Jesy Nelson: The Dark Side of Music Fame

Sending shockwaves splintering through the otherwise glisteningly perfect bubble that is the world of pop, Jesy Nelson, previously one quarter of one of X-Factor's biggest success stories, Little Mix, has announced her departure from the band. Whilst a tragic story of trolls becoming too much for the star to cope with, as Gemma Cockrell explores below, it is one all too often repeated.

Jesy Nelson announced this week that she has left Little Mix to focus on her mental health. Undeniably, she brought talent and charisma aplenty to the girl band, but, as is now commonplace in the new digital era, internet trolls and cyberbullies took their abuse to the point that it was inescapable. Her Bafta-winning 2019 documentary, ‘Jesy Nelson: Odd One Out’, cast vital light on the dark side of music fame, and the dark reality of the misogyny rife within the industry.

Nelson is not the first artist to cite mental health as the primary motive behind their decision in leaving a pop group. Geri Halliwell of Spice Girls fame announced in 1998 that she would be leaving the band due to suffering from exhaustion. “I felt like I didn’t belong anymore,” she admitted in the 2007 documentary ‘Giving You Everything’, echoing Nelson’s message of feeling like the ‘odd one out’. More recently, fellow Spice Girls member Mel B has recalled the shockingly “obvious racism” that she experienced during her time in the band, and Mel C has candidly revealed that she suffered from depression and imposter syndrome when the band initially began to make a name for itself. Girls Aloud’s Sarah Harding also struggled with the realities of music fame, which sadly led to her receiving treatment for depression, alcoholism, and prescription drug dependence in 2011; battling mental health issues alongside addiction whilst under the unyielding scrutiny of the public eye.

It is frighteningly clear that more must be done in order to protect young stars breaking into the music industry.

Though misogyny has played a role in many recent cases of pop-star hell, many male band members have also opened up about their negative experiences of fame. One Direction’s rise to stardom closely mirrored Little Mix’s, with a successful stint on The X Factor catapulting them into the hearts of the nation’s teens. Zayn Malik, who had previously dreamed of becoming an English teacher, struggled immensely with the pressures that came with the spotlight, revealing that his time in the band led to struggles with his mental health, including an eating disorder and anxiety. He made the decision to step away from the band in 2015, explaining that he wished to spend some time living as a normal twenty-two year-old. He received vast praise for his honesty concerning mental health as a male artist: People didn’t seem to expect it from a guy, but they expect it from a female, which to me is crazy, he explained, highlighting the fact that anyone and everyone is vulnerable to fame’s remorseless grip.

Despite mental health struggles plaguing musicians for countless decades, it is still an ongoing industry. Jesy Nelson has been especially candid about the negative corners of being in Little Mix, and the relentless abuse she has constantly suffered at the hands of internet trolls and cyberbullies. Since appearing on The X Factor in 2011, and going on to win the show, Nelson admits that she has always endured her appearance being scrutinised by the internet, with frequent comparisons to her Little Mix bandmates, which often resulted in her being referred to as “the fat one.” Her achingly raw 2019 ITV documentary, ‘Jesy Nelson: Odd One Out’, saw her explore how these comments have impacted her mental health over the past eight years, which began when she was just twenty-years-old.

The documentary heart-wrenchingly details Nelson’s suicide attempt in 2013, as her mother explains that she desperately wishes that she could have her ‘pre-fame daughter’ back. Therefore, it is no surprise that just like a multitude of other pop-group members of the past, Nelson has announced that she will be leaving Little Mix to prioritise her mental health. Having previously announced that she would be taking an extended hiatus from the band, it appears that she has concluded that her departure will be permanent. She explained in a social media post that being part of a girl group had “taken a toll on her mental health,” and that she found the constant pressures and expectations of fame very difficult to navigate.

Famous for her impressions, accents and insatiable humour, Nelson drunkenly mirrored Sarah Harding’s iconic backstage acceptance speech when Little Mix won their first Brit Award in 2017, slurring “It’s about time!” in her thick Northern accent. Both Harding and Nelson were coined the ‘hype person’ of their respective bands – Harding establishing a ‘wild child’ personality while in Girls Aloud, whilst Nelson was the most outgoing and outspoken member of Little Mix due to her ‘speak before you think’ attitude. Her struggles with fame again, mirror that of Zayn Malik, whose fellow One Direction member Liam Payne reacted sorrowfully to the news of Nelson’s departure. With both band’s born of TV talent shows and progressing to pop stardom of an immeasurable scale, before having members plummet back to earth at the hands of relentless trolls, it is frighteningly clear that more must be done in order to protect young stars breaking into the music industry.

Oscar Wilde expressed that there are only two tragedies in the world: not getting what you want, and getting it. Despite it ostensibly seeming that Nelson has achieved her lifelong dreams, the reality was much darker, and much more twisted. What is most important in this situation is that Nelson is focusing on her own mental health and making the choices which are best for her. However, the fact that during recent decades, multiple pop-group members have been forced to abandon their dreams by the ruinous dark sides of mega stardom is an important issue that must be continually discussed, in order to raise awareness of the realities of living life in the spotlight.

Written by: Gemma Cockrell

Edited by: Louise Dugan


Featured and article images courtesy of Little Mix via Facebook.