After taking the world by storm with her Little Mix sisters, becoming a mother of twins in 2021, and getting married earlier in June, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, known professionally as Leigh-Anne, is now her own artist. Shortly after the announced indefinite hiatus of Little Mix, best-selling girl group formed through English singing competition, The X-Factor UK, Leigh-Anne has been keeping busy. In February 2022, the singer signed with Warner Records. A year later, on June 8, she announced her solo debut on Twitter, teasing her fans — Legions — with the single artwork and song title, “Don’t Say Love”: “…I can’t believe it’s actually happening… My debut solo single is coming out JUNE 16…” Fun fact: While fans speculated the single artwork to be an homage to Mariah Carey’s Emancipation of Mimi album cover, the “Don’t Say Love” singer admitted to PopBuzz that the resulting artwork was a happy accident.
As promised, on June 16, Leigh-Anne returned to the music scene as a brand-new solo artist. Her debut single “Don’t Say Love” is a celebration of self-love and a reminder to heartbreakers to steer clear of her way. The song is also an introduction to Leigh-Anne as a pop star.
Little Mix, Love, and Leigh-Anne
Written by the pop singer herself, the lyrics of “Don’t Say Love” ooze words of affirmation, reminding listeners to put themselves first. Beginning her song, the pop singer sings, “Do say myself,” a word play that is followed by “if I do say so myself.” She reminds listeners that while her song title is “Don’t Say Love,” it is more important to love yourself before anything else. The protagonist in this song has been hurt by villainous lovers. Leigh-Anne enters the chorus with “Don’t say ‘love,’ if that’s not what you’re chasin’ / Empty lies, empty words, entertainment.” This powerful string of lyrics is a warning from the protagonist: If you’re not serious, do not talk to me about love. The singer herself in an interview with PopBuzz expressed that, “[love] is a such a big statement… definitely only say [love] if you mean it.”
While love is a reigning theme in Leigh-Anne’s debut single, there are autobiographical elements in the song she penned that cannot be missed. After spending a decade with her bandmates, Jade, Perrie, and former member Jesy, there is no doubt Leigh-Anne felt lost in terms of her own musicality and sound — as most group-based musicians often do. The 31-year-old singer repeats throughout the song, “I just need somethin’ that’s real.” This particular lyric in “Don’t Say Love” is a note to herself, solidifying this song as truly hers.
There is a dichotomy to Leigh-Anne’s lyrics, “Empty lies, empty words, entertainment,” which is matched with the hook of the chorus. The word “entertainment” is both a descriptor of the antagonist’s unserious nature and behavior and a criticism of the entertainment industry as well. Leigh-Anne has been vocal about racism, colorism, and the mistreatment of Black women in the entertainment industry, as presented in her BBC documentary film, Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop & Power. Her lyrics show no mercy in calling out the bad of the business. Leigh-Anne sings, “Just take it personal / If I, if I do say so, it’s personal,” in the second verse, followed by “I feel like I just can’t be myself” in the chorus. These vulnerable and honest lyrics are the fruition of Leigh-Anne’s experiences as a Black woman artist in music.
What’s striking about this catchy song, as many Legions might notice, is that the pacing and flow are reminiscent of the songs of Little Mix. Recent hits by the globally popular band, such as “Sweet Melody,” “Break Up Song,” and “Think About Us,” feature smooth melodies and a rhythm that alludes to the ‘80s. And these effects are enhanced by the group’s tight harmonies. While Leigh-Anne’s “Don’t Say Love” embraces the essence of the Little Mix sound, it is extra spicy with her own individual flair.
A Celebration of Black Women
Leigh-Anne’s “Don’t Say Love” music video is directed by Emil Nava. Nava is famous for hit music videos, such as Jessie J’s “Price Tag” and Calvin Harris and Rihanna’s “This is What You Came For.” The director’s vision for this visual presentation is nothing short of spectacular. The video fades in on a dark outdoor setting with faint buildings that are dimly lit in the background. Exotic plants with large leaves are abundant amid the urban landscape. The curated set of plants is reminiscent of Little Mix’s final album artwork for Between Us, where the trio pose gracefully against a backdrop of vibrant flowers. This opening of the music video seems to pick up where Leigh-Anne was last seen with her Little Mix sisters. Could this be Leigh-Anne’s Easter egg for Mixers and Legions?
Standing front and center of the jungle set is the pop singer in a skin-tight white dress, with her hair done up in a style that can only be described as a tall, majestic crown. An all-too-familiar face mask is covering her nose and mouth, nodding to the COVID-19 pandemic that changed everyone’s life — but specifically for her, the course of Little Mix’s career. Known to be a fan of Beyoncé, there is no doubt that Leigh-Anne is saluting the legendary singer’s 2022 album Renaissance, dubbed as a celebration of life after the worst of the pandemic. When Leigh-Anne tosses her voluminous, curled hair over her shoulder in the music video, she reveals her face without the mask.
During the first major dance number in the music video, we get to experience Leigh-Anne’s elevated artistry. The choreography features the foundation of modern dancing with roots to African dances. The backdrop of the set flashes in strobing lights, signifying a sense of turbulence. There is no sense of synchronization seen in the choreography, reflecting Leigh-Anne’s embrace of her individuality — no longer needing to conform to a group’s needs.
On the rooftop, the singer battles against the flashing, colorful lights that are similar to the camera flashes of paparazzis and stage lights. As the song enters the calmed bridge, Leigh-Anne appears to be defeated by the forceful lights, as she repeats, “I just need something that’s real.” Just as the bridge moves back into the final chorus, the beat returns, and she jumps off the roof and gracefully switches into a diving pose. Her fall turns into a plunge into a deep body of water, where she is now wearing her natural hair and in a free-flowing dress. As she swims deeper into the darkness, the words “TO BE CONTINUED” fade into frame, leaving viewers and Legions wondering about Leigh-Anne’s next song and music video—and album.
Want to read more about Black excellence in music? Check out EnVi FORMATION’s review of Megan Thee Stallion’s TRAUMAZINE here.