Welcome to Generation Normani

Welcome to Generation Normani

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Welcome to Generation Normani

With off-the-charts talent, the Fifth Harmony breakout has sealed her pop MVP status. Here she reflects on her star-powered ascendance and her soon-to-drop debut LP.

With off-the-charts talent, the Fifth Harmony breakout has sealed her pop MVP status. Here she reflects on her star-powered ascendance and her soon-to-drop debut LP.

Photography: Carin Backoff

Styling: Patti Wilson

Text: Lynette Nylander

When a music video is good—like, really good—it has the power to alter the zeitgeist. But with labels’ shrinking budgets and the lengthening of pre-roll ads, recording artists face intense pressures. So it’s all the more impressive when a music video today becomes a smash hit—as Normani’s “Motivation” indisputably did earlier this year. Besides conjuring the glory days of music videos with its conversation-starting visuals (from the singer’s butting of a rogue basketball with her hips to her twerking while hanging from a chain-link fence), “Motivation” represents a rallying cry, declaring Normani as pop’s new MVP.

Yet, the 23-year-old is no rookie. Here’s her backstory: In 2012 after auditioning to appear as a solo artist on the U.S. version of talent competition show The X Factor, Normani was instead assigned to perform with four other singing hopefuls: Ally Brooke, Lauren Jauregui, Dinah Jane, and Camila Cabello. This was the genesis of Fifth Harmony, which soon became one of the biggest-selling female groups of the 2000s. But Cabello’s departure in late 2016 augured internal disharmony. And in 2018, while the suddenly misnomered foursome went on an indefinite hiatus, Normani snagged a solo record deal and recorded a pair of number-one hits: “Love Lies” with Khalid and “Dancing with a Stranger” with Sam Smith.

Then came August’s release of the video for the Max Martin–engineered “Motivation,” on which Normani showcases herself as the voice and body of a generation. With her all-consuming moves and references to the seminal videos of Britney, Beyoncé, and Aaliyah, it is an homage to the artists and influences that have shaped Generation Normani, presenting its star as their bootylicious leader. If the Twitter-sphere wasn’t ready, Normani certainly was. “This is why I put videos out like ‘Motivation,’” she says. “To the rest of the world it’s like, Oh my gosh, where has she been? What is this? For me, this is what I knew I’ve had within myself for such a long time. I have just been bottling it up, and I’m so eager to share it with the rest of the world. God, like, saved me until he knew that the moment was right—which is now!”

If Normani’s trajectory toward solo stardom has been somewhat indirect, then the release of “Motivation” marked a full-bodied triumph. “Before I was scratching the surface. I feel like [‘Motivation’] was the perfect opportunity to reintroduce myself.” The public agreed, judging by the frenzied glee in response to the video. But Normani’s struggle to make it began long before she joined Fifth Harmony. Born Normani Kordei Hamilton to a flight attendant mother and union director father, she grew up in the American South. When she was a toddler, her family moved from Atlanta to New Orleans, where she came under the wing of her grandmother, who shuttled her to dance class starting at age three. “My grandmother actually still lives with [me]. She played a really huge role in my life—from making my favorite oatmeal to taking me to dance,” Normani says.

In 2005 as Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on their adopted city, Normani and her family fled to Houston. “It was such a devastating turn; I don’t think I could really grasp it because I was young,” she recalls. “I was being taken away from my home and from everything that I knew: my school, my dance classes, my friends. I had really great relationships with everyone that I knew down there.”

But amid the tragedy, music was always part of her family circle. Her grandmother and father were avid singers and Normani reminisces today about being in the back seat of the family car, with the tunes of Ashanti, Destiny’s Child, and Toni Braxton blasting. She recorded her first single, a gospel track, at age 13.

This year she also performed “Bad to You” on the soundtrack for the new Charlie’s Angels movie, along with Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande. (The latter is a close friend and served as a co-writer of “Motivation.”) “When Ariana asked me to be on it, I was like, ‘duh!’” Normani says, laughing. “It is definitely a female anthem and there is a lot of estrogen on the record.”

Normani’s debut LP is slated for an early 2020 release, and if this fall has witnessed Normani’s unveiling as pop machine 2.0, the album promises to be Normani uncovered. “I am definitely going to be prioritizing real-life experiences and making sure it’s my truth—me as a woman, right now,” she emphasizes. It “will finally [allow] people. . .to get to know the real me, the real Normani.”

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