Normani Is Finally Stepping Out On Her Own

Normani Is Finally Stepping Out On Her Own

The Fifth Harmony singer opens up about her first solo venture, her new single with Khalid, and what she’s most passionate about.

The Fifth Harmony singer opens up about her first solo venture, her new single with Khalid, and what she’s most passionate about.

Text: Jake Viswanath

Fifth Harmony's biggest hit is stamped with an infectious refrain: "You don't gotta go to work, work, work, work..." repeated for maximum effect. Ironically, member Normani Kordei has been working (it) since she was little, dancing whenever and however she could. Now, after an array of smash hits with her group, Normani is ready to step out on her own musically — and ditch the last name she's taken with her since the X Factor days.

Although this is her first solo music venture, she's not starting out entirely alone. The artist has teamed up with fellow R'n'B sensation and good friend Khalid for their highly anticipated collaboration, "Love Lies," a soulful duet reminiscent of late '90s R'n'B with uber-catchy pop melodies and a sandy record feel, one of the first releases from the soundtrack of Love, Simon. And while she's still dedicated to her group, the new song signals the direction Normani wants to take when she rides solo — subtle, powerful, and rooted in her devotion to the sounds she grew up with. We talked to Normani about her journey, how she works in the studio, and how she plans to carry on her own legacy.

This is a crazy time for you, your first solo song is about to come out. 

Yes, I’m so excited. It’s such a surreal moment just because for so long, I’ve been Normani in the entity of just Fifth Harmony and for me to be able to explore my own inspirations and endeavors, it’s such a treat for me too. Everybody else is really excited, the band has been on the edge of their seats, like everybody’s very excited about this collaboration, which is such an honor for me that people care that much. But for me, for myself, even I’ve proven a lot, just being in the studio with Khalid and writing this beautiful song together; that means so much to me. It’s like a brand-new world.

Completely. I do want to get into the song, but first I want to know how you knew you were ready to go solo. At what moment did you know, “Okay, I’m ready for this venture?” 

Well, the other girls put out records and features and I’m just doing the same thing. I’m just the last one that actually got to it [laughs]. We’re actually going to go on a tour in Asia, so I’m still with my girls and we’re still strong, but I think that we’re in a place in our careers, we’ve worked so hard to get to this place, for us all to be able to create a space for each other, nothing anybody else can create except for us. We’re each able to go out and explore ourselves and I think that we owe that to ourselves and we owe that to each other at this point. We’ve been respectful and we’ve been there for each other so we know where our hearts are and it’s only right for us to be able to grow aside from the group as well. Plus, it honestly helps us contribute even more to the group.  

The more knowledge that you get on your own from any source, the more you can contribute.  

Absolutely.  

So, into the new song, how did this song come to life?  

Honestly, this was all super organic. I know you probably hear a lot of stories with collaborations like this, for instance Gucci Mane. Whenever we collab'ed with him, we never even met until like a live show performance or something, but this one was definitely a lot different. Me and Khalid have been friends for a very long time now. I actually met him for the first time for his "Young, Dumb & Broke" music video. He had invited me, he invited a bunch of his friends, so that was really cool, and then the chemistry just grew and we ended up in the studio together. We didn’t necessarily know what was gonna happen, we just literally vibed. There was one record that we really loved that we wanted to cut but Khalid was like, “Yo, why don’t we like just start the momentum now and go? Let’s just see what we come up with.” And I was like, “Cool, let’s do it.” Taylor Parks, another writer, was also there, so the three of us actually wrote the song together, and Charlie Hanson, who's the producer of the record, it was just talented people and a bunch of creative juices flowing in one room. And it’s cool because it was like a jam session versus somebody sticking two artists in a room, being forced to make them sing great. It just happened on its own.  

That’s great, it’s not like “okay, you guys could make a hit together, make a hit.” It’s not forced.  

No, it’s funny because we didn’t even have the mentality of, “Oh hey, let’s try to create a hit." I remember Khalid was actually pretty adamant about that. He’s like, “Let’s make dope music. I want this to be all of my best friends' favorite songs." And I’m like, “Okay, I can definitely relate. I understand that.” And every time that I’ve played it for one of my friends, they’re jamming to it. It makes you feel good, it’s such a feel-good record and I feel like it’s different from anything that I’ve done or Khalid’s done. I feel like it’s just our introduction into us being adults now.  

I love that. The vibes that I got were very late 90s R&B, very catchy. Is that the lane you want to take with your own music? 

I would definitely say that there are some influences in there that I would love to put into my own music, I’m definitely excited by 90s R&B. We always make a joke saying that I was born at the wrong time, I wish I was born a little bit earlier so that I could actually enjoy the music at that time but definitely having those R&B influences are really important to me.   

Was there anybody that inspired you when you were growing up? 

I’ve always been into entertainment. When I was growing up, my first love was actually dance, which led me into singing. I loved putting on a show for people, I don’t care if it was in my grandmother’s living room or outside on the porch. I performed for the neighborhood people, but I always have been into performing. I love it and it’s something that happens to me every time I get on that stage and just feel like I’m at home. I really look up to Beyoncé, I love Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, Jennifer Lopez...I’m all about entertainment because I feel like people should come to a show and experience something that they’ve never felt before.  

