Normani’s step­ping into the spotlight

With encouragement from the pop sisterhood, the former Fifth Harmony member has dropped new single Motivation, which was co-written by Ariana Grande.

Nor­mani was a baby once, whol­ly depen­dent on oth­ers, which is quite weird to think about when you wit­ness her flaw­less chore­og­ra­phy and con­fi­dent live stage pres­ence. She’s just got it: that mys­ti­cal pop ener­gy that all the greats pos­sess. The kind that makes you think they land­ed on earth with star­dom pre-installed.

This is not to sug­gest that Nor­mani is a mal­leable indus­try prod­uct, it’s just that she’s very fuck­ing good at what she does. She proved her­self sev­en years ago as a 16-year-old singer and dancer on The X Fac­tor USA – wind­ing up in the show’s break­out girl group Fifth Har­mo­ny. That quin­tet (which became a four piece fol­low­ing the depar­ture of pop heavy­weight Camil­la Cabel­lo in 2016) achieved inter­na­tion­al suc­cess and then, in March 2018, announced an indef­i­nite hiatus.

In the mean­time, Nor­mani has been revving up her solo career. She’s been releas­ing songs fea­tur­ing vocals from friends like Khalid, Sam Smith and Jessie Reyez and has just fin­ished tour­ing the many are­nas of North Amer­i­ca with Ari­ana Grande. Bey­on­cé once told her that she had her eye on Nor­mani, and she hasn’t put a foot wrong since.

But the time has come for her to step out and do some­thing with­out anoth­er vocal­ist shar­ing her spot­light. Fea­tur­ing a writ­ing cred­it from Ari­ana Grande, Normani’s debut solo effort is a buoy­ant, sax-hooked bop. In the video, you can see her a) dance with her girl gang, b) wear a crop top embla­zoned with her birth year (1996), and c) writhe about in the rain. It all looks very expen­sive, but at this point she deserves it. On the eve of Moti­va­tions release, The Face called Normani’s to com­mem­o­rate this step into her solo career.

You’ve tak­en your time when it comes to releas­ing solo mate­r­i­al. Did that always feel like the best option?

Absolute­ly. I feel like I’ve sac­ri­ficed so much of myself through­out the years, and it’s beau­ti­ful for me to have this oppor­tu­ni­ty – so why not do it the right way? I owe it to myself at this point. I have to remind myself that the out­come is going to be so reward­ing, so long as I stay focused, put in the time and make music that I’m hap­py with.

In the pop world, a tru­ly flaw­less exe­cu­tion is so rare. I get the impres­sion that you’re a perfectionist. 

I def­i­nite­ly think so. I’m real­ly sen­si­tive about my art. You say you’ve seen the Moti­va­tion video?

Yes.

I’m gonna be com­plete­ly trans­par­ent with you: I’ve been stress­ing over the last month, try­ing to put that togeth­er. I’ve actu­al­ly been real­ly down about it late­ly because I feel like it’s not my best work.

I’d con­sid­er Ari­ana fam­i­ly at this point. I feel like I can trust her, which is nice because it’s hard to make friends in this indus­try. It’s cool that I’ve found a sis­ter in her.”

I guess it’s still ear­ly days for you as a solo artist, but to have a prod­uct as refined as that – straight out of the gate – is still impres­sive. How did the song wind up in your hands?

Thank you! The record was pret­ty much done when I first heard it. The label had pre­sent­ed it to me, but you nev­er know what’s going to hap­pen with these things. It’s a weird sit­u­a­tion: I’ve been mak­ing music for sev­en years but this is my [first time ven­tur­ing out solo]. I was look­ing for some­thing upbeat: a song that would let me show­case every­thing I’m capa­ble of from a per­for­mance stand­point, and with this song, I realised I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to do that. Ari­ana wrote on the record, and she was super excit­ed when they told her that I went in to lis­ten to it. She was so encouraging. 

It seems like you’ve been through some­thing with her. 

Absolute­ly. I’d con­sid­er Ari­ana fam­i­ly at this point. I feel like I can trust her, which is nice because it’s hard to make friends in this indus­try. Some­times it can get – I don’t wan­na say lone­ly – but a lot of the time I end up hav­ing to enter­tain myself. It’s cool that I’m able to have found a sis­ter in her.

How are you cop­ing with that new-found inde­pen­dence as a solo artist? Have you always strived for it?

Fifth Har­mo­ny was the most beau­ti­ful oppor­tu­ni­ty, and it was one of the most amaz­ing mem­o­ries I’ve made. Of course, we had our ups and downs but I’m so grate­ful that I went through that expe­ri­ence to reach the alter­na­tive. We reached a point where we could express our indi­vid­u­al­i­ties. Since then, I’ve been able to find myself in so many dif­fer­ent ways. I don’t ful­ly have it all togeth­er. Even as a woman, I feel like I’m learn­ing so much about myself.

Who do you think is rul­ing pop music right now? 

I think there’s a hand­ful. This isn’t because I’m biased but Ari­ana has def­i­nite­ly had such an incred­i­ble time recent­ly, and it’s beau­ti­ful to see her hard work pay off. Every­thing that she’s been through: all of the hard­ships she’s had to over­come in her per­son­al life. I think she’s the queen of pop right now. She’s killing it. There’s nobody else who’s more deserv­ing than her. Oh, I’ve worked with some pret­ty amaz­ing gen­tle­man, but I still want to work with Kendrick Lamar too. We’d cre­ate some­thing mag­i­cal, I know it.

Do you know where you want to be in five years’ time?

I want to be the most hon­est ver­sion of myself, and to have built an empire. To have a cloth­ing line, and my own fra­grance. There are a lot of women I’d love to fol­low in the foot­steps of. Like, I just went to see Janet at her Vegas res­i­den­cy and it inspired me in such a way. After­wards, I had a moment to ask all of the ques­tions that I need­ed to ask, and she told me she was root­ing for me.

How valu­able has that sis­ter­hood – specif­i­cal­ly black sis­ter­hood – been to you? 

As a black young woman, being able to do what all of my biggest inspi­ra­tions have done was real­ly impor­tant. Grow­ing up, I had Janet, Toni Brax­ton, Ashan­ti and Destiny’s Child to look up to. Kel­ly [Row­land] being a choco­late god­dess, I was real­ly able to see myself in her. I felt real­ly down about a cer­tain sit­u­a­tion, and I spoke to her about it recent­ly. She was like Any­thing you need, pick up the phone’. It meant the world to me.

Start­ing from the ground up again, I can’t believe I’m in a posi­tion to have access to beau­ti­ful black women who I can talk and share my expe­ri­ences with. Trust me, there’s still a lot more to come. There’s lev­els to it. 

@normani


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