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It's hard to believe that almost a decade has passed since Little Mix became the first band to win The X-Factor. The road to pop superstardom has never been easy but for Leigh-Anne Pinnock, this is something of an understatement.
The 29-year-old, who recently announced her pregnancy, is the only black member of the now three-piece band, who are the biggest active girl band in the world with more than 60 million records sold to date.
Her experiences with racism and colourism, as she and her bandmates rose through the ranks, are explored candidly in her new BBC Three documentary Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop & Power.
"With all the experiences that I went through during the band, I feel like I wanted to bring the conversation of race to a wider audience," Leigh-Anne tells Tyla. "I wanted to use my platform, I have this platform for a reason."
"Being really open and honest was the hardest thing. It was the most I've ever spoken about my experiences. I didn't hold back and I wanted to delve in deep. I'm used to having these conversations behind closed doors with family members [so this] was really challenging."
Looking back at her time on The X-Factor, Leigh-Anne says there are some things that, in hindsight, feel "a bit off" - like being encouraged to shave and dye hair hair to make her look, in her eyes, like "The Rihanna" of the fledgling band.
She adds: "I was 20 and a bit naïve but looking back it was clear that my colour was being used to define my image within the group."
Reps for The X-Factor had no further comment when contacted by Tyla.
In the documentary, Leigh-Anne recounts times when she felt "overlooked" as the only black member of Little Mix. She was ignored by some fans during radio tours and recalls fans naming their favourite member of the group - with Leigh-Anne being the only one never named.
In March 2020 Little Mix performed in Brazil just before the world went into lockdown during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. It was a poignant moment for the 29-year-old, who saw thousands of black people in the audience cheering her name. It was the first time she felt seen.
"I felt like I belonged, it was mind-blowing to me. I had never experienced anything like that in my Little Mix journey.
"I remember coming off stage with Jade [Thirlwall] and just bawling. I was just hysterical, and I was just like 'why only now am I feeling this love after 10 years," she admits with tears in her eyes.
When news of Leigh-Anne's documentary came out during the George Floyd protests, she received criticism for being a light-skinned black woman discussing topics around colourism and she admits that it made her reconsider making the doc.
"It was really hard when I saw those comments and I struggled a little bit but for me, I have this platform, I never said I want to address my experiences with colourism and I think people took it the wrong way and that was not what I was doing.
"I'm here to amplify the voices of darker skinned women and hear their experiences and that's what I do in the documentary. I knew as soon as people saw it [the doc] they'd see that. It did upset me seeing [the comments] and it did make me think 'am I the right person for this.'"
She met with Dawn Butler, the former chair of the Women's Parliamentary Labour Party, who told her: "When it's all said and done, what's going to be written next to your name in the history books?"
Leigh-Anne felt inspired to carry on, "I left that meaning feeling even more empowered and ready to carry on my journey," she said. "I know I'm doing a good thing."
In an effort to see more diversity in the British music industry, Leigh-Anne requested to meet with the head of the band's label, Sony, to discuss what tangible change can be done.
"Pop music is such a white world and I wanna see more diversity. Music is led by hip hop and R&B and you can't just take bits from the culture and not give black people these opportunities. When I'm going into work and it is predominately white, I'm thinking 'we're taking influence from black music, why am I not seeing more black people.' It doesn't make sense.
"I want to see people actually making a change and not just talking about it."
One of the most poignant moments in the documentary comes when Leigh-Anne sits down with the few other black British female artists who have made it big in pop - fellow X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke, former Sugababes star Keisha Buchanan, Raye and R&B singer NAO. Together they discuss some of the most shocking, startling, and painful experiences as black women in the music industry.
Leigh-Anne also has difficult conversations with loved ones, including her parents and her fiancé footballer Andre Gray. Months after they started dating in 2016, old tweets from 2012 were exposed showing Andre making colourist and homophobic slurs.
"Those tweets were incredibly offensive and for me to do a doc addressing colourism, we had to speak on that. Andre had to speak about that. And I had to let people see that's not the person I know, he has grown, he has learnt he shows that in the documentary.
Leigh-Anne and Andre recently announced they are expecting their first child and they have also launched a foundation called the Black Fund to help black people find opportunities in the creative industries. But after everything Leigh-Anne has experienced and discussed in her doc, how would she feel if her own child wanted to follow in their mum's footsteps into a career in music.
"I see the way my sister is with her son and what I love is the way she instils in him how incredible and beautiful he is and how he can achieve anything and that is how I'm going to be with my children," she tells Tyla.
"I'm going to teach them about black history and black history and their rights and their culture but the main thing that I'm going to teach them is that they can do anything, and I think that's a really important thing."
Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop & Power can be streamed on BBC iPlayer from 6am on Thursday 13th May. It will be broadcasted on BBC One at 9pm the same day.
Featured Image Credit: BBC Three
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