Fifth Harmony were the reigning girl group of their era. Although they never came close to the success of their closest predecessors, Destiny’s Child, the group accumulated a rabid fan base of Harmonizers and contributed some sterling songs to the mainstream pop canon, among them “BO$$,” “Sledgehammer,” “Messy,” and their one top 10 hit, the campy Ty Dolla $ign collab “Work From Home.” I liked them. They were good. And now they are over.
The end began with the acrimonious departure of Camila Cabello at the end of 2016. Cabello was out in front of the video for “Work From Home,” Fifth Harmony’s biggest hit. She was the first 5H member to release a solo single, 2015’s radio staple “I Know What You Did Last Summer” with Shawn Mendes. With the following year’s smash Machine Gun Kelly duet “Bad Things,” she matched the #4 peak Fifth Harmony had reached with “Work From Home.” So it came as no surprise when she announced she was leaving the group. Nor was it that surprising when, after releasing one more album without Cabello, the remaining members put Fifth Harmony on hiatus in May of last year.
And now they’re all out there pursuing the solo careers they once imagined when they were contestants on the short-lived US version of The X Factor, before Simon Cowell assembled them into a group as he’d done previously with One Direction. Two of them have new singles dropping today, which makes me think it’s a good time to catch up on how each 5H member’s solo trajectory has gone so far. Who’s hot? Who’s not? And who’s got a shot to actually last in this business? Write on, me!
5. Ally Brooke
It’s not like nothing is happening for Ally Brooke Hernandez right now. She led off 2018 by teaming with the German DJ-producer Topic on “Perfect,” a song that kinda-sorta repurposes Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So” guitar riff into a post-EDM power ballad about the power of affirmation when you’re feeling down. It’s good for what it is, but that’s mostly because of well-played Spotify-core EDM drops; perhaps that’s why it’s tallied 18 million Spotify plays. It doesn’t establish much of a persona for Ally Brooke, except that maybe she should consider going country. Sub in some pedal steel in place of those drops and “Perfect” could easily have come off the Nashville assembly line.
Her more recent singles haven’t fared as well, though, despite each being a big look in its own way: First, in November, she showed off her bilingual abilities by hopping on Kris Kross Amsterdam’s reggaeton-EDM-mariachi track “Vámonos” alongside Dominican trap star Messiah; then, in December, she released something of a tropical house inspirational anthem called “The Truth Is In There,” which was penned by Diane Warren and linked to a Weight Watchers campaign involving Oprah Winfrey and Kate Hudson. “Vámonos” is a bop, but given Latin pop’s dominance on YouTube, just over a million views feels like underperforming. The boilerplate “The Truth Is In There” is much, much worse, and so are its stats. Hopefully she won’t continue down that road, but the publication of an inspirational memoir suggests she will. At least she is developing a persona?
Ally Brooke has potential to race up these rankings once she begins rolling out proper singles of her own, but for now perhaps all you need to know about her star power is that the first result when you search Ally Brooke on YouTube is the account of teen mom named Allie Brooke, whose 535,000 subscribers dwarf Ally’s 94,000.
4. Dinah Jane
Dinah Jane Milika Ilaisaane Hansen has even fewer songs to her name than Ally Brooke, but they’re really good. “Bottled Up,” her debut solo single from last fall, is about as good as R&B-pop songs come, with smartly chosen guest spots from Ty Dolla $ign and Marc E. Bassy and an absurdly catchy hook that reverberates joy. It’s a song about blowing off steam, and it succeeds in translating the sensation of going out and having fun after a hard week into exhilarating pop music. It also rivals Camila Cabello’s “Havana” as the best song any 5H alum has released so far.
Between the lyric video and music video, “Bottled Up” is over 16 million YouTube views, with another 12 million on Spotify. “I Don’t Mind,” a song she’s been performing live lately, is a winner as well, a booming and breathy R&B love song. It sounds like she and her team understand exactly what kind of artist she is, which is great because a whole album of tunes like these would be fantastic. And while 190,000 YouTube subscribers is not that impressive, it’s double what Ally Brooke is putting up.
My main concern for Dinah Jane is that I wonder how many ex-Fifth Harmony singers the mainstream has room for. One Direction proved that four former members of a teeny-bopper group can all find solo success simultaneously (Harry, Zayn, Nile, and Liam, with all due apologies to poor Louis). It’s very early in her solo career. But if a song as great as “Bottled Up” didn’t pop off for her, I wonder what will.
3. Lauren Jauregui
Honestly, #3 feels low for Lauren Jauregui. She’s already carved out a distinct identity, released a handful of great songs, and accumulated 454,000 YouTube subscribers. She seems to be a star on the rise. It’s just that the competition is stiff!
