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 Motivation’s 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?
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 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.