Three years after the group’s third-place finish on Season 2 of the X Factor USA, Fifth Harmony has taken its time to craft a perfectly punchy debut album, allowing it to occupy its well-deserved territory as a budding girl-group icon.
In a construction via the One Direction method, Simon Cowell hand-picked the five members of Fifth Harmony after they were each eliminated from the X Factor as solo performers. But after the first performance as a group, singing Shontelle’s “Impossible” to a stunned Cowell and guest judge Mark Anthony, 5H quickly became a front-runner in the competition.
The album, Reflection, is young and daring — an accurate reflection of what it takes to make it in the world of mainstream pop success. From paying homage to First Lady Michelle Obama in its lead-off single, “BO$$” (“Boss / Michelle Obama / Purse so heavy / Making Oprah dollars”), to the subtly sensual “Like Mariah,” 5H isn’t hesitant to do a little name-dropping. The aforementioned track even samples Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby” and references Carey in the chorus: “When you ‘Touch My Body’ / Got me singing like Mariah.”
Fifth Harmony’s rising success with the youth is due greatly to its inherent millennialism. Along with premiering their new singles live on Ryan Seacrest’s cyber-star meetup “DigiFest” the group’s members speaks directly to the web generation in “Them Girls Be Like,” asking the listener, “Do you ever post your pic with no filter? / #IWokeUpLikeThisToo.”
While the band has proved that it can craft broad-based, booty-pop inducing dance hits, Fifth Harmony reveals the singers’ emotional and vocal vulnerability in “We Know,” a track with minimal instrumentation and a focus on their tight harmonies, which has much improved since their time at the X Factor, when mentor L.A. Reid criticized them, jokingly calling them “Fifth Unison.”
While the album rides Ariana Grande’s coattails with full-bodied vocals and R&B-twinged tracks, “Sledgehammer” smashes any comparison. The upbeat, catchy and contagiously danceable pop anthem has the potential to be 5H’s breakout hit. It’s sweet and wholesome, but it encapsulates the giddiness of adolescent infatuation, set to an infectious beat that’s perfect for middle school slumber parties, girls’ nights out at the club or driving Mom’s minivan to the mall on a Friday afternoon.
The girls have come a long way since their sugary-sweet, bubblegum EP, “Better Together.” They’ve traded in their sweet for sass, their hair bows for high-heeled boots and their feminine fun for straight-up fierceness. They are five strong, independent young women whose confidence strives to inspire self-love, such as in the album’s title track:
“You’d be rich if looking good was your profession / Think I’m in love, ’cause you so sexy / Boy, I ain’t talkin’ about you, I’m talking to my own reflection.”