Of all the standout lyrics on Fifth Harmony’s new album, Normani Kordei can't get over one line from the album closer, Bridges.
“I feel like the best lyric would be ‘build bridges, not walls,’ honestly,” she told USA TODAY.
As part of Fifth Harmony, Kordei and her bandmates Ally Brooke Hernandez, Dinah Jane Hansen and Lauren Jauregui claim many identities. They’re the best-selling girl group of a generation, largely thanks to their 2016 single Work From Home. Since forming on the 2012 season of the X Factor, they’ve become easily the most popular winners of the American version of the program. And the group has also survived a much-publicized shake-up, after fifth member Camila Cabello went solo last December.
But, as Jauregui told USA TODAY, they’re also a group comprised of four women of color (Jauregui is Cuban-American, Hernandez is Mexican-American, Hansen is Polynesian and Kordei is African American) who feel responsible for inspiring their young, diverse fan base.
“We all are minorities, so it’s cool to be able to have the success that we’ve had and to have people really be rooting for us...and that means so much,” she said. “We’re representing young women from across America, all different kinds of girls, and even if they’re not like any one of us, they notice that all of us are different, so they can be different too.”
Kordei says her "pinch me moment" is when she looks into a crowd and sees "a little Caucasian girl with a Normani T-shirt on." “It’s the fact that we’ve broken barriers where people don’t look like me, or don’t have the same hair texture as me, can identify with me so deeply," she says.
Out Friday, the group’s self-titled third album is their strongest work yet, their best expression of the girl-gang empowerment they've preached throughout their career. Over the course of a concise ten tracks, the group tackles messy relationships and self-love, honing in on the bubbly dance-pop heard on singles Down and Angel.
Not only is the new album Fifth Harmony’s first as a quartet, but also the first to hand the group creative control. Last year, the group teamed up with music lawyer Dina LaPolt to take over the Fifth Harmony trademark from Simon Cowell, who originally signed them to his Syco Music label.
"You can really hear the difference between even the last album...now, we’re not getting on stage every night, going through the motions and singing the songs because we were told to sing them," Kordei said. "This is the first time we’re excited, and believing what we sing."
"We co-wrote over half of the album, and a lot of the songs we picked we were very involved in," Jauregui added.
As for their falling-out with Cabello, Jauregui stays positive when speaking about her former bandmate, whose three new singles — Crying In The Club, Havana and OMG — are currently charting on the Billboard Hot 100.
”We’re so happy, and we moved forward, and we’re in a good place, and we hope she’s in a good place, and that’s really what matters,” she said.
Still, Jauregui seems frustrated by the breathless media coverage surrounding their split.
“How are you gonna be like, ‘It’s news?’ That’s the whole response, that it’s news,” she said. "How are you gonna say it’s news when you have neo-Nazi rallies happening in your neighborhood? Let’s like, really progress and figure out what’s wrong with this society so we can actually move forward."
While their “bridges, not walls” refrain is as politically active as the album gets, both Jauregui and Kordei have penned open letters supporing Black Lives Matter and speaking out against the Trump administration.As Jauregui explained, not every pop star feels comfortable acting as a spokeswoman for their political beliefs. But for her personally, it's essential.
“Lots of people want to keep (politics) out of their art because they assume the role of, ‘I’m the distraction, I’m the escapism, I’m the thing that people use to check out of the world,’ so a lot of people don’t want to get involved, not because they’re scared, but because they don’t want to have those conflicts,” she said.
“(But) I think it’s important as heck when you have a million-plus people listening to you, to let them know that you’re aware of what’s going on and you’re part of the struggle too.”
“And I feel like it starts with the younger generation,” Kordei added.And that’s why we’re really careful about what we’re talking about in our music, because we’re speaking to the younger generation, we’re responsible in a way.”
For Fifth Harmony's younger fans, who may be confused or disheartened by current events, Jauregui offers a message of hope.
"Don’t allow fear to rule your life," she said. "Everything that’s going on in the world, it’s propaganda, and it’s things that have happened in the past before. This is not new, this is unfortunately a mentality that’s been prevalent for a long time, and it’s coming back around right now."
And after she and her bandmates weathered a tough, destabilizing year and emerged stronger, Jauregui knows the power of coming together as one.
"I think the most powerful thing we can do in the face of an administration trying to cause so much division is to eliminate fear from our vocabulary, and to not allow the fear they’re trying to instill in us affect us," she said. "It has to start with your communities, with yourself, with your families, then you fix the world."