Normani, babygirl, what is you doin’?

Signed with RCA Records, former Fifth Harmony multihyphenate Normani has enough star power to blow today’s one-dimensional pop newcomers right out of the water. The problem: she has very little music to prove it. #FreeNormani (lol)

Normani.

Sometime last month I tweeted a backhanded joke, chiding that her recent presence on social media aligned more with that of an influencer than recording artist or “pop perfectionist…”

I’m being critical because I care about this young woman. I see parts of myself in her. My black girl intuition — more specifically my brown/dark black girl intuition — tells me we’ve survived numerous parallel experiences, and the sheer fact that we’re of a similar age and complexion is enough to back this inkling. Plus, Normani herself has spoken at length about her own black woman experience, particularly as it pertained to her isolating time in Fifth Harmony from 2012 onward.

L-R: SZA, Megan Thee Stallion and Normani for Rolling Stone.

“Normani is totally next level in a young Britney Spears sense: she’s a gifted vocalist and even better gymnast, the energetic essence of ’90s and Y2K vigor absent from today’s bracket of new pop artists.”

Over the last year or so, a lot of people have proposed that Normani is the next Beyoncé. I kindly call bullshit on this one. (Sure, my good sis is a magnificent performer, and could likely keep up just fine with any of Queen Bey’s dance breaks — but she doesn’t have the kind of awe-inspiring, inborn vocal ability that largely defines Beyoncé’s oeuvre.)

Normani’s “Motivation” music video.

“Rather eerily, this whole situation reminds me of Tinashe’s own rise and widely publicized fall with her label — which also just so happened to be RCA.”

Enter: my second little spiel about racism, a necessary part of this essay y’all should have known was coming. However, for lightheartedness’ sake, I’ll keep it short. Whether people want to admit it or not, anti-blackness well and alive in the music industry. And it greatly affects every black person navigating any genre space outside what is considered “urban,” a.k.a. hip-hop or R&B, a.k.a. black music — a.k.a. the sequestered space in which white folk would rather colored artists remain. Normani, a purported “pop perfectionist,” falls right into this line of fire.

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Sydney N. Sweeney

Sydney N. Sweeney is a writer, editor, and critic based in Los Angeles. Her work focuses on culture, music, identity, and pop nostalgia.