we're going to get a hit with her. We know we're going to get a good song, so we're very lucky to have her.

Knowing that you recorded "Holiday" a year ago, hearing it then and hearing it now, do you feel differently about the song?

I'm going to be completely honest. When we first did it, I absolutely loved it, and then we were talking about a year later — around now — what was going to be the next single and I wasn't sold on "Holiday" being second at all. And that's my own stupidity! Sometimes we're not all on the same page, and that's just life. I feel like with "Breakup Song," it was quite sweet and pop, and I kind of wanted to go somewhere else with the second single, but I completely take back everything I said. I completely take it back, it's just perfect. It's so perfect. It's just mad how your mind can change.

One thing that is unique about this song is that it, essentially, has two different choruses. During the writing process, what sparked the decision to create a double chorus?

I feel like we generally do the chorus and the post; the post is like the hook bit, which is the bit that you need to be the catchiest. So, I feel like we had the idea that we wanted the first part of the chorus to be dropped down, which is why it's like, "... all night/ We don't stop." [sings] We really wanted it to go somewhere else, so that's where that idea came from. I think because the second part is just so euphoric and summer vibes and feel goods, it just worked so well together. It came together quite easily, actually.

You sing on the bridge of the song and it's a very flirty pre-chorus lyrically. You've grown up with your fans, but you've also switched labels and grown up yourselves. How do you feel like the group's sound, or even your individual approach to music, has evolved?

We're young women. At the beginning, we were so young, so it's a natural growth and progression that we've had. I definitely feel like our sound has evolved; it's a lot more mature now, obviously with the lyrics, but again, we are women. We enjoy feeling sexy. It's been a natural evolution.

There was about a year between writing LM5 and when you started putting together songs for the new album. Do you think that the feel and the sound of the sixth album is going to be pretty different than what fans heard on LM5?

Yes, 100%. I feel like with LM5, there was a lot going on within our personal lives and as a band as well, like you mentioned switching labels, loads of other things going on. That album is a statement, I would say. We talk about so many issues, and I feel like we just had a lot to say and we wanted to use our voices. I think a lot of the songs are very empowering. This album has actually come together very, very naturally; if we've loved a song, it's been, "Yeah, it needs to go on." This album is very much pop with a cool vibe to it. A bit more colorful than LM5, I would say.

The last single, "Breakup Song," came out in late March, which was right when the pandemic really started to take over. What has your experience been creating and producing art while navigating between the pandemic's effect on consuming music and this worldwide call for racial justice?

For me as a Black woman, I have so many emotions and things that I'm feeling that I want to write about and I want to talk about. Obviously, we've just finished the album, but me and Jade have been in the studio still writing. We love writing, and it's almost a form of therapy, as well, so that has been really nice. It's crazy times; I can't actually believe the whole world is finally talking about race and the whole world is finally ready to listen. It's going to completely change my experience in the industry for the better, I think. It's good. It's about time, really.

The fact that everybody is ready to finally stop and reflect is remarkable to see. Part of that is likely the pandemic, too, and the way that live shows are really gone for the foreseeable future and everything is happening in isolation. One of the interesting things that's come out of that is the music video for the single; it is a very fun, dancy visual. What was creating that like?

It's been so strange! Everything's so different now. "Breakup Song," we actually had to film in our houses, so with "Holiday," we were lucky enough to be able to actually do it on a set with social distancing, obviously. Everyone's been wearing the PPE and everything; it's the new normal, really, isn't it now? We're just trying to get used to that. Not going to lie, I just want a bit of contact, you know? I'm pretty sure we all do, but it is the way it is. We're going to have to get used to this.

And on the contact note, you just got engaged a few months ago. What has the experience been like to be newly engaged and then promptly stuck inside?

It was the one thing that really made this year for me. I'm very lucky to have a positive out of this. I just couldn't believe it; I'm still in shock, actually. It's mad because I felt so guilty to be happy and excited at that time. So, so strange, but amazing and so romantic, as well, the fact that he did it in the house. I really didn't think he would, so the fact that he did, I'm happy. I'm a happy woman.

Are you passing time during quarantine with wedding planning?

Well, I'm not going to lie to you — I already had it all planned out anyway. [Laughs] Most of the work is done. I've been on it, but we've got a lot going on at the minute. We're getting an extension, there's a lot happening. I do need to slow down, and he did say to me, "Leigh-Anne, just chill. We've got two years, chill." I'm like, nope! On that, on that, on that. A girl's ready.

In terms of how quarantine affects you and your groupmates, you said that you got to be on a set where you were socially distancing. Was that the first time you got to see any of your group mates since this all began?

Yeah, the "Holiday" video shoot was the first time! It was bizarre. It wasn't that long ago, it was like three weeks ago or something. It's just amazing to actually see them again; it's the longest we've ever been apart, so it's so strange. It was so weird because there's so much going on and times are quite full quite heavy at the minute, I felt like I was dealing with it all on my own, whereas normally I've always got people to keep me up and have my back. It just felt really strange to not have that. I'm happy that we can actually see each other again now.

That's amazing. It's really wonderful that you all have maintained such a strong friendship for so long.

Yeah, we're very lucky that we get on. 10 years next year, that's mad!

On that note, you mentioned times are feeling really heavy and then like you get to do little exciting things like getting engaged or getting to see your group mates in a video shoot. There's really an opportunity to spread some love with releases like this. What are you most proud of with the release of "Holiday"?

I think putting a smile on peoples' faces. I think that's just so important. It is such an uncertain time, and there's so much wrong with the world right now, and I just think that if we can put a song that might make someone smile, we are doing our job. Definitely that, and we also get to be really sexy mermaids in the video. [Laughs]

How are you feeling, now that the song is out, about the fan response to "Holiday"?

Amazing! It's going so well, and the response has been incredible. I knew it would be though because I just thought, this song, it's the perfect time for it. I made a thing on my Instagram, I was like, "If you guys don't gag over 'Holiday,' I'm leaving the band. Sorry, bye! I'm gone! You're going to love this!" It's been amazing.

I'll just send it to everyone I know. I'm just going to be like, "You need to stream this now." [Laughs] So, we know that there is an album coming out sometime soon. What else do you want fans to get excited about for you and Little Mix this year?

We have our TV show coming out in autumn, Little Mix: The Search. We're basically looking for the next big band, whether it be boy band, girl band, mixed group. So, that's really exciting. We filmed all the auditions already; can I just say the talent? Oh, it's so good! I really feel like we've created an amazing band from it. We'll definitely be going on tour next year; hopefully, we'll get to see all our beautiful fans again because we miss their faces. And yeah, an album this year!

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Photo courtesy of Little Mix

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Creative direction by Agusta Yr / Styling by Erika Golcher