Anne Pinnock is seated in her manager’s office, with her curly hair gathered in a half-bun and dressed entirely in green, her favorite color. This is just one of the many personal tidbits revealed in her memoir, Believe, co-written with author Natalie Morris.
Over the past ten years, Pinnock has achieved remarkable success as a member of Little Mix, a girl group that was formed on The X Factor in 2011. Initially considered underdogs, the group was expected to be eliminated in the first week of the competition. However, they defied expectations and became the first band (and only girl group) to win. Despite facing even greater challenges, the four-member group has solidified their place in pop music history as one of the biggest girl bands in the UK, with billions of streams, five number one singles, and three Brit awards – including the 2021 win for best British group, making them the first girl group to receive that honor.
Pinnock’s journey from a working-class background to achieving fame as a pop superstar is a remarkable story that resembles a fairytale. While Believe does contain elements of magic, it also delves into the challenges Pinnock faced due to racism, which had a negative impact on her life.
Pinnock reflects, “I used to ask myself, ‘Is this how I should feel after achieving my dream?’ Why do I sometimes feel like I don’t exist? Why do I feel overlooked and unappreciated compared to others? It just didn’t feel fair.”
The text suggests that Pinnock was a reserved child who grew up to become a dependable and hard-working head girl. She always had a desire to be famous, which her parents instilled in her by telling her she could achieve anything. Pinnock dreamed of being a huge pop star and experiencing the glamour portrayed in movies, with fans screaming her name on red carpets. However, the reality of fame hit her hard when she auditioned for The X Factor and joined a group. She felt overwhelmed by feelings of rejection, self-doubt, and loneliness.
The root of the issue was partially due to the noticeable difference in how she was received by fans compared to her bandmates, Perrie Edwards, Jesy Nelson, and Jade Thirlwall. It is common for members of a band to be ranked by popularity, but being the only Black member in a mostly white pop group with a predominantly white fanbase, Pinnock was silently facing a complex problem. Despite warnings from older Black individuals in the entertainment industry who had already experienced the same difficulties, it took her a long time to recognize that she may have been consistently rejected solely because of her race.
Pinnock reflects on how she internalized the belief that she was the issue, leading to a loss of confidence. She shares her efforts to close the gap, including taking extra vocal lessons, working harder in dance, trying to be more vocal in interviews, and experimenting with different aesthetics in hopes of finding an appealing identity – ultimately losing her true self in the process. She remembers being the girl who brightened up any room and was described as kind and caring by others. It was puzzling to her why someone with those qualities would be treated poorly.
After nine years, Jesy Pinnock finally came to terms with her struggles with anxiety when it came to interacting with fans and performing for audiences who seemed uninterested in her. In March 2020, Little Mix traveled to Brazil for the first time, and Pinnock was overwhelmed by the support of the majority of Black fans who came to their headlining festival performance. This experience helped her realize that there were Black women who connected with her music, even though she had not seen them at previous shows or fan events. However, while it confirmed her feelings of being undervalued and unseen, the pain still remained as these experiences continued to happen. Even upon returning to the UK, Pinnock still felt the same way.
Several months later, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a police officer in Minnesota killed George Floyd, sparking a global reckoning with the impact of racism. Privately, Pinnock had already begun to release some of the burden she had been carrying for years by confiding in bandmate Thirlwall and some close backing dancers, who shared similar backgrounds with her mother of Egyptian and Yemeni heritage. However, she had never publicly addressed race before. Following Floyd’s murder and the subsequent increase in awareness, Pinnock felt compelled to share her personal experiences in a heartfelt video on her Instagram page.
The reaction was mostly understanding and supportive, giving Pinnock the confidence to effect change. She collaborated with the BBC on a documentary called Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop & Power, but faced criticism when it was first announced as Leigh-Anne: Colourism & Race. Being a fair-skinned Black woman with mixed-race parents (both of Jamaican and Bajan descent), she was seen as an unfit person to lead a conversation about the complex impact of white privilege on the Black community, especially dark-skinned Black women.
