Pop Groups Without a Founding Member: Does It Ever Work?
In the wake of Camila Cabello leaving Fifth Harmony, examining the historical precedent for a vocal group carrying on after a key departure.
On Monday (Dec. 19), the pop world was rocked with the news that Camila Cabello, breakout star from powerhouse vocal quintet Fifth Harmony, would be leaving the group she made her name with. Though the news is less surprising than it might have been before Cabello started enjoying star success as a solo artist -- her MGK collaboration "Bad Things" became her first top 10 hit apart from 5H, on the Hot 100 chart dated Dec. 24 -- it still comes as a blow to Harmonizers, both because of Camila's considerable contributions, and due to her departure undercutting the message of unity and strength-in-numbers that many found at the group's core. It leads to the inevitable question: Can Fifth Harmony go on without her?
Of course, the ladies themselves would say yes, and their tweet announcing Cabello's departure certainly suggests they don't see 5H's end coming anytime soon. But pop history is littered with examples of a key member's exit ultimately spelling doom for the groups they leave behind. Is there any precedent for an outfit like Fifth Harmony continuing on after losing a founding member like Camila? Let's break down how some of pop's most successful vocal groups have endured after the first big blow to their roster, starting with the most dire and leading up the most optimistic.
BYE, BYE, BYE
New Kids on the Block
Who Left? Having already split with ingenieur Maurice Starr and rebranded themselves as the more grown-up NKOTB, with limited success -- 1994's Face the Music stalled at No. 37, and failed to produce a single top 40 hit on the Hot 100 -- the New Kids were already on the ropes when Jonathan Knight split from the group by year's end, largely due to anxiety-related issues.
What Happened Next? The New Kids splintered altogether, not recording or performing together again until a 2008 reunion.
Who Left? Though the group never officially disbanded, it was clear that their permanent hiatus after 2001's Celebrity was largely due to breakout star Justin Timberlake's solo independence -- suspicions essentially confirmed in Lance Bass' 2007 autobiography Out of Sync, which alleges that JT kept *NSYNC in limbo as 2003's Justified took off, then decided to leave the group shortly after.
What Happened Next? The quintet never recorded together again, reuniting only at a handful of award shows over the years -- most recently, as part of a performance commemorating Timberlake's Video Vanguard win at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, though the performance still mostly focused on the lead's solo hits.
Who Left? Though the U.K. quintet's 1997 crash-landing on U.S. shores completely changed the direction of '90s pop music, within a year and a half, Geri Halliwell -- known as Ginger Space, the fivesome's most visible member at the time -- had departed, citing exhaustion and "differences between" her and the rest of the group.
What Happened Next? The Spice Girls decided to soldier on, but only had one more album in them: 1999's Forever, which peaked at a paltry No. 39 on the Billboard 200, and spawned a lone Hot 100 hit in the No. 14 Hot 100 hit "Goodbye," though the Girls did top the U.K. charts with both that and the double A-side "Holler" / "Let Love Lead the Way."
Who Left? One of the best and best-selling R&B outfits of the '90s, En Vogue managed a trio of No. 2 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 ("Hold On," "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)" and "Don't Let Go (Love)") before contractual negotiations ended with Dawn Robinson, the group's best-known member, leaving the quartet.
What Happened Next? The remaining trio squeezed out two more album, 1997's EV3 and 2000's Masterpiece Theater, but after middling sales, cancelled tours and a split with Elektra records, Maxine Jones followed Robinson to the exit and En Vogue never had another Hot 100 hit.
Who Left? One of the most consistently successful girl groups of the '80s, Banarama scored top 10 hits on the Hot 100 with three consecutive albums, before co-founder Siobhan Fahey exited the group in 1988, being replaced with longtime friend Jacquie O'Sullivan.
What Happened Next? The hits all but dried up in the U.S after that, with 1988's "Love, Truth and Honesty" marking their last Hot 100 entry at No. 89, but Bananarama still found success in their native U.K. with subsequent singles, scoring five more top 20 hits (including, somewhat ironically, a cover of The Supremes' post-Diana Ross single "Nathan Jones") before O'Sullivan also left in 1991. However, Fahey would have greater success on her own with her next project -- Shakespear's Sister, who hit the top five on both sides of the Atlantic in 1992 with "Stay."
Who Left? Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, the group's designer and go-to rapper, tragically died in a car crash in Honduras in 2002.
What Happened Next? The remaining "T" and "C" in TLC decided to finish off the group's fourth full-length effort, 3D, which Lopes had contributed vocals to before her passing. Despite mostly positive reviews, commercial response to the effort was muted compared to 1999's chart-topping FanMail, spawning a lone top 40 hit in the No. 28-peaking "Girl Talk" peaking "Girl Talk." A fifth album has yet to materialize from the now-duo, who never replaced Lopes, though plans for a 2017 release were announced last June.
NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE:
Who Left? As with Boyz II Men, BSB were already pretty far along in their career cycle -- four albums, the last of which was released well after the bubble burst on pop's TRL era, selling just a fraction of their previous LPs -- when Kevin Richardson's departure reduced the group to a fourpiece in 2006.
What Happened Next? Richardson leaving to "move on" with his life effectively signaled the end of Backstreet as a mainstream pop force -- where 2005's Never Gone was certified Platinum and spawned the No. 13 Hot 100 hit "Incomplete," 2007's Unbreakable failed to go gold or generale a hit bigger than the No. 86-peaking "Inconsolable." But the group has stuck around, with Richardson returning in 2012, and 2013's In a World Like This debuting in the top five on the Billboard 200.
The Jackson 5
Who Left? After the group's 1975 exit from Motown left Jermaine Jackson (son-in-law to label boss Berry Gordy) behind, The Jackson 5 replaced him with youngest brother Randy and rebranded as The Jacksons.
What Happened? Despite the burgeoning solo stardom of lead singer Michael, the Jacksons enjoyed respectable commercial success throughout the remainder of the decade -- scoring top 10 hits on the Hot 100 with 1976's "Enjoy Yoruself" and and 1979's "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)." Jermaine rejoined his siblings in time for the recording of 1984's Victory LP, though by that point tension between the brothers consumed the group, and Michael announced his departure from the Jacksons onstage in 1985 -- a blow they would have much greater difficulty recovering from.
Boyz II Men
Who Left? Boyz II Men were well into winding down their days as pop stars by the time Michael McCary left due to health issues in 2003, though their final album as a quartet -- 2002's Full Circle — did make the top ten on the Billboard 200.
What Happened? After McCary's retirement, the remaining three members reinvented Boyz II Men as more of a covers act, recording several albums of modern-day pop and R&B standards to underwhelming commercial reception, and never again threatening the pop charts. Nonetheless, Boyz II Men continues to record as a threepiece, and finds ways to stick around the mainstream -- most recently appearing in 2016's Grease: Live as the teen angels performing "Beauty School Dropout."
Who Left? With Diana Ross being positioned as the group's frontwoman, original Supreme Florence Ballard became increasingly discontented, and was replaced by Cindy Birdsong in 1967.
What Happened Next? The trio continued to rule the charts as "Diana Ross & The Supremes," scoring two more Hot 100-toppers before decade's end. And though their record-setting run of No. 1s ended at 12 with Ross' 1970 departure for a solo career, The Supremes actually remained commercially relevant for years with Jean Terrell as their frontwoman, scoring five top 20 hits over the course of '70 and '71, even hitting the top 40 as late as '76 -- then as a fourpiece, with the disco-influenced "I'm Gonna Let My Heart Due the Walking" -- before bidding a final farewell in 1977.
Who Left? Much like The Supremes, Destiny's Child were a nominal group centered around the transcendent talents of their legendary frontwoman, rendering the 1999 replacement of original members LaTavia Roberson and LeToya Luckett with Michelle Williams and Farrah Franklin a non-lethal blow.
Who Happened Next? Even with that high level of turnover (and Franklin leaving herself a year later due to the ensuing drama), Destiny's Child only reached greater heights in the 20th century, with two further multi-Platinum albums in 2001's Survivor and 2004's Desitny Fulfilled, and two more Hot 100-besting singles, "Independent Women Pt. I" and "Bootylicious." The group formally disbanded in 2006 amidst an exploding solo career for Beyoncé, but still appears on each other's individual projects on occasion, and reunited for a well-received performance at Super Bowl XLVII in 2013.
Who Left? After playing a key role in the teen-pop outfit's early string of bubblegum-pop hits, bad-boy heartthrob Bobby Brown was booted from New Edition in 1985, largely over management concerns about his unpredictable behavior.
What Happened Next? Perhaps the best example for 5H to look to of a star group enjoying a similar level of popularity even after losing an iconic member, New Edition recovered thanks to a reinvented late-'80s sound and image, and the contributions of new member Johnny Gill. Though Brown went on to blockbuster success of his own with 1988's Don't Be Cruel, he was matched by his old group, whose Heart Break album from the same year went 2x Platinum and transitioned the group into the New Jack Swing era. And in 1996, Brown even returned to the fold for the appropriately titled Home Again, the now-sextet's first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200.