Video Credit: FifthHarmonyVEVO Official Youtube Channel
Genuine. Family oriented. And young. Like, really young.
The girls of Fifth Harmony – Ally Brooke, Normani Hamilton, Dinah Hansen, Camila Cabello and Lauren Jauregui – range in age from 17 to 21, and they are already world famous.
They didn’t always plan to have this life though. According to the girls, only Ally and Normani have been working at this career since childhood. The other three, say they never thought they could achieve this level of stardom.
Probably because they come from humble beginnings, but that’s the point of these talent-based shows right? To find America’s next biggest star – or stars, as it were.
Ally was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. Normani was born in Georgia and spent much of her childhood in New Orleans, but now calls Houston, Texas home. Lauren is from Miami, Florida. Camila was born in Cuba, and had spent time in Havana and Mexico before she was five years old. Dinah is the only California native.
Prior to their time on The X Factor, the girls had never met.
Forming as a group on season two of the show, these ladies quickly caught the attention of the American audience, and were one of the most popular acts from week-to-week. They finished the show coming in third and are now signed to Epic Records under the tutelage of the one and only Simon Cowell.
Since the wrap of the show, life has moved pretty quickly for the girls. They didn’t actually know they were signed to any label until the night of the wrap party when Cowell pulled them aside and filled them in. Since then, they have been moved from their homes, started recording and writing, and being thrust into philanthropic opportunities all over the place.
Through my whole conversation with them, the one phrase that popped up over and over was ‘we are really blessed.’
And they are. The girls are super lucky to be in a group where everyone seems to genuinely really like each other. Meeting each other just two years ago, the girls point to their first meeting as the moment when they felt they just clicked. Something Ally says she is really grateful for because “The pressures of the industry can be really intense. They can actually be detrimental to a relationship. There are so many different stresses coming from so many different people.”
They believe in each other, and they believe in what they are doing, which makes working together for the girls that much easier, Lauren said. “I think the one common thread that we do have, is basically, we are all very family oriented. We have the same goals. So even if we have problems, we have to just resolve them. We can’t get there without each other and the five of us.”
The five of them have rocketed to fame in the past few months particularly for the releases of recent EPs and singles that promote a message of confidence, self love and girl power.
A message that they really believe in, because well, they see the impacts that self-consciousness, self-hate and unrealistic media messages about body image can have on young and teen girls. Their listenership is largely preteen and adolescent women who are subject to all kinds of societal ideas of what is expected from them. Fifth Harmony hopes that their message helps to let these girls know that no one is perfect, those ideals are unrealistic and that even the rich and famous are imperfect.
“We shouldn’t be putting each other down, we should be building each other up. – It should be about … feeling beautiful and confident. That’s a major thing for us is being confident,” says Lauren. “I think its also important to remember that we come from a place where, we are just like the girls that listen to us. We aren’t perfect. Even though we are traveling and in a girl group, we have our bad days and we are definitely not perfect.”
While they may not be perfect, they understand what it means to at least be a good role model. Each one of these ladies definitely had the right role models in their own lives, because they understand that their actions reflect directly on themselves, their group and the ways that their fandom sees them.
A big part of this is because they have little siblings. Camila said that she is super conscious of the things she does because she wants to be a good role model for her little sister.
But, Lauren said, they also don’t set unrealistic expectations for themselves.
“In terms of role model, I think we aim to be more, real,” she said. “I think Tupac said it once, that he would rather be a real model than a role model. Because a role model has this ideal that they are the perfect mold that is never going to mess up and you can always look up to, and while we want to be that for people – we want people to look up to us – we also want to leave room for the fact that we are not perfect. At the end of the day, we are still just 17, 18, 21 year old girls who are still trying to figure out their way in this world.”
Personally, the girls all say that they have done a lot of growing in the past few years. Camila says that it has been good for them all as individuals.
Before Fifth Harmony, she says “I was the opposite of the life that I am living now. I was so introverted. I was kind of living in this bubble. I didn’t have to really deal with anything. I didn’t have any questions that needed to be answered. But I think for me, just having to interact with people and growing up as a teenager and trying to answers about yourself and what philosophy you want to live your life by. Like I feel like there are so many questions that I have asked myself, and that I have had to answer really quickly.”
