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Normani says she still faces the same challenges she did in Fifth Harmony

Normani opens up to TODAY about her upcoming debut solo album, her new song, "Fair," and her life after Fifth Harmony.
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon - Season 6
Normani performs on "The Tonight Show."Andrew Lipovsky / NBC

Normani has paved her own way in the music industry. After blowing away the judges with her own rendition of Aretha Franklin's "Chain Of Fools" on season two of "The X Factor" in 2012, the singer was plucked from the competition with four other girls to be a part of Fifth Harmony. She didn't know it then, but the girl group would go on to win four MTV Video Music Awards, including one for best artist to watch.

"I've honestly been very fortunate," Normani told TODAY about her success.

By lending her mezzo-soprano voice to the group, Normani helped Fifth Harmony, aka 5H, become a multiplatinum-selling group by releasing one hit right after the other.

Z100's Jingle Ball 2016 - Show
Fifth Harmony performs onstage during Z100's Jingle Ball 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.Dipasupil / FilmMagic

Although the band was taking over the airwaves, fans didn't know how long they would be putting out music together. Like many girl groups before them, one person was destined to go solo, and in 2016, Normani's bandmate Camila Cabello decided to leave the group four years after they formed.

Cabello was achieving massive success in the music industry with hits like "Havana" and "Señorita," and Normani wasn't that far behind.

In 2018, she rebranded herself as a solo artist and teamed up with Khalid to release their catchy tune "Love Lies" before she dropped 2019's "Dancing With a Stranger" with Sam Smith.

According to Normani's official website, the song reached quadruple-platinum status, and it was the perfect segue to her first solo single, "Motivation." The music video paid homage to 28-time Grammy winner Beyoncé.

Normani dances in the music video for her debut solo song, "Motivation."
Normani dances in the music video for her debut solo song, "Motivation."Normani / YouTube

"I would love to just have my records mean something to the world and connect with as many people as I can," she said about her music.

Following its release, she teamed up with Cardi B and dropped their 2021 smash "Wild Side," which hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream R&B/Hip Hop Airplay Chart.

Now, Normani is back for another hit, but this time it's way more somber and vulnerable than the pop tracks that she's been known for.

Normani's new song, "Fair," is all about heartbreak and she says that the emotional track was inspired by her own personal experience with love.

"When you go through heartbreak and adversity that often creates the best record," she told TODAY. "And for me, this was really just an opportunity to showcase my vulnerability. I think that I've never really been comfortable with being vulnerable in front of people. So for me, this was really a breakthrough and really just shattering the idea of perfection."

Normani poses for a black-and-white photo in a sexy gown that features her toned midsection.
Normani poses for a black-and-white photo in a sexy gown that features her toned midsection.Blair Caldwell

As a solo artist, Normani notes that the challenges she faces in the music industry aren't that very different from the ones she had in Fifth Harmony, where she was the only "Black woman in a very pop group."

"Being the only Black girl, I think that our experience, if I'm just being quite transparent is fairly different," she said. "Our adversities, our journey is significantly, significantly different. But I step up to the plate. I try to be the best that I can possibly be and that's pretty much all I can do."

As a woman of color growing up, Normani said she always felt "overlooked" by everyone else, so in order to feel seen, "even for a second," she would "constantly strive for this idea of perfection." When she made "Fair," she realized that it was a way for her to have a "breakthrough" in her own "personal growth."

"I wanted that to reflect on my music," Normani said.

I step up to the plate. I try to be the best that I can possibly be and that's pretty much all I can do.

And she wrote the piece from a place of sadness.

"My heart was broke and I was going through it and it’s crazy because this taught me to just really trust the process," she said. "I wanted to go in and create like this uptempo record and we ended up with 'Fair,' which couldn’t be any more different."

Normani's solo music career has definitely shown her fans a different side of her than they've ever seen before. After Fifth Harmony, she's been experimenting more with R&B, but she hasn't strayed away from the upbeat party tracks that we know and love her for.

That's why Normani's upcoming debut solo album will be a "hybrid" project that's inspired by a few of her favorite '90s musicians.

“I do love pop music, but I also grew up listening to, like, Brandy, Monica, Toni Braxton and Destiny’s Child, so it has those influences for sure," Normani said.

"But I try not to focus so much on genre either," the "Waves" singer, who grew up in New Orleans before moving to Texas, added. "I think that's one thing that in the beginning of the process was limiting to me creatively because I'm like, 'OK, is this pop enough? Is this urban enough?' Like, I was really, really putting myself through it and not enjoying and just making good a-- music, which for me is the most important."

Normani has been teasing her album for a couple of years now and she doesn't plan on releasing it until she's ready.

"Everybody says, 'Oh, well, she should've dropped her album during 'Motivation,' which to everybody from an outside perspective seemed like the perfect time, but for me, I was just coming out of the group and I needed to figure out what I wanted my sound to sound like," she said.

I was just coming out of (Fifth Harmony) and I needed to figure out what I wanted my sound to sound like.

"I needed to figure out what I wanted to talk about and what was important to me," Normani continued. "And I've had the time to do that. So this will really be an introduction to who I really am."

As a multiplatinum chart-topping singer, Normani says her album is going to showcase her vocal abilities like never before. "From track one to track 14," people will hear how much she's evolved through the years and they'll see what happens when she has full creative control over her work.

In the past, Normani has talked about not being able to sing in Fifth Harmony. But now that she's calling all the shots, she can't wait for fans to see what she's got.

"What I learned is production is really, really important to me, and I'm able to wear so many more hats than I ever gave myself credit for before," she said. "I've learned so much about just trusting myself throughout the process and I think that people will be able to hear the growth in that."

Normani's album is one of the best-kept secrets in the music industry and she plans on keeping it that way until she's ready for it to be released. However, a Normani and Doja Cat collaboration might not be that far off. The “Diamonds” singer told TODAY that she would like to work with Doja Cat one day.

“I’m a fan of hers,” she said.

In early March, Normani presented Doja with the Powerhouse Award at 2022 Billboard Women in Music.

Billboard Women in Music 2022 - Show
Normani (L) presents the Powerhouse Award to honoree Doja Cat onstage during Billboard Women in Music 2022. Emma McIntyre / Getty Images for Billboard

A few weeks later, Doja won her first Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for her 2021 song "Kiss Me More" ft. SZA at the 2022 Grammys and Normani was so proud of her.

"It's so funny like, years ago I had this list of like people that I really really believe in and people that I just think are f------ dope because I don't fangirl I don't really get excited. It takes a lot for me to get excited and especially about someone," she said.

"So the fact that I'm like such a fan of hers means it says a lot about what she does, and her artistry, and her work ethic and her attention to detail, which is also how I operate," Normani continued. "So I just really appreciate it when I see it because I know hard work when I see it and congratulations to her she just won her first Grammy, which is well deserved."

Other than working with Doja Cat, the songwriter strives to be a better version of herself. She's currently working with Frito-Lay's Cracker Jack brand to celebrate women in sports.

After 125 years of Cracker Jack being the go-to snack for fans at baseball games, the brand is now changing things up by adding Cracker Jill, their newest mascot to its roster.

Normani collaborates with Frito-lay to record a reimagined version of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," in honor of Cracker Jack's new special-edition "Cracker Jill" bags.
Normani collaborates with Frito-lay to record a reimagined version of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," in honor of Cracker Jack's new special-edition "Cracker Jill" bags.Cracker Jill / Frito-Lay North America

To celebrate its "Cracker Jill" special edition bags, Normani has sung a reimagined version of the ballpark classic “Take Me Out to the Ballgame" — and it's already picking up steam on YouTube.

"'Cracker Jill' stands for everything that I stand for and represent," she said. "Being a little black girl, I feel like 'Cracker Jill' would have meant a lot to me, especially because representation is so key."

That's why Normani likes to use her "God-given abilities" to be “that representation that little Black girls in the future need in order to achieve their wildest dreams.”

If anything, the "Worth It" singer's work with Frito-Lay has shown just how far she's come as an artist. Sometimes, Normani would look at her old videos on YouTube to remind herself that she's grateful for everything she has.

"I always dreamed that this will be my reality and I think a part of me was afraid because like I said, I'm so used to not being seen like I was almost afraid of being too seen," she said. "But I've really accomplished a lot more than I thought that I wouldn't be able to so I'm proud."