Normani is on the October cover of Teen Vogue, looking all kinds of stunning, per usual. But my question is, is she becoming more famous for her look than she is for her music? Over the better part of two years she’s been telling us her debut solo album is coming soon, and once again, she tells the magazine that she’ll know in her spirit when it’s the right time to release it: “I’m close.”
Her former group, Fifth Harmony, has been on hiatus since May 2018, having dropped their last album the previous summer, and (as Teen Vogue points out) the question on everybody’s mind once they split was: What will Normani do? Although Camila Cabello split from the group in 2016, and launched her smash-hit “Havana” less than a year later, Normani was pegged as the Beyoncé of what Billboard called the biggest girl group of the 2010s. But even Beyoncé didn’t wait this long to drop Dangerously In Love.
“There’s so much expectation that I have for myself, so adding [fans’ expectations] onto that can be a lot, but it really does motivate me,” Normani tells Teen Vogue. “I really want to create a body of work that’s going to count, you know? I’m never going to get my first album back.”
It's understandable pressure, but the longer the album gets pushed back the more I think it’s never getting released. She’s Ciara-ing her solo career before it even really starts. Ciara at least had two solid hit albums before the society slowly put her in a model/television host box. She’s still putting out albums, and you always see her on red carpets, but you don’t hear Ciara on many radio stations. I don’t want that for Normani. She’s already one of Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty ambassadors, and it feels like she’s always on the cover of a magazine. Before Teen Vogue it was Cosmopolitan, PAPER, Rolling Stone, Billboard, FADER, you name it. It’s exactly what Ciara is doing in the twilight of her music career. Normani also made a cameo in Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” video, but as a dancer, not a featured artist.
“I feel like we’re in a time in music where women — and Black women — are really on top… The fact that I could be a part of such a special moment embracing our sexuality, in which I definitely think there’s a double standard, [was exciting] to be a part of it.”
“WAP” was one of the biggest cultural moments of the year, so she’s got the media attention needed to drop an album, what about some buzzy singles? She cracked the top 10 in 2018 with the mega-smash “Love Lies,” a duet with Khalid, and last year she launched another single into the top 10, “Dancing with a Stranger” with Sam Smith. These were both international hit singles, the kind of thing you follow up with an album release. She also dropped “Motivation” last year, a solo single, co-written by Ariana Grande (whom she toured with — more stellar exposure) and although it wasn’t as big a hit, we all heard that song, we all saw that video, and it’s now a platinum record nonetheless. These are achievements some artists with three projects under their belt haven’t seen, but yet, her album doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, let alone a name or release date.
“When God tells me that it’s done, then it’ll be done. I’ll feel it, you know?” she tells Vogue.
God or RCA Records? Because there’s a lot of chatter online about differences of opinions between Normani’s label and her management, as a well as an overall sense that everybody surrounding Normani is dropping the ball through lack of focus or inexperience. Apparently her team was strongly advised that sending her out on tour with Ariana Grande without new music was potential wasted, and I wholeheartedly agree. I went to see that tour and understandably she didn’t want to lean on her girl-group discography, but since she didn’t have enough solo music to fill a setlist she performed a medley of Rihanna covers. Not one song, a whole medley. Imagine if she released a little four-song EP before the tour and performed those songs, so she could try and convert some Ariana fans with new tunes. Definitely some missed organic marketing opportunities there.
It’s also alleged a lot of the material she’s been recording for her debut album has been denied by the label. They don’t want her introductory disc to be a mashup of several different genres. And I’m sure some of that is a discussion over whether they should risk promoting a dark-skinned Black women doing top 40 pop music, or keep her inside the R&B genre.
And while her team has secured marquee performances on the MTV VMAs, American Music Awards, as well as guest judging on RuPaul’s Drag Race and appearing on Lip Sync Battle, Normani apparently wanted to visit some popular web series and YouTube shows. Those requests were blocked because her people prefer bigger opportunities like The Voice. Are they forgetting that Normani’s only 24, and reads like she’s 19? I don’t think larger portions of The Voice audience would be super inclined to add Normani to their playlist, but those kids watching the YouTube shows would.
Despite the rumoured infighting between her, her record label, and her overall team, I can sympathize with the personal pressure she feels going into a highly anticipated first project. Normani can sing but she was a standout in Fifth Harmony because she was the girl who could really dance. That’s when people first starting comparing her to Beyoncé. That, and they’re both from Houston. Those comparisons came way too early in her career. “She’s the next Beyoncé” would have been a cute headline for an album review, but hearing it before you’re even starting recording your first LP is a heavy title to hold. Even Beyoncé said, the first time she met Normani, “I'm really proud of you. I'm watching you.” That’s pressure. It makes sense to distance yourself from the expectations, give people a little time to forget the hype, but don’t give us too long. I love a girl with her complexion being held up as the standard in beauty and fashion campaigns, but as a fan you want some actual music to digest, and eventually you get tired of wanting around.
told you I still make songs pic.twitter.com/nSdkkpRTV2— Normani (@Normani) August 6, 2020