In the early weeks of 2015, the five-woman pop group Fifth Harmony released Reflection, their extremely promising debut LP. I was smitten, calling it the first great pop album of the year and praising its modern update on the late-’90s pop-R&B of my adolescence. Massive tracks including “BO$$,” “Everlasting Love,” and “Sledgehammer” rendered Fifth Harmony torchbearers for the likes of Destiny’s Child, Mariah Carey, and the Spice Girls. Listening back a year later, those songs sound better than ever. And although the album’s breakout hit “Worth It” leaned on a whopping three dying trends (sassy sax loops, Mustardwave synths, and Kid Ink guest verses), it was still the kind of song that inspires involuntary body movement.
Even if “Worth It” is unbearably corny to you, appreciate that it seems to have cemented Fifth Harmony’s place in pop’s upper echelon. At the end of my column on Reflection, I noted, “Yet for all their youth appeal, Fifth Harmony are more adult than ever on Reflection. Like [Ariana] Grande, they could make the leap into full-fledged universal pop stardom if one of these songs would just catch fire at radio.” That seems to be exactly what’s happening with Fifth Harmony right now. Like all pop acts that start out appealing to teens, they’re making their transition into grown-up fare, and this week the move toward maturity landed them their first ever top-10 single.
“Work From Home,” the lead single from Fifth Harmony’s upcoming album 7/27, is the moment when they break away from teen-pop for good. As one Stereogum commenter put it, they’re basically the Pussycat Dolls now, but the Dolls never had songs this good. “Work From Home,” which climbs to #10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 this week to become 5H’s highest-charting single ever, is a smart update on that bouncy, minimal West Coast sound that was ruling the radio a couple summers ago. Although I dragged “Worth It” for jumping on that train way to late, “Work From Home” succeeds by evolving beyond simple staccato synth melodies and snaps. Those are in the mix, but they blend with a range of other elements including the tropical sounds that are en vogue right now (i.e. the spirit that courses through that other hit song with “work, work, work, work, work” in the chorus).
Ty Dolla $ign deserves some of the credit. The LA R&B lothario has a way of elevating everything he touches, one recent example being “You Could Be My Lover,” his transcendent contribution to Puff Daddy’s MMM mixtape. Here, as a co-writer and featured artist, he lends the former X Factor contestants some of the understated salacious swagger he made his name on. The guy absolutely glides through his guest verse, and as with previous Ty$ co-writes like Chris Brown’s “Loyal,” the beat is lean but still booming enough to destroy your speakers.
“Work From Home” is built around one of those goofy conceptual conceits Ty$ learned from his spiritual forebear R. Kelly — in fact, it’s not that far removed from Kelly’s own “Echo,” another anthem about staying home from work to have sex. To their credit, the women of Fifth Harmony sell this concept with straight faces and only the slightest inkling of a wink, so it doesn’t tumble too far into camp. Camila Cabello, the first 5H member to score a solo hit with her (admittedly mediocre) Shawn Mendes duet “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” pretty much seals her stardom with a powerful vocal turn and a hammy performance in the video. Look out for her debut solo album before the decade’s out.
In the meantime we’ve got 7/27 (which, confusingly, is out 5/20) to look forward to. Subsequent single “The Life” is not on the level of “Work From Home,” but it’s promising in its own right, a joyous midtempo party track that suggests the group has settled on a particular aesthetic for the album this time rather than Reflection’s grab-bag approach. We’ll have to wait and see whether that holds true across the rest of the tracklist, but what we’ve heard so far is extremely promising. For a group whose current anthem is about shirking responsibility to play all day, it seems everyone involved with Fifth Harmony has been putting a lot of work in, and that work looks to be paying off.
[Editor’s note: This article originally stated that Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer” charted higher than any Fifth Harmony song. That’s incorrect; it peaked at #20.]
With Mind Of Mine, his Very Sexy and Very Serious debut album, ex-One Direction singer ZAYN becomes the first UK male solo act to land his first album atop the Billboard 200. Mind Of Mine sold 112,000 copies, which combined with streaming data for 157,000 equivalent units. Those numbers easily surpassed R&B singer K. Michelle’s 59,000 units/54,000 sales for #2-debuting More Issues Than Vogue. Other top 10 debuts include Young Thug’s Slime Season 3 at #7 with 38,000 units/22,000 sales and Asking Alexandria’s The Black at #9 with 30,000 units/28,000 sales.
Over on the Hot 100 singles chart, Rihanna and Drake’s “Work” holds on to #1 for a seventh straight week, while Lukas Graham’s “7 Years” stays at #2. Surging up to a new #3 peak is Meghan Trainor’s “No,” while ZAYN’s “Pillowtalk” rebounds to #4. Closing out the top 10 are new peaks for Mike Posner’s “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” (#9) and, as previously reported, Fifth Harmony/Ty Dolla $ign’s “Work From Home” (#10).
Jennifer Lopez – “Ain’t Your Mama”
A better Gwen Stefani single than most of the songs on Stefani’s new album — too bad it’s the work of the now-notorious Dr. Luke, who seems primed to continue his pop domination now that he won in court, which lends a real queasy undercurrent to it. Lopez will perform this on the American Idol series finale tonight.
Jason Derulo – “If It Ain’t Love”
Oh look, Jason Derulo is riding the latest trend once again. This time it’s tropical house, and as usual, it’s not bad enough to hate and not good enough to love. Nothing new to report here. Except, wait… WHERE IS THE “JASON DERULO” DROP?!?!
Aaron Carter – “Fool’s Gold”
Who’s ready for the Aaron Carter comeback? Michael Jackson did pass down the torch to him, after. “Fool’s Gold,” which may refer to what Carter’s favored candidate is selling, is only Michael quality if we’re talking post-HiStory.
The Chainsmokers – “Inside Out” (Feat. Charlee)
Here’s the Chainsmokers continuing to not suck.
Karmin – “Panda” (Desiigner Cover)
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Lululemon incurred the wrath of the Beyhive after suggesting Beyoncé’s new Ivy Park clothing line imitated them. [Us]
- In other Beyoncé news, she’s suing a Texas company selling “Feyonce” merch that she says infringes on her trademark. [Reuters]
- Backstreet’s back alright, with a Vegas residency and maybe more. [ET]
- Katy Perry performed with Dolly Parton at the Academy Of Country Music Awards. [Just Jared]
- Fifth Harmony sang “America, The Beautiful” at Wrestlemania 32. [YouTube]
- Taylor Swift won a bunch of iHeartRadio Awards and thanked her boyfriend Adam (Calvin Harris) who also won an award. [ABC]
- And speaking of Adam/Calvin, Ellie Goulding has recorded another song with him. [The Guardian]
- Selena Gomez is developing a “Latina Empire” for Freeform (fka ABC Family). [Deadline]
- Here’s Star Wars star Daisy Ridley rapping with John Boyega on beatbox. [YouTube]
- Beyoncé, Rihanna, One Direction, Kendrick Lamar, and the Weeknd are up for Webby Awards. [Webby Awards]
- Rihanna won this year’s Rock Star Award at BET’s Black Girls Rock. [The Fader]
- Jennifer Nettles and Jennifer Lopez are recording a duet. [Rolling Stone]
- Will.i.am’s new single “Boys And Girls” is out tomorrow. [Twitter]
- Nicki Minaj discussed her relationship with Meek Mill on Ellen. [Miss Info]