Normani Should Be A Superstar, So Why Is She Missing Her Moment?

Normani is ready to be the world’s next pop sensation -- if only she could get out of her own way.

Normani photo

During a performance of Fifth Harmony’s ‘Work From Home’ at the 2017 MTV VMAs, Normani defied gravity, dropping onto the floor into a split, mid-way through delivering her verse. It was astonishing; a superstar moment if there ever was one.

Before the dust had even settled following the news of Fifth Harmony’s indefinite hiatus in 2018, critics and fans began envisioning Normani’s solo career. Her head-turning choreography, intoxicating charisma, and velvety vocals earned her the title of “The Beyoncé of the Group.”

Following her exit from the band, anticipation surrounding Normani Kordei Hamilton’s first single as a solo performer was palpable. Released through RCA Records on February 14, 2018 ‘Love Lies’, a collaboration between Normani and burgeoning R&B star, Khalid achieved charting success.

Peaking at number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, ‘Love Lies’ made it on the Jack Antonoff-curated Love, Simon Soundtrack, and effectively succeeded. The woozy, pop-infused melody was accompanied by an exchange of maudlin whispery musings between Normani and Khalid. It was a moment, sure, but not the mind-blowing debut people had expected.

“‘Love Lies’ has me scared her new music is going to be boring,” Reddit user, sugarwish confessed. Members of Kordeination, a dedicated legion of stans who have supported the pop star since her days in Fifth Harmony, never waiver in their devotion.

“Honestly, I knew [she’d release] something along the lines of R&B,” Ariel, 20, told me when asked about the musical direction she hoped Normani would pursue. Running the @NormaniTUpdates Twitter account, Ariel is a loyal fan, armed and ready with screenshots and statistics of her idol’s achievements.

“She has the longest charting single on Billboard by a Black female lead artist with ‘Love Lies’ at 51 weeks,” Ariel impressively recites off the top of her head. “And is the first Black female lead to have multiple No. 1’s [on] pop radio since Rihanna in 2013.”

And she’s right. Normani’s releases have all been achieved commercial success — but they’ve so far failed to make any other impact.

The Danger Of Going Alone

Solo debuts from former band members often come with heavy expectations, from fans and critics alike. One Direction’s Zayn Malik released his first record, Mind of Mine, exactly a year after announcing he was leaving the band.

He broke records, debuted at number one in Australian, United States, United Kingdom and sold millions of copies around the world. Despite his incredible success, Malik was unable to continue his momentum. Refusing to tour, Malik publicly struggled with media attention, expectations and playing within the rules of the music industry. Fellow band member Harry Styles has since released his debut solo record to charting success but news of a sophomore release is lacking.

It’s easy to forget Camila Cabello’s debut single, ‘Crying in the Club’. Somewhere between a formulaic pop track and a grade six disco, the song flopped. Peaking at number 47 in the US, the dismal reception marked a swift refocus on Latin-influenced music thereafter, with the release of ‘Havana’.

An ode to her hometown, Camila’s effervescent and playful nature came out to play on the track featuring that year’s hottest hip-hop star, Young Thug. ‘Havana’ quickly surpassed ‘Crying In The Club’ as her debut record’s lead single, after hitting the number 1 spot on the Billboard 100.

While duets and collaborations have been central to Normani’s solo career, they’ve obscured her identity. Following her success with Khalid, Normani hopped on a remix of Jessie Reyez’s sexually charged ‘Body Count’ with Kehlani, and then a deep album cut on Quavo’s solo record, ‘Swing’, before following that up with a two-track EP with EDM super-producer Calvin Harris.

After a torrent of lukewarm collaborations, she teased a new release with 6LACK, ‘Waves’, and delivered this year’s most curious collaborations yet: ‘Dancing With A Stranger’, with Sam Smith. The track marks Normani’s seventh release as a solo artist — but she has yet to release a song without a shared credit.

Normani’s detractors are few and far between. It’s impossible to deny the talent she exudes, whether it be on stage or in the studio, but many fans are worried. In a thread titled, ‘Can we talk about Normani?’ on the Popheads subreddit, user RosaPalms wrote: “I worry that she hasn’t shown the personality that she’s going to need to have to not get lost in the flurry of influences and ideas,”

These collaborations often seem like odd pairings, detracting from Normani’s star power rather than magnifying it. Anna, 18, a long-time Harmonizer and now Normani stan admits, “I think she can do better than Sam Smith. Everyone hyped up their song on Twitter but it was disappointing.”

Slated to perform together at the Billboard Music Awards this year, Smith pulled out at the last minute, citing doctor’s orders. “Sam’s medical specialists are requiring him to have further rest,” he shared on Twitter. “Regrettably this means he will be unable to perform at the Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas.”

Forcing Normani to forfeit the performance, fans were upset, accusing Smith of using Normani’s rising star to his benefit. “It was inconsiderate of her time and hard work she had been putting in for weeks,” Ariel insisted. “Especially since she’s on a whole tour.”

Ready And Waiting

Despite a slew of collaborations, and even joining Ariana Grande on her Sweetener tour, Normani has been stuck in the shadows cast by the stars she’s surrounded herself with.

Known to answer “questions with the nimble diplomacy of a former pageant contestant” this is where Normani’s Beyoncé comparisons become about more than stage presence. From media trained answers to interview questions to a shortage of social media engagement and a controlled demeanour, the star’s lack of relatability is frustrating — and it’s only hindering her growth.

Normani is ready to be the world’s next pop sensation — if only she could get out of her own way.

Natalia, 19, co-runs the @NormaniUpdate Twitter account with nine others. With over 42.3k followers, it’s one of the most popular fan pages on Twitter, but even she admits that Normani’s internet presence leaves much to be desired. “Normani should be on top of her game [by] being active on every social platform,” Natalia admits. “Normani doesn’t use social media and its tools enough to her advantage, but hopefully that will soon change.”

Modern celebrity hinges on the virtue of relatability, whether manufactured or not and without honing that relationship with her audience, Normani is at risk of missing her moment. Already marred with a slew of unmemorable duets, everything that makes her an incredible star — her energetic choreography, exuberant vocals, and built-in fan base — is at risk if she doesn’t acquiesce to the times.

Normani is ready to be the world’s next pop sensation — if only she could get out of her own way.

Kish Lal is a writer and critic based in New York City. She is on Twitter