Ally Brooke Hernandez, Normani Kordei, Camila Cabello, Lauren Jauregui and Dinah Jane Hansen may not be household names in Australia just yet, but after their first ever album ‘Reflection’ debuted in the top 20 recently and their latest single ‘Sledgehammer’ popped its head into the ARIA top 100 over the weekend, it seems the girls – better known collectively as Fifth Harmony – are well on their way.
In Australia recently for a promotional visit in support of their debut, we spent some time pressing the flesh with the girls and discovered wide eyes, infectious personalities and boundless levels of energy.
And they begin by telling us the primary reason behind their first ever trip down under.
“The power of the internet,” Lauren hints.
“Yeah, we’ve met so many Harmonizers here that we knew their usernames from when we were back in the States,” Camila continues. “They’ve been supporting us for two years and we’ve finally met them. It’s crazy.”
Not only did the girls get to meet some of their most ardent Australian fans, they also had the opportunity to get out and about to experience some of our country’s natural wonders.
“It has been fantastic,” Ally admits. “We went to Sydney, we went to Bondi Beach, we went to the zoo, we got to see some koalas and kangaroos. We just tried to enjoy it all. There are so many beautiful people here, everyone’s so nice and chilled and our fans are incredible. Very, very, very sweet, so we love it!”
For the uninitiated, Fifth Harmony was formed as part of the second US season of ‘The X Factor’ back in 2012. Normani, Ally, Camila, Lauren and Dinah all auditioned for the series separately, but were moulded into a girl group by none other than judge Simon Cowell, who marked the ladies for fame. Despite a couple of name changes, the group performed well enough in the public vote to finish third in the competition, subsequently inking a deal with Syco Records and being thrust into the spotlight, not just in the US, but around the world.
We ask the girls how, in the wake of the show, they’ve coped with the loss of anonymity, particularly at such a young age (Dinah’s the youngest at just 17).
“It depends where you go,” Camila (who turns 18 tomorrow) explains. “If you go to a One Direction concert, a 5 Seconds Of Summer concert, a Cher Lloyd concert, a Demi Lovato concert… if all five of us go there just to try and enjoy a show, it’s probably not going to happen. We’re going to have a lot of people recognising us.
“But here in Australia, we’ve been able to walk the streets and be pretty okay. So it all depends where you go. It’s not like it’s got to the stage where we can’t go outside without cameras in our faces. That’s realistically not what happens to us, which is a good thing.”
Camila does admit, however, that things are slowly starting to shift for them at home in the US.
“It happens more so than here, because more people know us in the States than here, but even so, it’s tolerable as far as in person is concerned. Online it’s a different thing, because then you have no anonymity whatsoever.”
Of course, having very public online profiles, the girls open themselves up to uncensored scrutiny, an increased interest in their private lives and the very real threat of being trolled.
“To be honest, that’s not even that bad,” Camila reveals. “Because when you feel overwhelmed by the lack of anonymity you have, you can just turn your phone off and go and enjoy life like a normal human being. It’s just how you deal with it, I guess.”
Thrust into the spotlight at such a young age, Lauren, Camila, Dinah, Normani and Ally have all been forced to grow up in super-quick time. We ask each of them to share the biggest lessons they’ve learned as part of their “journey” (for want of a better word) thus far.
“I’ve learned to be more responsible for myself,” Dinah kicks off. “We were on tour from the age of 15 and I’m so close to my mom. These girls know how close I am to my mom. Being stripped away from her at that age was really hard. I always asked her for advice, so I had to grow a lot. I grew more as a person too. I literally never used to talk this much. I talk too much now! But before, I never used to say a word.”
“I feel like I’m stronger than I thought I was,” adds Normani. “A lot comes with this industry. A lot of obstacles that you have to overcome, but I feel like it’s made me stronger in some sort of way. I feel like I’m a different person. Or a newer and greener person than I was.”
“I have learned firstly to use my voice. I used to be really scared to say what was on my mind, because I didn’t want to offend anybody or risk having any friction because of what I might say,” Ally admits. “But I’ve realised that it’s all about my tone. I just know that I have a voice and it’s to be used.
“That’s been so liberating for me. When you feel like you can’t express your opinions and you feel like what you say doesn’t matter, it’s one of the worst feelings in the world. I feel like life is so short, so do what you want. I’m just learning to be me in all aspects.”
“I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I’ve grown as a person in so many different aspects,” Lauren adds. “I’ve learned a lot about people and how they work and how you navigate through that in dealing with so many different personalities… even amongst this group.