You’re kind of known in the group as the dancer. You’ve been on Dancing with the Stars, and you made your own dance videos online. What is it about dance? 

I feel like honestly, it’s my best language. Between dancing and singing, I’m typically a very shy person. I become whoever it is that I want to be. It gives you that freedom, that’s just the time that I feel the freest. And I feel like nobody can touch me in that moment. I don’t know what it is but I just...I totally turn into different person.  

Did your experience on the show help you enter this solo venture somehow? 

Oh my god, that show really shaped me so much. And little did I know what a reality dance show would actually do but it actually really helped me grow so much and helped with the transition from a young woman to a woman. I feel like you could really see from an audience’s perspective how I just blossomed, and I even felt that, even the confidence within myself from the day that I stepped onto the show until the last. It was such a journey, and I thank my partner a lot too because he really got something out of me that a lot of people hadn’t been able to do before, which was more of a nervous side, and I don't often show that side of me. But somehow, he did get that out of me and I thank him so much for that. And honestly just the experience of traveling back and forth from Asia to LA, I feel like that really proved to myself that I’m pretty strong and built well. It was one of the best times of my life.  

Tell me about the video. What was the inspiration?  

Well the video is definitely the perfect representation and reflection of this record and that was really important for me because this is my first record out of the gate. With Khalid being such an amazing artist as well, it’s very important for the vision to do the song justice, especially because I’m really considerate about my art. It has to correlate and align itself with directors, and Gerard Bush, he directed the music video. I remember the first time he sat down and broke the whole story down to me and how the whole video would take place. I was just in awe because the way that it’s presented, it’s almost like a film. It's not like any other music video that is out right now; it’s very against the wave and it looks different than anything else, and I feel like it’s definitely a moment where it sets itself apart. It’s like a movie. It literally is. There’s parts where I’m acting and Khalid’s acting.

Do you see yourself getting into acting soon on a proper scale? 

Oh my god, yes, absolutely! It's a goal of mine. I want to book a role in 2018. That’s definitely on my mood board.  

What would be your dream acting role? 

Have you ever seen Columbiana? Or Walt? I feel like I want to do something along the lines of an action movie, being the leading lady, and I’m fighting everyone, but I’m the good guy. That’s powerful.  

I noticed that you dropped your last name for the solo song. 

Honestly, I just think that my name is unique enough, and Kordei is actually my middle name. I feel like it gets a little complicated because people can’t even say my first name right. I just feel like there’s some power in even just seeing Normani. And it’s something special to me too because my mom and my dad actually named me after my uncle, who passed away before I was even born. It was my mom’s brother and she promised, cause I’m my mom’s firstborn and her only child, she promised that her first child would be named after him, and his name is Norman, so she named me Normani. She was also really into fashion. She was watching an Armani fashion show and put the name together. It definitely carries its legacy. 

How do you think you’re going to extend that legacy? 

I want them to remember us not just as great artists but women who really had the heart and intent to use their platform for good and speak out about issues that really needed to be talked about, or being the difference. There’s so many fans that come up to us in meet and greet and say, “Oh my gosh, you saved my life,” or, “I came home from an awful day at school and all I needed was to go on YouTube and watch 'Down' or 'Work from Home'.” I think things like that really do make up who Fifth Harmony is; it’s not the records. At the end of the day, it’s about the difference that the records make and we make.  

What message do you want to leave with your own music? 

I would definitely want people to just dig deeper into getting a feel of knowing who Normani is. I feel like we’ve all sacrificed the last six years, but I’m not sure if you guys even know half of who we are like we know each other. Fifth Harmony is its own entity, so I’m really excited because we’ve been through this process, just seeing my first record be released. I’m getting to know so much more about myself being in the studio, working with the best of the best writers, and knowing what I want to talk about versus what I don’t want to talk about, or writing about this experience that I didn’t know meant to so much until I actually found the right pen and paper. I think that it’s all about the evolution, it’s all about the growth, and I can’t wait for the public to take the journey with me because they’re learning about me and I’m also learning about myself so this is a very vulnerable time for me, but also very exciting. So I’m just really excited to see what happens.  

Could you talk about writing? What do you find yourself talking about, what do you always find yourself going back to? 

Honestly, it’s always women empowerment. Like, I'm not bashing men at all, but just recognizing that women are sick, and I love talking about that. I'm all team female. 

That’s really very important at this time, with the amazing movements going on.  

Oh my goodness, absolutely. What better time? And honestly supporting women never goes out of style.  

What is your plan? Are you working on a solo album or just focusing on collaborations? Where do you see yourself going? 

I’m definitely working on a ton of features, I’m excited actually. I have a few things planned that I can’t speak about but of all the things in the works, I’m very excited about writing and looking forward to being in the studio, just figuring out who I am and hearing a sound and just being fearless in the studio and not being scared to try anything because without doing that, you’ll never know.

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