Having the support and guidance of the girls to her left and right has been a huge help, Camila said. They hold each other accountable, but also give each other the boosts they need when they’re down. She explains that the music has done a lot in helping her work through some of those questions, too, because they have to remember the message they are trying to portray to their audience.
“Like the meaning of confidence,” said Camila. “And what it really means. Especially because we try and talk about it in our music. Like feminism and what it means to be a strong woman. We are learning that. We are singing about it, but we are learning that. At the end of the day, we are individual people who are trying to know what being yourself even means. It’s so confusing at this age. But we are kind of learning with them.”
Their fandom definitely appreciates their honesty and their commitment to each and every one of them. Which is not easy to pull off, as the ladies now boast 1.5 million Twitter followers and 4+ million Facebook likes. But the way that they interact with their fans in person, and online would make you think that they are old pals with each of them.
“We’ve never thought of ourselves and our fans as having this big distinction, like one is on a higher level than the other,” said Camila. “We want it to be one people. So when we meet them, and the way we treat them on social media, its just as if we were friends. We want that family relationship to be in our fan base as well. That’s the best thing in life, is love, and family and relationships.”
That is also the perspective that the girls take on their careers. It is more about the relationship than on the fame and fortune. That family oriented, it’s-all-about-love mentality is what pushed them to get so involved with philanthropic endeavors.
“We want to make a difference in this world, and we want to give back in whatever way we can,” Lauren said. “We are being blessed with this incredible opportunity, and we have a platform that we can use to reach so many girls, so many young women. Any chance that we get to do anything of that sort, we jump on [it] and look forward to [it].”
With this in mind, they have worked with the Girl Scouts of America, the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, Goodwill Industries and Aeropostale’s Do Something campaign.
They also make relationships a big part of their musical career, Camila said. “Something really important to me is honesty in music,” she said. “I feel like if the music you are listening to doesn’t reflect the people you see in interviews or in person, if their personality comes off even just a little bit disingenuous, it [the music] doesn’t matter. It has to represent who we are.“
With their forthcoming album, all the girls feel like they have really achieved a sound they can all get behind. Each of them comes from a different musical background, with unique tastes and interests, so the fact that they have been able to create a whole album that they all agree on is a huge feat.
“This new album is a mix of who we have become over the course of the two years, but also who we want to be,” Camila added.
Their single “Bo$$” was a marked maturation from their 2013 release “Better Together” where the ladies showed off their empowered, we-mean-business attitude.
According to Ally, “The rest of the album content is definitely girl power, but we are also really vulnerable in the songs as well…as we are growing, our music is growing as well.” Which the girls hope will attract an audience of both older and younger listeners.
But it is not all about the listeners. The girls really just want to be authentic, and that trait of genuineness that they carry through everything they do has gained them industry recognition that goes beyond their label connections. Fifth Harmony recently won the Artist to Watch moon man at the 2014 VMAs, an experience that each of the girls said was both amazing, and a blessing.
Being recognized and seeing the positive feedback has helped Fifth Harmony to reconcile with the hard parts of being on tour and away from their much-loved family members.
Ally says that the challenges of being on the road mostly just center around missing out on family holidays, watching cousins and siblings grow up and being with their parents.
But, she adds, “Knowing that they are proud, knowing that they are happy, and that they completely support what you’re doing is amazing. And that time that you do get to spend with them is cherished so much more than the everyday thing.”
While the girls are more than happy with their moon man, the love of their fan base – the harmonizer – and the industry connections they have already made in their short career, they also recognize that they need to keep pushing and working towards a bigger objective.
“I think it’s a blessing that we won a VMA, but I think we want to keep working even harder to at least win a Grammy,” says Dinah. “I think its great that we are all working forward towards one goal.”
Over the next few months, the girls are anticipating the release of their forthcoming album Reflection, tour dates in Brazil and plans of catching up with family.
When it comes down to it, the girls are really just looking to create an experience for themselves, Camila said.
“I think as a group we just – when we are done with this experience, because realistically at some point its going to be done – we want to get out of there and be like ‘we had the best times of our lives. And we didn’t take it for granted.’”
**A version of this story was published by Naked Magazine in October 2014