Little Mix were premiering their a cappella track "The End" live in August of 2015 when Perrie Edwards broke into tears singing the lyric "love isn't fair." At the time, her breakup with former One Direction member Zayn Malik—whom she had been with for four years, two as fiancés—had just made headlines. She was trying to promote her band's album while dodging reporters' questions about her personal life.
While Malik started dating model Gigi Hadid two months later, Edwards' every move was still connected to Zayn. If she posted a selfie, media outlets claimed she was getting "moody" about her split. If she wore a leotard onstage, others said she was flaunting her "revenge body." If she was seen goofing off with her bandmates, she was said to be laughing away the pain of rejection. I wrote about those examples and the media's sad double standard then, but a year later, those headlines don't seem to be going away.
In a Taylor Swift–like move to play into the media's narrative, Little Mix released the song "Shout Out to My Ex" on Sunday, unveiling the lead single to their fourth album, Glory Days. Perrie opens the song with her husky vocals, presumably shouting out to her own ex, Zayn:
This is a shout out to my ex
Heard he in love with some other chick
Yeah yeah, that hurt me, I'll admit
Forget that boy, I'm over it
I hope she gettin’ better sex
Hope she ain't fakin’ it like I did, babe
Took four long years to call it quits
Forget that boy, I'm over it
But now, fans of Zayn have been calling out Little Mix for using Perrie's breakup as musical fodder, saying she should move on, like he did.
To be fair, Zayn's Mind of Mine album from March was chock full of references to a former lover, including the very applicable "She Don't Love Me" lyric that addressed his cheating rumors: "I think I know she don’t love me / that’s why I fuck around." Along with writing songs about his breakup with Edwards, Malik has spoken about his breakup with One Direction in interviews. As an artist, you pull from life experience.
And that's exactly what Perrie is doing with "Shout Out to My Ex." In fact, it would be a tad weird if Little Mix didn't acknowledge the impact Perrie's breakup had on her. In an excerpt from the band's upcoming book, Perrie specifically explains how her group-mates helped her through the tough times. It didn't only affect her, it affected all four of them.
“You made my heart break and that made me who I am”
While the attention around the new song has been focused on the tidbit about Zayn being bad in bed, the real significance of "Shout Out to My Ex" comes from a lyric in the chorus: "You made my heart break and that made me who I am." The ladies are singing about overcoming a split with a partner—not getting revenge on them. "Guess I should say thank you / For the hate yous and the tattoos," they sing.
The song is sprinkled with petty jabs, sure, but "Shout Out to My Ex" is not a kiss off. Instead of saying "fuck you" straight out, it's even more empowering to address the real challenge: thanking your ex for making you stronger...and maybe even giving him a shout-out.
"I'm all the way up / I swear you'll never, you'll never bring me down," they sing. A year later, Perrie's onstage breakdown could still make anyone cry, but "Shout Out to My Ex" completes the cycle. We've watched her fall apart and come back on top, and now she's stronger than ever. If she still has to hear about her breakup in the media, at least she's in charge now.
Now, watch Little Mix and Fifth Harmony interview each other in the Fuse studios: