ALBUM REVIEW | Fifth Harmony “Reflection”
Well, it’s been a long time coming!
It will have taken two years, an artwork change and two push-backs, but Fifth Harmony‘s debut album, Reflection, is (finally!!) streaming on iTunes, and I couldn’t be happier!
Now before we go into details, I’ve got to say I’ve been a huge supporter of the five girls —Lauren Jauregui, Dinah Jane Hansen, Normani Kordei Hamilton, Ally Brooke Hernandez and Camila Cabello— since they were put together into a girl group by Demi Lovato, Simon Cowell, Britney Spears and LA Reid on The X Factor USA three years ago. As a long-time fan, I saw them not only grow closer, but also harmonize better and evolve together throughout the years.
And though this happens to be the 5 girls’ very first album, it is definitively not the first time we hear from them! Indeed, throughout the past two years, the girls released 5 versions of their first EP Better Together (in English, English Acoustic , Spanish, Spanish Acoustic & Remix) and went on tour with big names of the industry (Demi Lovato, Cher Lloyd, Austin Mahone) in addition to their own couple of small headlining tours (Harmonize America Mall Tour, Worst Kept Secret Tour, 5th Times a Charm Tour).
But I can already tell you that 2015 is going to be these girls’ year!
Because though we’re not even a month into the new year, the girls have indeed already announced their first major headlining tour across North America! But before heading on tour, everything the girls have worked for had to go through a final test: the iTunes streaming of their upcoming album, out February 3rd. The girls had already released 4 singles prior to the streaming: their now infamous anthem to First Lady Michelle Obama “BO$$,” but also “Them Girls Be Like,” “Sledgehammer,” and “Worth It” (feat. Kid Ink).
And though these 4 songs, along with “We Know,” “Reflection,” and “Going Nowhere” (that some lucky fans had gotten to hear live during their latest tour) had received quite a good feedback from the public, there were still another 7 songs that fans had yet to discover. However, those first 7 songs had already given people quite a good idea of what the album would sound like (aka nothing like their friendly-pop EP). Long gone is the group of young impressionable 15 to 19 year-old girls. The 5 girls —now aged 18 to 21— have matured and they are now ready to fight and to show the world what their actual music style is in an album dealing with trust, self-confidence and empowerment.
And this change of vibe is effective from the very first track of the album, “Top Down.” Through fun and catchy lyrics, the girls introduce their new sound, that’s been partially influenced by the amount of time the 4 non-California natives of the group (Ally & Normani being from Texas, Lauren & Camila from Miami, FL) have been spending in the “electric city” that is Los Angeles, CA. The upbeat song is a good introduction to Reflection in the way that it highlights the major theme of the album: girl empowerment.
The same theme is basically embodied in the track that follows; “BO$$,” the very first single the girls released for their album. It was a very good choice for a first single for it’s sassy, catchy, and very radio friendly. It makes you want to get up and dance all the while praising Michelle Obama and encouraging young women to find confidence and showcase it the way the First Lady does. And if you want to do just that, you may as well go check the dance tutorial their own choreographer put on Youtube. 😉
Next up is the girls’ latest single, “Sledgehammer,” that peaked at number 3 on iTunes, becoming the group’s highest peak on the iTunes chart. Written by the “All About That Bass” singer Meghan Trainor, the single soon became a synth-pop anthem about the thrill that you feel when your crush is around. The song’s strong radio appeal had the girls being asked to perform their single on Good Morning America and even at the 2014 MTV Europe Music Awards.
Though the next song “Worth It,” featuring Los Angeles rapper Kid Ink, is not in my Top 5 favourites production wise, I can understand why it became some people’s jam. The saxophone in the beginning gives the song a very Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty”-esque beat, the kind of beat that gets overplayed on radio, with a chorus that’s pretty repetitive and easy to remember. What lowered it down in my favourite list is the fact that the song lacks what Fifth Harmony has been growing really good at, the harmony. I was really hopeful when I heard Dinah Jane kicking off the song, knowing that the 5 girls usually share the verses. But soon enough, the vocal focus went back to Camila, thus shadowing the other girls which really is a shame because there’s a special rasp in each of their voices that deserves to be showcased.
The following track, “This Is How We Roll,” is an electro-pop track. Yup, you read that right, an electro-pop track. Now, I was septic too when I heard the first electro notes, for this was a genre that the girls had never tried before, not even during their X Factor days. And yet, the 5 girls handled the catchy tunes like pros thanks to their producers, pop hit-makers Dr. Luke and Cirkut.