The criticism was unfounded. After the documentary was shown, Pinnock had a conversation with other Black artists – such as Keisha Buchanan from the Sugababes and Alexandra Burke, who won The X Factor in 2008 – to reveal the different forms of discrimination they had faced throughout their careers. Pinnock ponders if she would have been a part of Little Mix if she had darker skin, to which Buchanan thoughtfully responds by pointing out the perceived “coolness” of Black culture and the calculated decisions made by executives in the music industry: “It’s more acceptable and desirable to be mixed race. I’m not sure if this is a compliment or not, but you were chosen for your ‘Blackness’.” This exchange, shown in the film, effectively illustrates how systemic racism reduces Black individuals to their race first, disregarding their personal identity.
Pinnock shared that receiving criticism from her own community was more painful than reading a racist comment in the Daily Mail. She also acknowledged the unsmooth release of the documentary. However, it is not in her character to not use her platform for positive impact. She believes that she is making a difference and will continue to do so. One topic she is committed to addressing is light-skinned privilege, as she believes it has played a role in her success.
Discussing her experience with Morris was a new, yet somewhat familiar, experience. When writing music, she often has to open up to strangers, which can be strange, but Pinnock says she and Natalie connected immediately. Despite the heaviness of the subject matter, the process was enjoyable thanks to Natalie’s understanding. Pinnock sometimes struggles with how much attention she should give to discussions about race, as she feels that white artists do not face the same pressure. However, she believes it would be a disservice to herself to stop speaking out and wants to continue expressing her thoughts and feelings without fear.
Currently, Pinnock is experiencing a new chapter in her personal and professional life. In 2021, she and her former fiance, soccer player Andre Gray, became parents to twins. The couple tied the knot in Jamaica during the summer. Following Nelson’s departure from the group in 2020, the remaining three members of Little Mix took an indefinite break after completing a successful arena tour in the summer of 2022. Pinnock recently debuted her solo career with the release of “Don’t Say Love,” showcasing a new musical style with garage influences.
Pinnock, like many other former pop group members, is enjoying the freedom of not having to compromise with others. She explains, “Five years ago, we had no intentions of pursuing solo careers. We were dedicated to the group and believed we would be in Little Mix forever.” However, after being in the group for an extended period of time, she began to contemplate the idea of pursuing her own solo ventures. She adds, “It’s exciting to have the freedom to write and do whatever I want.”
Understandably, Pinnock is now keen for fans to hear “different sides” of her artistry. She is immensely proud of her latest release, My Love, a dynamic, Afro-pop anthem produced by PRGRSHN and frequent Ariana Grande collaborator, Khris Riddick-Tynes. The song also features Nigerian artist du jour – and Little Mix fan – Ayra Starr.
During a recent radio session, Pinnock expressed her appreciation for [My Love], stating that it truly stands out. She also feels like she is making her mark with this song. The music video, filmed in Lagos, Nigeria, is a vibrant and dynamic display featuring an array of Black individuals in prominent roles. This is a significant contrast to Pinnock’s time in Little Mix, where she often found herself as the only Black person in the room. She reflects on the challenges of her career, feeling isolated from other Black creatives and lacking a sense of connection. Now, being able to work alongside other Black talents is of great importance to her.
Despite her hard work to reconnect with her origins, Pinnock is currently facing a different type of detachment. She was informed by officials at a prominent UK radio station that her solo music was considered “too pop” and therefore not eligible for their playlists.
Once again, she is lost and unsure of her place. Pinnock wonders, “Where do I belong now?” Although she still identifies as a pop artist, she desires to incorporate the music she grew up listening to and that is a part of her identity into her work. She hopes to be recognized and embraced by the Black community without being confined to a specific genre. Her experience highlights the pervasive race trap that limits and restricts Black individuals and society as a whole. Pinnock acknowledges the need to address this issue, but is unsure if any significant change will occur in her lifetime. “That’s what’s exhausting,” she states.
Thankfully, all of the challenges Pinnock has faced thus far have prepared her well for the future. The uncertain young woman who tried to conform and fit into societal expectations is now more likely to defy them instead of obsessing over why they don’t fit her. “I understand that not everyone will appreciate me or support me as an artist, and that’s okay because I am incredibly proud of what I am creating,” she explains. “I am embracing my true self more than ever before. I wouldn’t be able to achieve what I am today if I hadn’t.”