On their fifth studio effort, Little Mix—the British girl group that initially rose to fame on The X Factor in the UK in 2011—assumed a bigger role in the production, introduced even more empowering themes to their music, and are arguably more lyrically sophisticated than they have ever been. They even left their longtime label, Syco Music (owned by Simon Cowell), in favor of signing a new deal with the UK division of RCA Records. But as a result, their new album LM5 lacks their signature dance-pop tunes that was generally needed to bring it all together. Whether or not that’s necessarily a bad thing remains to be seen.

Girl groups tend to endure a notorious amount of criticism and pressure that other bands don’t experience—they’re often called insipid, fabricated, and even inauthentic, since their music is generally crafted to meet the demands of the pop music market (the same market that also tends to then tear the groups apart for the sake of promising solo careers…see also: Fifth Harmony, Danity Kane, the Pussycat Dolls). But thus far, Little Mix have seemed to survive the bureaucratic nonsense that plagues most girl groups. Seven years and five albums later, they’ve kept doing their thing and letting their music speak for them. It also bears mentioning that most of their popularity stems from their label and fanbase in the UK, rather than North America, which may mean they’ve been able to keep their noses out of the pressures of the American pop music industry. Whatever the case, Little Mix have not only managed to break the mold as far as girl groups go but also reclaim the narrative through their string of empowering, feminist pop songs—“Salute,” “Black Magic,” “OMG,” “Shout Out to My Ex,” “Power,” and “Is Your Love Enough?”, to name a few—and on their latest studio album LM5 (named after the code name given to the project by fans on social media), themes of feminism and women empowering women have only grown tougher and stronger. What the album lacks in comparison to their previous studio efforts, however, is the catchy dance-pop tunes and production to tie it together that listeners had come to enjoy. Come for the girl power, stay for the catchy songs.

The decision to step away and “mature” beyond the catchy dance-pop sound of their previous songs and albums can perhaps be described as an honest attempt to grow past what some critics have referred to as the “Disney-fied pop” that we’ve come to expect from Little Mix. But I believe that while the sounds of Little Mix’s previous albums may have been influenced by other pop albums of the period, the group still managed to make their songs more unique than any other pop songs on the scene right now. In other words, no one can make a Little Mix song like Little Mix. On LM5, the girls are very clearly trying their best to adopt a more mature sound and leave behind the bubblegum dance-pop of “Shout Out to My Ex,” “Touch,” and “Black Magic,” but what they haven’t left behind are their empowering, feminist lyrics. They remind us on “Strip” that it’s what’s underneath that’s important, and the importance of making yourself feel sexy and confident on “Joan of Arc.” Lyrically speaking, the group has reached their peak on LM5—“Monster in Me,” “Told You So,” and “The Cure” all showcase this very well, as well as reminding us that Little Mix can always nail upbeat bangers just as well as emotional ballads. However, rather than showcasing their unique ability to craft safe but catchy dance-pop songs with strong feminist themes like they did on their fourth studio album Glory Days (2016), Little Mix definitely take more risks on LM5, both in production and structure—from the trap vibes on “Joan of Arc” and “Wasabi” to the Latin influences on “Woman Like Me” and “American Boy,” the album is clearly telling us that these girls are ready to break out of their comfort zone and show us what else they can do, all while intensifying the empowering feminist themes and lyrics.

Overall, LM5 shows definite growth for the group, both in lyrics and production, and further proves they’re ready to mature to something new with the structural risks they’ve taken. It lacks the glitzy but empowering dance-pop songs that some fans have come to love and expect from the group (myself somewhat included), but Little Mix proves with this latest album that they’re ready to explore what else they want to make. It may miss the mark in a few areas, but also marks a musical and professional milestone for the group.

Jeffrey’s favorites from LM5: “Woman Like Me,” “Monster in Me,” “Told You So,” “The Cure,” “Forget You Not,” and “Only You” (with Cheat Codes)