“Amongst the five of us there are so many different personalities. Amongst all the different people we work with and all the people that we meet. I’ve met so many different types of people and I’ve learned how to work with them and know what to say, what not to say, what your limits are. Those sort of things.”
And Camila wraps up by saying, “We’re literally living in an adult work and we’re working people at 17. We have a full-on job. I’ve learned a lot throughout this entire journey, so I think I’m just going to kind of condense it into what I’ve learned from travelling, since we’re here in Australia.
“I’ve just learned that there’s such a huge world out there and it almost makes you feel insignificant. But in the best way. There are so many different cultures, so many different types of people that a lot of the time, even in this industry, things can be so petty and superficial that you sometimes have to check yourself and remember that some of your problems are just not that important.”
After releasing their ‘Better Together’ EP towards the end of 2013, the ladies began the unenviable task of creating their debut album. Though, unlike their previous release, there are no band co-writes on the new LP, the girls reveal they had plenty of say in what the album should be both lyrically and musically.
“The topics in particular,” Ally tells us. “The whole girl power theme, the whole ‘going out with your friends and having fun’… all of that. But when it came down to condensing it to just…”
“What was it, 12 or 14 songs?” adds Normani.
“Yes,” Ally continues. “It was definitely tough because we had recorded so many songs in the span of two years. We had to let go of some, but this album we feel represents us really well and it’s definitely a reflection of where we are and who we are right now. It’s very diverse. It’s not just one sound you’re going to hear all the way through. It’s a really fun rollercoaster.”
Meghan Trainor lends her writing talent to a few of the tracks, including single ‘Sledgehammer’ and album closer ‘Brave Honest Beautiful’, on which she also provides guest vocals.
“We’re labelmates with Meghan, so it was pretty easy for us to get connected with her,” reveals Normani. “She wrote three of the songs on the album, but ‘Sledgehammer’ in particular, she got to be in the studio for.”
There’s also a Mariah connection; album track ‘Like Mariah’ sampling Ms Carey’s 1996 smash ‘Always Be My Baby’. Ironically, that song’s older than all but one Fifth Harmony member.
“That was one of the options we had towards the end of finishing our album,” Dinah reveals. “‘Like Mariah’ wasn’t even supposed to be on the album because the people from the label didn’t like the song, but we kept fighting for it. Then at the last minute, Tyga hopped on. Where he comes in was supposed to be a bridge, but he came into the studio and put the vocals down and it ended up being a really cool collaboration.”
As to what Ms Carey herself thinks of the track…
“Ms Carey!” Lauren laughs. “She Tweeted about it!”
“That was a real big shocker,” Dinah adds, throwing out a hint, “but if we ever did a music video for it, it would be cool of her to come in…”
Fifth Harmony kicked off their run of live US dates in San Francisco on Friday. The tour takes the band across the country over the next month. But they’re not ruling out coming back to Australia to play live for their local fans if there’s sufficient demand.
“The reason we came to Australia in the first place was because of a Twitter campaign that our fans launched called #5HComeToAus,” Camila reveals. “So I feel like whenever the label or the powers that be see the reaction from the fans in another country, the bigger it is, the more they will provide for us to come. So hopefully after this trip, we’ll be able to come again if you guys still like us.”
We conclude by asking the girls whether they feel the pressure to be the next big global girl pop group.
Clearly with Simon Cowell behind them and a collection of perfectly-tailored pop songs under their designer belts, expectations are high that Fifth Harmony may one day soon become the female equivalent of One Direction. Perhaps even the next Spice Girls.
“I feel like we’re definitely hoping for that, but it’s not really a pressure type of thing,” admits Normani.
“Yeah, it’s not really a pressure,” Lauren concurs. “It’s moreso that we’re trying to be as authentic as possible and if the majority of the people in the world love it and are with it, then that’s all it’s about.
“Music is people coming together to love something. We’re just trying to put ourselves out there as authentically as possible, putting out the music that we want to put out and if people love it, that’s what’s going to take it. There’s not that specific sort of pressure to get there.”
It’s left to Camila to have the final word.
“I think we take it brick by brick,” she says. “I don’t think we wake up every morning thinking, ‘oh, I’m going to be the next global phenomenon’. I think it’s moreso about making the tour the best it can be, then when we were recording the album, we wanted it to be the best it could be. So I think that brick by brick, hopefully we can build the castle.”
Fifth Harmony’s album ‘Reflection’ is available physically and digitally now.
Their current single ‘Sledgehammer’ is also available.
The next single ‘Worth It’ will be available soon.