Little Mix, arguably the biggest girl group of the 2010s, dominated in their lane of bright bubblegum power-pop anthems and lovestruck ballads. Their later albums, particularly LM5, showcased a more mature side of the group. LM5 featured “Woman Like Me, ” the snappy BRIT Award-winning and Nicki Minaj-featuring lead single. Little did anyone know, however, Little Mix and Nicki Minaj would soon cross paths again in completely different circumstances. On December 14, 2020, Jesy Nelson officially announced her permanent departure from the multiplatinum-selling group. Having been a member since its inception on X Factor UK in 2011, Nelson’s exit marked a new era for the group. Now, less than a year later, Jesy has reemerged with “Boyz” — her astoundingly mediocre debut solo single.
Produced by Loose Change, and written by Nelson, Minaj, Abby Keen, Amanda Atoui, Avital Margulies, Yinka Olatunji, Hanni Ibrahim, and Patrick Jordan-Patrikios, “Boyz” somehow turns their collective brainpower into some of the most derivative songwriting of the year. From the first verse, Jesy exposes that she lacks the charisma and finesse to sell sexually suggestive lines like “Bein’ nice a little borin’ when you in between the sheets / When I ride that hee-haw, you know I know how to please ya.” Not only is the charm lacking in her vocal performance, Jesy also sounds quite nasal. Her voice on this track sounds like a poor imitation of Britney Spears, and she tries to fit riffs where they don’t necessarily need to appear. This is especially odd because Jesy is a fine singer.
“Boyz” samples Diddy’s iconic “Bad Boys For Life,” and the song relies on the sample to do all the heavy lifting. Jesy brings nothing of note to the song from a lyrical and vocal standpoint, so “Boyz” must resort to its sample to have some kind of appeal. Samples in popular music are no new phenomenon, of course, but lazy sampling that refuses to reimagine the original material even slightly is exhausting. If anything, “Boyz” transforms the visceral grittiness and braggadocio of the original into a sanitized slop of Auto-Tune and dreadful racially coded lyrics. It doesn’t get any more blatant than these shameful lyrics in the second verse: “So hood, so good, so damn taboo.” Jesy is all but plainly equating the trope of “bad boys” to Black men, specifically African-American man as evidenced through the song’s sample and the music video’s aesthetics. Obviously, there was a grave miscalculation in Jesy’s camp because who on Earth wants to hear a white British girl muse about how much she loves to fetishize Black men? As for Nicki, her verse is just lazy. The bars are predictable and don’t add any flavor or spunk to a song that so desperately needs it. In fact, everything about “Boyz” feels as flat as a bottle of soda that was left open overnight.
In its first week of availability, the conversation around “Boyz” has been dominated by discourse on Blackfishing, Instagram Face, gatekeeping, and more. All of this was planned. From the cover art, to the sample, to the choice of featured artist, to the music video — the promotional campaign for “Boyz” has been centered on stirring up controversy and outrage because the song is simply not good enough to have anyone care about it on its own. Outside of the modern-day minstrel show that is its accompanying music video, “Boyz” is an insipid and utterly lifeless song that provides no insight as to who Jesy Nelson is outside of Little Mix.