December 4, 2015


Why Fifth Harmony Was the Girl Group to Break Through in 2015

Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images
Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images

When One Direction and The Wanted began ushering in a new era of boy-band mania in 2011, many pop fans wondered if their female counterparts would find a similar resurgence of interest. It had been more than a half-decade since the Pussycat Dolls and Danity Kane broke through, and Destiny's Child, arguably the last girl group that people really cared about, had more or less called it quits years ago. A few potential breakouts popped up (Cimorelli, Wonder Girls, The Saturdays) and attempted to fill the void, but ultimately Fifth Harmony was the troupe to finally break through, mostly thanks to its radio hit "Worth It" this year. However, what can't be discounted is the group's unshakable commitment to its unique brand of girl power, which translates across the group and through its members' individual personalities.

While Fifth Harmony didn't win Season 2 of The X Factor, the quintet—Ally, Camila, Normani, Lauren and Dinah Jane—had already created an extremely passionate fanbase, the Harmonizers, by the time they bowed out as finalists. That following helped them earn a recording contact with Simon Cowell's Syco Music (home to groups like 1D and Little Mix) and Epic Records. 

In the summer of 2013, Fifth Harmony released their first official single. "Miss Movin' On" was a Kelly Clarkson-esque power-pop jam with with big vocals and, most importantly, a feminist edge that would act as an important selling point. Most girl groups emphasize female friendship, but few have been so explicit in underlining their feminine agency.

From their mildly received Better Together EP to minor hit singles with "Bo$$" (which peaked at No. 43 on the Hot 100 chart) and "Sledgehammer" (No. 40), Fifth Harmony never stopped pushing that brand of sugary pop and female empowerment, while also showcasing their unique personas. They were strong as a group, but were also five badass individuals. There was no sexy revamp or genre-hopping as they approached their debut album release; instead the group took advantage of every opportunity that fit into their brand. 

They toured non-stop, including opening slots on tours with outspoken Brit Cher Lloyd and the first leg of Demi Lovato's female-only Neon Lights tour, and teamed up with important organizations like Girl Scouts and Barbie. Meanwhile, the girls continued to have big presences on social media, with each lady boasting more than one million followers on Twitter.

After multiple delays, Fifth Harmony's full-length Reflection album was released last January and debuted in the Top 5 of the Billboard 200 chart. But the group's actual breakout moment came months later, when the LP's third single "Worth It" became inescapable. The song's success felt like the perfect culmination of 5H's sonic stylings: It had a beat that slightly recalled Jason Derulo's massive "Talk Dirty," but the girls weren't singing sexy come-hithers. Instead, they were once again flaunting their power and (literally) expressing their self-worth. 

The music video further pushed this narrative, as we saw the group stray from coordinating outfits. From Camila's suit ensemble to Dinah Jane's hip-hugging dress, each girl got a chance to show off her own style among a slew of male-dominating scenes.

The biggest challenge for a pop act is having a personality to pair with a hit single. According to Billboard's Song of the Summer chart, OMI, Walk the Moon and Rachel Platten all had bigger hits than "Worth It," but it's clear that their respective chart successes didn't carry the arresting personality of Fifth Harmony's arrival. And the best part is that, no matter when you got into Fifth Harmony, the image that they present is undoubtedly complete. The group has already said its upcoming sophomore album will talk about similar topics of Reflection and, as long as they stick to their style, there's no reason they can't take their music to new heights.