Moments like that exacerbated a feeling she’d had since she was one of just three black students in her predominantly white elementary school. “It was a subconscious thing,” she says. “You think, ‘Why am I the least followed in the group?’ Even if you don’t recognize that you’re paying close attention to it, it takes a toll on your confidence. You worry -- is it me? Is it because I’m black? Or am I just not talented?”
In the 5H bubble, Normani spent 24 hours a day sharing everything with her bandmates, from tampons to feelings, but her experience with race was a lonely one. In 2016, she received death threats, racial slurs and images of lynchings on Twitter after Cabello’s fans decided Normani had slighted her in a Facebook Live interview. (Cabello asked her fans to back off.)
“They tried to be there for me as best as they could,” says Normani of her bandmates, her voice dropping to a level so quiet it’s almost imperceptible. “But I don’t think they had the tools that they needed, because it’s not their experience. I can give them credit for trying to be there for me, but at the same time...” She trails off. “The girls don’t experience things the way I did.”
Normani reiterates that though they were genuinely very close, they speak infrequently now. There are still friendly, unavoidable run-ins, like her impromptu reunion with Cabello before the 2018 Billboard Music Awards -- which turned into an Instagram-ready moment of reconciliation and mutual admiration. Normani no longer pays attention to questions about who hates who, the same way she ignores questions about who will be most successful solo.
“Honestly? I’m in such an amazing place that I don’t feed into any of that,” she says, launching into a lengthy explanation that feels more like self-reassurance than anything else. “I’m way too blessed to even allow myself to focus on that. This is my time. Just like [Cabello] had an amazing run. I am so proud of everything that she’s doing. She’s nominated for a freaking Grammy! Like, that is amazing. And all from what girl group? Fifth Harmony. Like, that shit’s fire. And I know that all of us are more than capable of doing that.” She pauses, then revises the sentiment a bit. “I’ve come to believe that I am that talented. Before, I didn’t wholeheartedly believe that.”
This past may, at the BBMAs, audiences got a first glimpse of what solo Normani looked like. She joined Khalid to perform their “Love Lies” duet, which, thanks to a perfect blend of her sultry energy and his lovelorn melancholy, became a much bigger hit than she expected: Since its February release, it has spent over 40 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 9, and reached No. 1 on the Adult Top 40 chart.