December 20, 2016


Can Fifth Harmony Survive Without Camila Cabello?

Getty Images
Getty Images

There’s a moment in Fifth Harmony’s career when everything changed—not for the group’s members so much as for the fans. It was backstage at Taylor Swift’s 1989 Tour in August 2015, when Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes sat down for a quick jam sesh. That 30-minute hangout spiraled into their breakout hit, “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” which eventually gave the Fifth Harmony member her first solo hit and sparked speculation from fans, who wondered if Cabello was prioritizing her own music before her group’s. Some wondered if she was prepping her exit from 5H altogether. The solo project also didn’t seem to fare well with the other four members—Dinah Jane Hansen, Lauren Jauregui, Ally Brooke Hernandez and Normani Kordei—as press runs together got more tense and they started telling interviewers about the inevitable demise of the group. 

On Monday, just over a year after “I Know What You Did Last Summer” was released, Fifth Harmony announced that Cabello was leaving the band, which formed on X Factor in 2012. Since her first song with Mendes, she released her second solo endeavor, “Bad Things” with Machine Gun Kelly. Camila Cabello seems ripe for solo success.

So what happens to Fifth Harmony? The remaining members wrote in statement that they plan to continue as a foursome, with a third album on the horizon. But how do you present yourself as a reinvented entity?  We went to a couple music industry experts (who also happen to be Fifth Harmony fans) for answers.

Hollywire founder Chelsea Briggs, who estimates that she’s interviewed the band more than 30 times, remembers the moment when “I Know What You Did Last Summer” hit airwaves and the future of Fifth Harmony went into question. “They were all scrambling a bit,” Briggs said. “I know that feeling. It’s like when you’re working at a company and suddenly someone quits and gets a new job, and you’re like, ‘Oh shit,’ and check yourself.”

After that, Dinah had signed with a manager and was seen in the studio, Normani continued to release covers on her YouTube channel and most recently, Lauren surprised fans with her Marian Hill collaboration, “Back to Me.” Now, with Camila officially out, it’s likely that the rest of Fifth Harmony will pursue solo careers as well.

Chris Deville, who writes the Week in Pop column for Stereogum, debated the options of breaking out right away, or sticking around to make the third LP.

“I think the more they can do to get their individual names out there, while Fifth Harmony is still a going concern, the better,” Deville said.”It’s hard to say what’s the best move because, on one hand, if they release an album with Fifth Harmony, they could each get a spotlight song and help them to launch solo careers a little bit more effectively. On the other hand, the sooner they go solo, the sooner they could reunite and reap the benefits of that.”

But Fifth Harmony shouldn’t be gunning for solo fame just yet. Jason Lipshutz, music editor at Billboard, thinks that a project as a quartet could benefit them. After all, fewer people, more opportunity, right?

“Going from each member having 20 percent to each member having 25 percent, each member is going to be amplified a little bit more,” Lipshutz suggested about their new music. However, Lipshutz is still baffled why their personalities couldn’t shine individually without losing Cabello. To him, all five of them should’ve released solo projects, while staying in the group. “I think that that model could have worked, especially because it seemed like Epic [Records] and management and everybody involved with the group seemed OK with the members doing solo things.”

With the reality of Fourth Harmony (or H4RMONY, or however the band might rebrand themselves) looming, we’re left wondering what a third album would even sound like. Cabello has been pinpointed for her perfect-for-pop voice and was set apart as the group’s anchor back in their X Factor days, when panelist Demi Lovato pointed at Cabello and told Lauren, Dinah, Ally and Normani, “I think you guys should all learn something from her." Without the pop voice, there’s opportunity for a different musical influence to bubble through Cabello’s empty spot and wash over the group entirely.

“Lauren, you saw with the release of [‘Back to Me’], it’s very different. Vibey,” Briggs said, breaking down the members’ individual styles. “Dinah and Normani like more R&B. Dinah has a bit more hip-hop in her. Ally is like church music. Maybe we’ll see more of those flavors come out a little. With the last album, we saw a bit of hip-hop. We saw featured rappers. They had a little reggae vibe to it. Maybe with this next one. Maybe it’ll be indie, electronic. I don’t know.”

With a more experimental sound, though, comes the risk of losing a mainstream audience, which Fifth Harmony has spent the last year building. Their second album, 7/27, was certified gold by the RIAA, and it hit No. 4 on the albums chart in the U.S. (taking the No. 1 spot in countries like Spain and Brazil). “Work From Home” became the group’s biggest hit, following up 2015’s “Worth It.” After the band found their sound in the past two years, it might be a mistake to switch anything up now.

“Their future is, I wouldn’t say it’s as bright as they were planning, in their letter to fans,” Deville said. “It’s hard for me to imagine them going beyond one more album, just because the history of this kind of thing. I mean, NSYNC didn’t even try to carry on without Timberlake. You had no Destiny’s Child without Beyoncé. Based on the fact that One Direction continued to operate without Zayn, it helps you to see why Fifth Harmony thinks they have a chance to keep going.”

The struggle for the remaining members of Fifth Harmony will be finding who they are and what they want to say to their listeners. And perhaps that means defining themselves as individuals, rather than as a whole.

“I think it’s tough because it’s deflating for the rest of the members,” Lipshutz said. “They start thinking about, ‘OK I gotta start thinking about myself as well.’ It’s just tough. You’re stepping out into the world with an incomplete lineup.”

While Fifth Harmony may be up in the air, Ally, Lauren, Normani and Dinah may never be complete as a group. And that means they have to lift their individual voices higher, instead of coming together as harmonies.

Watch a throwback interview with Fifth Harmony in the Fuse studios below: