Release Date: May 27, 2016
Record label: Epic
Genre(s): Pop, Vocal, Pop/Rock, Dance-Pop, Pop Idol, Teen Pop
If “The X Factor” has done one good thing in its many years of manufactured drama and purposeful audition mockery, it’s near-singlehandedly keeping alive the decades-old tradition of the pop girl group in the West. While they never disappeared worldwide—girl groups and their alumnae dominate J- and K-pop, for instance—the only two Western girl groups with consistent pop clout are the UK’s Little Mix and the States’ Fifth Harmony, both products of their respective countries’ “X Factors. ” There are some downsides to this.
One of the most anticipated releases of 2016, Fifth Harmony's sophomore full-length album, 7/27, is a sophisticated production that finds the all-female outfit nicely transitioning from the brash ingenues who finished third on the second season of The X Factor into reliably mature pop divas. The album follows up their breakthrough debut, 2015's Reflection, and once again showcases the talents of vocalists Ally Brooke, Normani Kordei, Lauren Jauregui, Camila Cabello, and Dinah Jane. Named after the date that Fifth Harmony was officially formed during their time on Fox's The X Factor, 7/27 features production from a handful of top-level hitmakers, including Dallas K, Stargate, Kygo, and others.
American Idol, The Voice, and The X Factor have 28 seasons of television between them, but they’ve produced commercially successful talent in much smaller numbers. After Danity Kane devolved into fisticuffs, the onetime X Factor contestants in Fifth Harmony rose to become the first girl group to score a top-ten hit (“Work From Home”) since the Pussycat Dolls’ “When I Grow Up” in 2008. The quintet never really claimed they were breaking genre barriers; although not every new artist can come up with a pitch as uniquely signifying as “trap soul,” blandly guaranteeing a “retro feel” isn’t all that promising.
A lot has happened in the nearly 16 months since Reflection, the giddy, explosive debut from these five X Factor vets. Justin Bieber and OMI triumphed with the perpetually chilled feel of so-called "tropical house," Rihanna and Drake brought Billboard chart-toppers closer to dancehall music, Fetty Wap turned hip-hop into a melodic taffy-pull and Missy Elliott stormed the Super Bowl to tell everyone she's back in business. Fifth Harmony's second album 7/27 neatly embraces all of this without ever sounding cloying or desperate, making the girls seem right at home inside 2016's pop jumble.
Pop music in 2016 has been defined by contradictions. On the one hand, mega-selling artists like Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Justin Timberlake jolted the “Billboard” charts with surprise releases that sent listeners scurrying to Tidal and Apple Music, ready to hear the latest missives from the biggest stars; that the songs resulting from those releases managed to sound good-to-great was a bonus. On the other, the top-40 wilds have largely been populated by inert personalities either mimicking trends of yore (overly precocious singer-songwriters, Internet-beloved MCs, R&B hits from 15 years ago, et cetera) or riding social media’s rocket fuel to Blandsville.
From its inception four years ago, Fifth Harmony has had to defy the odds. The pop girl group was pieced together four years ago by reality show magnate Simon Cowell on the short-lived, less successful U.S. edition of “The X Factor” after the members entered the competition as solo hopefuls. And on the series, viewers watched them rise as underdogs to frontrunners in the competition’s final weeks.