[Music] The Rise of Fifth Harmony

Fifth Harmony

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A few days ago, I received this text from a friend commenting on how much he really enjoys Fifth Harmony‘s latest single, “Worth It.” A little late to the party…but better late than never, I suppose. I have been trying to tell people how amazingly underrated Fifth Harmony are since I watched them flourish on The X Factor back in 2012 and got to watch them perform for free last summer at my local county fair. So it got me thinking, how many people have not even heard of Fifth Harmony? How many people have written them off as “just another pop act?” How many people are consciously aware that Fifth Harmony may be around for a lot longer than they think?

It’s rare these days for musical acts that get their breaks on reality competition shows to actually make a name for themselves in the music industry. Case-in-point: Can the average Joe name any winner of any season of The Voice besides Cassadee Pope? How about any winner of American Idol since Jordin Sparks? And this is just about solo singers. Throw an extra four members into the mix, and now you have five individuals with five distinct personalities, styles, and voices attempting to mesh together as a group in order to achieve their shared dream of stardom. Seems tough, but not impossible. Enter: girl group Fifth Harmony.

Formed in fall of 2012 on season two of the now-defunct U.S. version of Simon Cowell’s The X Factor, Fifth Harmony became underdogs in a solo-singer dominated top 12. Despite consistently delivering vocally pleasant performances, receiving generally favorable praise from the judges, and even throwing in a Spanglish cover of Shontelle‘s 2010 hit “Impossible” to appeal to a wider audience, Fifth Harmony seemed to struggle in finding traction with voters. However, an unsuspecting pitch-perfect and stylistically on-point performance of Ellie Goulding‘s “Anything Could Happen,” during the semi-finals suddenly seemed to propel Fifth Harmony from the background into the spotlight. And that’s a great way to describe Fifth Harmony’s career from that point forward: unsuspecting, from the background to the spotlight.

Comprised of members Ally Brooke Hernandez (22), Normani Hamilton (19), Lauren Jauregui (19), Camila Cabello (18), and Dinah Jane Hansen (18), Fifth Harmony has arguably become one of, if not the only, successful act to emerge from not only The X Factor, but also various other U.S. competition shows such as The Voice and recent seasons of American Idol. Despite finishing the competition in a very respectable third place, the group has gone on to sign with then-judge (and consistently harsh critic) L.A. Reid’s Epic Records and begun to steadily build a name for themselves in the music industry over the past two and a half years.

In similar fashion to their rise as a group on The X Factor, all of Fifth Harmony’s singles have consistently out peaked their predecessors on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The group’s post-X Factor debut single, “Miss Movin’ On,” was a typical radio-ready Top 40 pop track, and reached a peak of #76 in July 2013, helping to secure an impressive #6 debut on the Billboard 200 album chart for their debut EP, “Better Together,” released three months later.

After several release-date push backs, the group’s more mature, full-length debut album, “Reflection,” was released to favorable reviews in January 2015. With the exception of “Miss Movin’ On,” which is certified Gold, all of Fifth Harmony’s singles released thus far in the U.S. have been certified Platinum (1M+ copies sold). In addition, when newest single “Worth It” (featuring Kid Ink) hit a new peak of #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 at the end of June, it earned the girls the honor of becoming the first girl group to chart a Top 20 single on the Hot 100 since The Pussycat Dolls did it with “Jai Ho!” back in 2009.

And that’s not all. Since “Worth It” contains a Hip-Hop crossover appeal in the form of an aforementioned guest rap from Kid Ink, a trumpet instrumental, hitting baseline, and a chantable chorus, the song is still gaining airplay on radio stations. The track has also earned the group several nominations at the upcoming Teen Choice Awards, including “Choice Song,” which they walked away with in 2014 for “Bo$$.” In addition, the girls are scheduled to perform a 3-song set on The Today Show next week, and then hit the road again for the second leg of their ‘Reflection Tour’ later this summer, which could ideally help the track chart within the Top 10.

This may seem like a whirlwind of accomplishment in less than three years; however, by music industry time, three years is an excessively long span to devote to breaking a new artist – particularly a girl group – during a time when traditional album sales have plummeted and boy bands are the new norm. So how has all of this success been possible?

