14/12/2011 13:18 | By Tom Townshend, contributor, MSN Music

How far can Little Mix go?

As we now know, winning X Factor is no guarantee of success. Tom Townshend assesses Little Mix's chances in the real world…

Little Mix (© Rex)

Speaking as someone who bet on 2 Shoes to win this year's X Factor, the only certain outcome seems to be that winning is no guarantee of a career.

Last year's winner, Matt Cardle, is already being spoken about in the past tense. 2009's Joe McElderry went from being the biggest-selling male artist of the year to being without a record deal in just 16 months.

And witness Saturday's fine, and surprisingly dark, performance by 2006 victor Leona Lewis.

She sang her version of Johnny Cash's version of Nine Inch Nails' Hurt not as one of the world's biggest stars, as she briefly was, but as an artist scrabbling to regain her foothold on the UK charts.

So have 2011's tearful champs Little Mix been handed a poisoned chalice or can they ride the crest of this fickle wave without crashing noses first into the spume?

Rather than look to those for whom Simon Cowell's Midas touch wore off, perhaps the secret to Syco's success lies in understanding the popularity of the show's rare survivors.

Who does well from X Factor and why?
Former runners up JLS and One Direction are successful because they're popular with young girls who are, and have been since pop began, a loyal, passionate and bankable fan-base.

And they've connected with that demographic not simply because they're good looking lads (the now ditched Shayne Ward wasn't exactly king of the munters) but because bands are so much more appealing and interesting than most solo acts.

You have a choice of members to fancy, for a start. And within such a group, unless they're East 17, there's a chemistry and comradeship that's highly endearing (watch JLS being interviewed and see how much fun they're having). When a band clicks, they become a gang - a gang that's highly attractive to girls of a certain age (and their mums).

But can a girl group appeal to the same hormone driven females? Interestingly, yes they can, and we think it's the reason Little Mix took the biggest share of the vote on Sunday.

The struggle most new girl groups have is they tend only to be as popular as their current single. Take All Saints, Sugababes or The Saturdays, for example. Sure they had/have fans, but never in the numbers that a boy band can rely on - meaning their fortunes rise and fall with every release.

Spice Girls (© Rex)

Exceptions to the girl band rule
But there are two notable exceptions: the Spice Girls and, more relevantly, Girls Aloud. The former are an anomaly, and the music industry has spent far too much money and made far too many mistakes trying to replicate their phenomenal global success.

It's never going to happen again, but there is one lesson to be learned from the Fab Five.

What the Spice Girls got right from the beginning was that they appealed to young girls. They did this by looking and behaving like those girls' mates.

Before the millions and the diets, the Spice Girls were not typically beautiful. Victoria was acne scarred, Geri and Emma were unfashionably podgy, Mel C was a tomboy and Mel B a mess.

They wore high street clothes and they mucked about like they were sat on the back row of the pop bus. As they sang on Wannabe, friendship came first with the Spice Girls, and that was a powerful message.

'Girl power' might not have been an intellectual step forward for feminism but it connected with young girls across the world, and they voted with their pocket money.

The problem with a group like The Saturdays (and with their latest album stiffing at a lowly number 23, it definitely is a problem) is that they're all far too glamorous and well behaved.

Each girl is an immaculately styled beauty, media trained to within an inch of their personalities. To your average young female pop fan, the glamour of The Saturdays is an unachievable look. Una Healy would never be your mate.

The other issue with The Sats is how unmemorable their records are. Can you hum more than one? And that's where Girls Aloud managed to sustain a career. While they may have shed their girl-next-door-ness all too quickly they, or rather their writing and production team Xenomania, kept the hits coming by maintaining a distinct sound.

Girls Aloud's records were frequently brilliant and so they transcended their talent show origins with relative ease. Who even remembers they were cobbled together from Pop Idol auditionees?

In Little Mix's favour
What Little Mix already have going for them is that they seem more like their fans' friends than four singing supermodels; they're no threat. While pretty, they aren't conventionally beautiful, they aren't conventionally sized (one has already defiantly declared a refusal to diet, while another talked of avoiding her temptation to get a boob job) and their shyness and relative lack of ambition (has there ever been a set of X Factor finalists so utterly convinced they wouldn't win?) make them impossible to hate.

And they're close to the ages of those who'll hopefully be buying their music. This is why they won.

The music will be the crucial element, though. If Little Mix don't get great songs with strong production they're unlikely to make it to a second album. With the aforementioned JLS and One Direction, this has been less important. Neither has yet delivered a record of sufficient quality to see their sales cross over to regular music buyers, but their screaming female fan-bases are so large that their loyalty is enough. For now.

Little Mix are unlikely to gather a boy band sized following so quickly. To succeed, they need to sell to more than just the young girls who identify with Tulisa's "little muffins". They need to release songs that Coldplay fans aren't embarrassed to own (Chris Martin's appearance on X Factor showed he's well aware of where the bulk of his 55 million sales came from).

Because it's one thing to phone a vote in, it's quite another to spend 89p on iTunes.

Simon Cowell (© PA)

Is Cowell the right man for the job?
Can Simon Cowell find them the right writing and production team to capitalise on the good will? His track record isn't great.

Simon knows how to supply the simple needs of Westlife fans but he'd have been horrified at the eclectic influences that run riot through Girls Aloud's best records.

And he famously turned down the Spice Girls, so can he really be trusted with Little Mix?

And what should they sound like anyway? Over the weeks Jesy, Perrie, Leigh-Anne and Jade have proven themselves competent singers with a tendency towards R&B-lite warbling.

But their take on the winning song, Damien Rice's Cannonball, makes it sound like the finale to a successful but substance-less musical. It's insipid, identity-free and kind of horrible - hardly the kind of rulebook ripping start Girls Aloud had with Sound of the Underground.

We sincerely hope Little Mix are, as Louis Walsh exuberantly declared, the next big girl band.

But we wouldn't bet on it.

More on MSN Music:

Watch: Little Mix interview
Has pop music become too sexual?
This year's contenders for Christmas number one

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Can Little Mix be as big as the Spice Girls?

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    39 %
    Absolutely, they're amazing!
    960 votes
    48 %
    No chance. They'll be forgotten in a year.
    1,188 votes
    13 %
    Do I look like Mystic Meg?
    327 votes

Total Responses: 2,475
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