Jauregui’s solo career started with the 2016 Marian Hill collab “Back To Me,” a tight-snapping electro-pop track with attitude that piled up 28 million Spotify streams. In 2017, she scored even more success by hopping on the surprisingly tasteful Steve Aoki track “All Night,” which boasts 45 million streams on Spotify and another 25 million across various YouTube videos. That year she also duetted with boyfriend Ty Dolla $ign on his track “In Your Phone” and with Halsey on the solid “Strangers.” That one just barely cracked the Hot 100 at #100, her only song to make it on the chart so far.
By the time Fifth Harmony split up, Jauregui had established herself, and she has continued to in the months since. Official debut solo single “Expectations” was one of the best pop songs of 2018, a soulful R&B track powered by punchy staccato guitar and a raw vocal. That one’s doing fairly well, with 10 million YouTube views and 17 million on Spotify. Finally, last week she unveiled “More Than That,” another showcase for her alternately smooth and ragged vocals, backed by a barely-there trap beat that makes good use of windchime sounds.
Jauregui’s body of work is strong, and it seems like only a matter of time before one of her singles catches fire. The only reason she’s this low on the list is because that hasn’t happened yet. I have high hopes for her debut LP coming later this year.
Six months ago, when finishing third on Dancing With The Stars was her biggest accomplishment outside Fifth Harmony, I would not have pegged Normani Kordei Hamilton to be so high on this list. But she’s been on a tear lately. “Love Lies,” her maudlin duet with Khalid (is there any other kind of duet with Khalid?) from last February’s Love, Simon soundtrack, was a success upon release, debuting at #43 and lingering in that region for a while. But come summer it began picking up steam, and by September it had peaked at #9, making Normani the second 5H member with a top 10 single.
Around the time “Love Lies” was peaking, she also hopped on a remix of Jessie Reyez’s empowerment jam “Body Count” alongside Kehlani. Soon after that she appeared on one of the better songs from Quavo’s forgettable solo album, “Swing,” a moody Afrobeats-inflected track also featuring Davido. Soon after that she released a two-track EP with Calvin Harris. Normani x Calvin Harris included the jumpy dancehall cut “Checklist” with Wizkid plus a funky disco-house production called “Slow Down.”
But wait! There’s more! In November, Normani and 6LACK joined forces for “Waves,” a darkly shimmering track full of wide-open space that ably blurs the lines between pop, R&B, and experimental electronics. And just last week she released “Dancing With A Stranger,” a duet with Sam Smith, perhaps the only pop star more perpetually maudlin than Khalid. This one, though, features crisp and propulsive ’80s drum programming, so it’s not the downer you might expect.
What to make of all these tracks, most of which are good? I don’t feel like I have a clear sense of who Normani is as an artist — though neither does she yet, according to her new Billboard cover story. (Oh yeah, did I mention she just got a Billboard cover story?) I do get the feeling she’s going to keep getting all sorts of these high-profile looks for the foreseeable future and that she’ll be back in the top 10 again this year, especially if her operation does a good job promoting the debut album that will drop this year. You don’t get plucked out of a lineup to duet with Sam Smith and open for Ariana Grande — yes, Normani is doing that too — unless somebody has decided you’re a big deal.
1. Camila Cabello
Speaking of big deals: Camila Cabello had a head start on her former 5H associates, and my has she used it. She’s the only one of them to release an album so far — Camila, released a year ago this past week — and not only did it debut at #1, it’s nominated for a Grammy. It also yielded a #1 single, “Havana,” a track good and popular enough to be her signature song for the rest of her career. I suspect she’ll generate some more candidates for that title in the coming years, though, because she’s firmly entrenched herself in the mainstream pop firmament.
Cabello has hit the top 10 two other times, last year with “Never Be The Same” and in 2017 with Machine Gun Kelly’s “Bad Things,” and has landed a total of 10 singles on the Hot 100 so far. Those range from good to great. She opened for Taylor Swift’s stadium tour last summer. She has 9.5 million YouTube subscribers, a total that says a lot about how much farther along she is compared to her fellow 5H alums. She’s about where Ariana Grande was coming off 2014’s breakthrough My Everything and is on a similar upward trajectory.
Presumably this year will be a little quieter for Cabello as she preps LP2, leaving some room for her former 5H peers to catch up to her impressive success. Most of the rest of them have the potential to accomplish that, but they have a long way to climb.
Here’s something we haven’t had in a while: a week with both a new #1 album and a new #1 single. Let’s start with the single. Post Malone and Swae Lee’s Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse soundtrack hit “Sunflower” — full title “Sunflower (Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse)” — ascends to the top of the Hot 100. It’s Post’s third #1 hit (following “Rockstar” and “Psycho”) and Swae’s first as a solo artist, though he also hit #1 as part of Rae Sremmurd with “Black Beatles.” According to Billboard, “Sunflower” is the first song from a soundtrack to hit #1 since Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling.”