A majority of Fifth Harmony’s success can be attributed to their fans, known affectionately as Harmonizers. It was these same fans who watched the group form, compete, and grow during their time on The X Factor, and then followed them from the day they signed their record deal to the day their debut album dropped. A vast majority of the promotion Fifth Harmony received on social media comes not from their record label or the girls themselves, but from the Harmonizers. Fifth Harmony-related hashtags trend on Twitter multiple times per week, and a handful of the nominations Fifth Harmony has received thus far in their career have been due to fan demand, fan voting, and for the fan base being generally devoted to these five girls. The proof? No less than five of Fifth Harmony’s roughly 30 documented award nominations have been nominations attributed solely to their fanbase (i.e. “Fiercest Fans,” “Fandom Army of the Year,” etc.)

That is not to discredit the efforts of the girls themselves. Ally, Normani, Lauren, Camila, and Dinah Jane have all carved out their own followings across their individual social media platforms, as fans have connected with each girl on a uniquely personal level. The bulk of Harmonizers are teenagers, around the same ages as the girls themselves, which brings a sense of normalcy to the fandom. All the members have over 1 million followers on Twitter, and each girl brings her own perspective and pictures to her respective social media pages, which allows fans the chance to see the girls separately rather than collectively – a key factor in establishing a musical group. If fans cannot see the members on a personal level, learn about them as individuals, and connect with their commonalities, it becomes even harder for them to buy into the idea of them in a group. Translation: fans=sales=success.

Ironically, one huge factor that cannot be attributed to Fifth Harmony’s success is their record label. For those who do not keep track of music industry politics, I will keep it simple: Epic Records has a track record for serially-delayed albums, little-to-no promotional pushes for their artists, and dropping artists who underperform, even though it is often attributed to the label not being fully supportive. High profile examples of Epic Records’ failures include: Karmin, who built off their YouTube fame and scored a Top 20 hit with “Brokenhearted” in 2012, but were dropped in 2014 after they became dissatisfied with their relationship with Epic and their debut album “Pulses” hit a disappointing #32 on the album chart; Ciara, whose latest studio effort barely scraped 25,000 opening week, earning her the lowest first-week sales of her entire six-album career; Jennifer Lopez, who realized Epic was killing her career and jumped ship in 2010, leading to her career resurgence; Nicole Scherzinger, who, despite releasing two albums in the U.K., has yet to release any material in the States since 2011; Avril Lavigne, who, despite actively releasing new material, often funds her own music videos and receives little promotion during album cycles; and let’s all pay respects to Cher Lloyd, Sean Kingston, and Chris Rene, who all had their pop careers tragically cut short by Epic. The list goes on. Keep in mind that these are mostly established artists. Epic currently has around a dozen new artists signed to its label that have yet to release any major material to begin building a name for themselves. In conjunction with Meghan Trainor (who, by no coincidence, guests on “Reflection” on the track “Brave, Honest, Beautiful”), Fifth Harmony is currently carrying the label financially.

With Epic finally realizing the gem in their midst with Fifth Harmony, there seems to be nothing in the girls’ path to wider success except themselves. Harmonizers are constantly in arms over how the girls are styled, managed, marketed, and promoted (or lack thereof) by Epic Records. Many critics and music industry experts do not see Fifth Harmony as a group with longevity due to their formation on a talent show. Their music has been targeted as manufactured, with emphasis placed on the fact that not one of the girls contributed writing credits to their debut album as they all did with their EP. Despite keeping relatively low public profiles, some of the group members have been called out by the media for insensitive and/or inappropriate comments made on social media. And, most recently, the group was heavily dragged over social media – largely by their own fans – for their hyped and then abruptly cancelled performance of “Worth It” at the Billboard Music Awards in May.

However, with rival girl group Little Mix seemingly focused on their native U.K., the recent breakup of the Dr. Luke-helmed G.R.L., and seemingly no imminent reunion of The Pussycat Dolls, if these five girls can figure out how to further polish their image, sound, and mass appeal, it really is Fifth Harmony’s game to lose.

Personally, I am looking forward to seeing how they progress when their sophomore album comes to fruition, hopefully by this time next year. Until then, you can get your hands on more Fifth Harmony music by downloading their new track “I’m In Love With A Monster,” featuring on the Hotel Transylvania 2 soundtrack, when it drops this September.