Why would a major artist split from their label just days before the release of a huge album?
That’s the question the music biz has been asking since Little Mix and Simon Cowell’s Syco Music parted ways just before the group’s hotly-anticipated LM5 album hit stores.
That album has been in a titanic three-way chart battle this week, duking it out with Michael Bublé’s Love (Reprise/Warner Bros) and Mumford & Sons’ Delta (Gentlemen Of The Road/Island). All three records have been performing well, and while LM5 is off the pace of Little Mix’s previous album, 2016’s Glory Days – and likely to lose out to Bublé in the race – RCA seem to have taken over the reins seamlessly.
The Official Charts Company still lists Syco as LM5’s label, but the partnership – which began when Little Mix won The X Factor in 2011 and has produced four huge albums and four No.1 singles – seems to be over.
So what happened? The dispute that led to the split was in fact between Syco and Little Mix’s management Modest Management, rather than the band themselves. Modest refused to comment, and Little Mix themselves have maintained a dignified silence despite a week in an intense media spotlight. Syco released a terse statement reading: “Syco Music will no longer work with Modest Management and therefore any artists signed to that management company. We do, of course, wish all artists affected by this decision every future success. Consequently, LM5, the forthcoming Little Mix album A&R’d and released on Syco Music, is to be serviced by RCA at the request of Syco and Simon Cowell.” Rak-Su – last year’s X Factor winners whose debut album has yet to materialise – are also affected by the split.
In an interview with The Sun, Cowell blamed the split on a row over a writing credit for the group on current Top 5 single Woman Like Me. While giving writing credits to artists who make minor changes to songs has become standard practice for many in the music biz, it doesn’t seem to have happened here – the song is still listed as being written by Steve Mac, Ed Sheeran, Jess Glynne and Onika Maraj (featured artist Nicki Minaj).
Music Week sources suggest the row exposed deeper disagreements between Syco and Modest that led to Cowell cutting ties. And those ties were considerable – Cowell’s relationship with Modest co-founder Richard Griffiths goes back 25 years, and Modest was for many years the default management team for Cowell’s X Factor acts, including the all-conquering One Direction (that X Factor deal ceased in 2012, although Modest returned last year to pick up Rak-Su). Equally, Little Mix are Syco’s biggest currently active act, and a surefire hit in both recorded music and the live arena – not the sort of project you’d walk away from lightly.
So, whatever the reason, the split leaves everyone in a curious limbo, even as LM5 heads for the Top 3. As Cowell told The Sun: “This was one of those ironic times that we were having a hit and nobody was happy.”