This bumps Halsey’s “Without Me” back down to #2 after only one week on top, despite the well-timed release of a new remix featuring Juice WRLD last week. Interestingly, Billboard reports that Louis Bell is credited as a writer and producer on both “Sunflower” and “Without Me,” making him the first person to be so credited on back-to-back #1s since Dr. Luke and Cirkut did it with Pitbull and Kesha’s “Timber” and Katy Perry and Juicy J’s “Dark Horse.”
Next up are Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next” at #3, Travis Scott (and Drake’s) “Sicko Mode” at #4, Panic! At The Disco’s “High Hopes” at #5, Marshmello and Bastille’s “Happier” at #6, Maroon 5 and Cardi B’s “Girls Like You” at #7, and Lil Baby and Gunna’s “Drip Too Hard” at #8. Halsey has a second song in the top 10 at #9 via Benny Blanco’s “Eastside,” which also features Khalid; it’s Halsey’s fourth top 10 hit, Khalid’s third, and Blanco’s first. Rounding out the top 10 is Kodak Black, Offset, and Travis Scott’s “ZEZE.”
As for the Billboard 200 albums chart, I am disappointed to report that A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s catastrophically generic Hoodie SZN has ascended to #1. I am happy to report that it has done so in dubious fashion, with only 823 copies sold. Hoodie SZN did manage 58,000 equivalent units, 56,000 of them derived from about 83 million track streams. But woof, we’ll definitely be seeing an album go #1 on streaming alone pretty soon.
The rest of the extremely stagnant top 10: 21 Savage, the Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse soundtrack, Meek Mill, Post Malone, Travis Scott, and A Star Is Born soundtrack, Drake, Kodak Black, and the Bohemian Rhapsody soundtrack.
Sam Smith & Normani – “Dancing With A Stranger”
If Sam Smith refuses to make more songs like “Latch,” I am cool with him making songs like “Hold On, We’re Going Home.”
Lauren Jauregui – “More Than That”
Listen to Lauren Jauregui’s voice when she sings “It’ll take mooooore than that to get to me!” Listen to the way it frays. That’s a good voice. And with a good beat like this, it does wonders.
Walk The Moon – “Timebomb”
I guess it is time for another Walk The Moon album cycle, huh? From the sounds of “Timebomb,” they’re going to be mining that “Shut Up And Dance” territory until it ceases to be profitable. This is a perfectly OK entry into that neon-’80s-pop-as-filtered-through-Passion-Pit genre, but it doesn’t have the same spark.
Calvin Harris & Rag’n’Bone Man – “Giant”
I am repelled by hearty, girthy, soul-rockin’ voices like Rag’n’Bone Man’s, so this sounds awful to me. That Calvin Harris sure does know how to drop a beat, though!
BloodPop® – “Newman”
The Grimes collaborator turned Justin Bieber collaborator is back with an uptempo instrumental that pops and fizzes and bounces in all the right ways. I’d prefer it with vocals, but this will do just fine.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Alicia Keys will host the Grammys, the first woman to do so in 14 years. [Variety]
- Among the performers on the broadcast will be Camila Cabello, Cardi B, Dan + Shay, Post Malone, Shawn Mendes, Janelle Monáe, and Kacey Musgraves. [Grammys]
- French Montana defended R. Kelly in an interview with TMZ: “Let somebody enjoy their legacy. Whatever happened, happened, man.” (He later backtracked on Twitter.) [YouTube]
- Kanye West and Kim Kardashian confirmed they have another son on the way via surrogate. [Complex]
- Selena Gomez returned to Instagram on Monday after announcing a social media break in September. [Glamour]
- Cardi B appears in City Girls’ new “Twerk” video. [YouTube]
- Drake hinted at an upcoming Vegas residency. [XXL]
- Rihanna sued her dad over use of the name Fenty. [TMZ]
- Lady Gaga and Glenn Close tied for Best Actress at the Critics’ Choice Awards. [E!]
- Master P signed a deal with Lionsgate to produce his own biopic. [XXL]
- Sam Smith posted a photo of himself wearing an eyepatch after eye surgery. [Instagram]
- DJ Khaled has been cast in Bad Boys 3. [Variety]
- Adele was in a June Carter Cash costume for some reason. [Instagram]
- Hozier announced his sophomore album, Wasteland, Baby!, out 3/1. [CoS]
- Billie Eilish appeared to tease a March release date for her debut album. [Reddit]
- Maggie Rogers did “Light On” on Ellen. [Ellen]
- Ariana Grande got a Pokémon tattoo. [Comic Book]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
I don’t get this 10 year challenge, time is not something I acknowledge. ♀️ *Picture taken at some point prior to today pic.twitter.com/f5XUye3Hot
— Mariah Carey (@MariahCarey) January 16, 2019