Now, shall we talk about the songs that did make it into my Top 3 favourites? Because, don’t get me wrong, the others are really good too, but you guys know I have a soft spot for love songs and the next track is exactly that. “Everlasting Love” was one of the new songs I was the most impatient about, especially since I had heard the snippet Dinah Jane had posted on Snapchat the day the girls released the tracklist. Let me tell you one thing, it was totally worth the wait! There are basically three main things that this mid-tempo track highlights: 1) Remember that “each girls get one solo” thing I told you about? Well, this song is a perfect example of that. 2) That new R&B vibe totally suits all of the girls and 2) Dinah’s vocals are, as she would say, “on point,” the youngest of the group sounds amazing in the chorus!
Sampling a song is always a risk. And when this song happens to be Mariah Carey’s 1995 Grammy-nominated “Always Be My Baby,” there’s a even bigger risk. But that’s the challenge that the Fifth Harmony girls aimed for in their track “Like Mariah” and they killed it, if I may say so myself. The one mistake people could have expected the girls to do was to pull out some very Mariah-esque vocals, but they didn’t, staying true to their own voices instead and thus giving the track its originality. The girls pay respect to one of their idols in a very nice way, Mimi even being mentioned in both the chorus (“When you touch my body, go me singin’ like Mariah”) and Tyga’s retro verse. The end-result is a pretty solid track with a very addicting urban-pop vibe.
The next track “Them Girls Be Like” is a fun one, though not everyone’s favourite at the first listen. Now if you look at the audio of the song on Youtube, the average comment seems to be “wow what happened to their music? it sucks” or even “they swear, I’m so disappointed” or a bunch of other things like that that will make you want to roll your eyes so hard cause really, it’s like one swear word that you can’t even really hear cause it’s faded (and it’s not even the worst of them).. So yeah, go ahead and shake your head and roll your eyes at those comments, I know I did. The thing with music lately is that listeners focus more of the beat that the meaning. There’s one massive satire in that song, though the lyrics may look superficial at first. Through typical clichés, the girls ridicule this new generation of teens that feel the need to “post a selfie every night [and] get at least a hundred likes” just to feel good about themselves. Girls, listen to 5H and don’t rely on social medias to define your beauty!
Next up is the title track “Reflection”. I had heard the song before through concert footage of the girls, and having seriously jammed to it, I was more than excited to hear the finished product. This song is basically an anthem for self-confidence and girl empowerment though you wouldn’t believe it at the beginning of the lyrics. The song begins with Dinah and Camila apparently complimenting a guy on his Vine and selfie game, telling him he “don’t need no filters on pictures before [he] post ‘em on the gram.” And then you think, way to boost a guy’s ego, right? But then, Normani comes in for the chorus and breaks the news to the guy, telling him “Boy, I ain’t talkin’ about you, I’m talking to my own reflection”. Ouch, here goes the guy’s ego. You can clearly tell why the girls chose this song to name their album after.
“Suga Mama” is the second out of the three songs on the album that were co-written by Meghan Trainor, and you can definitively hear her influence in the bouncy track. The feisty girls sing with attitude, sharing that they’re not afraid to put their foot down in a relationship if something goes wrong. You tell ’em, ladies!
Take the acoustic version of “We Know,” then take the studio one and compare the two. Hear the difference? Yup, me neither. The final track of the standard edition of Reflection has a very minimal production which allows the girls’ voices to be showcased even more than on the rest of the album. And though the song is just as full of sassy lyrics as the other ones, with the girls calling out a player this time, the slow beat evens the balance and gives the group’s first full length album a perfect ending.
Now, I don’t really wanna spoil the three bonus tracks for you, but I’m still going to say a few words on them. “Going Nowhere” has the girls at their sassiest in a track that will want to make you dance, “Body Rock” is unexpected, and yet pretty solid and “Brave Honest, Beautiful,” that is the last Meghan Trainor co-written track and that actually features the singer, is actually at the very top of my Favourite List, so that says something.
So basically, this album was way worth the wait. Long gone are the bubblegum pop days. The girls have obviously matured in the last two years, and they did all they could to make sure that their sound matured with them. And it did. The theme of the album is pretty consistent, and so is the R&B vibe. And yet, the fact that each of the songs were produced by different producers allows the five girls to explore a wider genre of music all the while keeping only one direction with their album. Though the collaborations don’t bring much to the album, they give the group more reliability and possibly more airplay. Each song brings out one of the five girls’ killer vocals, and I cannot wait for you to pick up your copies on February 3rd to find out which song belongs to who!