feature image photo by Dave J Hogan / Contributor via Getty Images
We keep behind closed doors
Every time I see you, I die a little more
Stolen moments that we steal as the curtain falls
It’ll never be enough
These are the opening lyrics to Little Mix’s “Secret Love Song, Pt. 2,” off their third studio album Get Weird. The first time I heard the song, something struck me. It’s a love song sung by a female group that’s devoid of pronouns. I don’t think I had ever heard such a thing before.
Huh, I remember thinking to myself. Did they know they were making a song that sounds like it’s about two women?
I started listening to Little Mix back in 2017. The little girl I babysat for was obsessed with one of their songs, and I ended up downloading their whole catalog. It’s a reductive take, but for those who have never heard of them, they’re kind of like a female One Direction, formed on the show The X Factor from four individual singers who auditioned separately. Unlike 1D, Little Mix won their season and went on to have a lot of success in the UK. They never reached the same level of success here in the States, which I think is absurd. The women of Little Mix are incredibly talented, especially compared to most girl groups at the time. But I digress.
Get Weird was released in 2015, and there weren’t many mainstream queer female contemporary pop stars like there are today. Even though “Secret Love Song Pt. 2” isn’t explicitly queer, if you were trying to find something, you could very easily see yourself in the song. For people keeping their queerness quiet for whatever reason, this song was a refuge, and a safe space.
I don’t wanna live love this way
I don’t wanna hide us away
I wonder if it ever will change
I’m living for that day, someday
When I found the album, I was beginning to abstractly explore my sexuality for the first time since I was a teenager. I was still playing things close to the chest; I wasn’t even out to my family yet. I’m a person who very deeply relates to song lyrics, and I connected to this song quickly. It gave me an outlet for the feelings I was having in a format that made sense to me. As someone who loves mainstream pop and was still in the process of fully embracing her queerness, I didn’t know I needed to hear a girl sing a typical pop ballad about another girl until I heard this song. Hayley Kiyoko did release “Girls Like Girls” that same year, but she was still an indie artist; you couldn’t turn on Top 40 radio and hear Fletcher or girl in red. If you weren’t actively looking for sapphic songs, you wouldn’t be able to find them. I was still privately figuring things out; I didn’t have queer friends who I could ask for music recommendations.
As far as I know, none of the members of Little Mix identify as queer themselves, but they are very strong and outspoken allies, thanks in part to the response to “Secret Love Song.” Jade Thirlwall especially has done a lot of work with LGBTQ+ charities and organizations over the years. After watching multiple videos of the group performing the song live over the years, I noticed Jade is the one who introduces the song, always giving a shout out to the LGBTQ+ community for their constant love and support, especially of this song in particular, over the years.
“Thank you for teaching us that allyship is so much more than this song,” she said before singing the song at their final live performance.
It would have been really easy for the ladies of Little Mix to simply distance themselves from the queer themes fans were taking from the song. We’ve seen this a million times: a straight artist going out of their way to say their song wasn’t intended to be perceived as queer or straight-up denouncing the queer themes fans may pick up in their music. But the girls did the opposite; they wholeheartedly embraced what fans were picking up on and were proud to give them a song they could relate to.
“We’ve had loads of people saying it’s helped them almost to come out, say that they’re gay and that is an incredible thing,” Leigh-Anne Pinnock told CapitalFM in 2016.
There are two versions of the song: “Secret Love Song” is actually a duet between Little Mix and Jason Derulo. But even though we’re hearing them sing together, there are still no pronouns in the song. We’re just meant to assume the song is hetero because there are male and female singers singing together. Ahead of the music video’s filming, the casting breakdown made the rounds. According to the casting notice, queer couples were supposed to be included, as well as an interracial couple. Unfortunately, when the video finally premiered, there were no couples in it at all; it only featured the group singing together and Derulo singing by himself in a separate location. No explanation was given by the label, and for a while, it was only available to watch in the UK. Fans were understandably upset, and a rumor began circulating that Derulo and his team were homophobic, one quickly squashed by the singer.
Even if the video didn’t give fans what they were hoping for, there’s always the song itself. As I watched a video of that final performance, the camera pans throughout the crowd and fans (mostly women) are shown wiping their eyes as they sing along. It’s hard to know how many of those women are queer, but I see myself in a lot of their reactions.
It’s been years since the first time I heard “Secret Love Song Pt. 2”, but every time I listen to it, I’m still amazed at what Little Mix was able to pull off. A record label actually allowed them to put a song on their album that could have started a lot of speculation about their sexualities. If the song was released now, the group would probably be unfairly accused of queerbaiting, which sucks, because it’s clear that wasn’t the intention at all.
Even though it was never a radio single, they gave their queer female fans a song to see themselves in, one they could belt at the top of their lungs whenever they wanted. It provided a safe space for them to express their desires at a time when a lot of mainstream music didn’t do so.