Magazine Feature

L.A. Reid on Fifth Harmony: 'They've Become the Biggest Girl Band in the World'

L.A. Reid
Courtesy of Epic Records

L.A. Reid

With Fifth Harmony, Epic chairman/CEO Reid and Simon Cowell put together the first girl group to score a top 10 Hot 100 hit in nearly a decade. Now, he describes the evolution of his strategy with the band.

You were an X Factor judge when world first met Fifth Harmony. What was your first impression of the group?

Fifth Harmony auditioned as individuals with no idea that they'd be a girl band. My first memory was that I gave each of them a yes. I loved each and every one of them from the very beginning. Then I remember backstage, Simon Cowell and myself and we're sitting at the table with Rob Wade, one of the producers of the show, and we have photo cards of all of the contestants who might make it through to the next segment -- we were getting through the first process of elimination. And Simon at that point had great success with One Direction and he had this vision to have a global girl band. So we assembled the cards on the table, moved them around, changing them in and changing them out. It's funny how fate is, isn't it? It's like the hand or the card that you're dealt, literally. [Laughs] And so we put the five girls together, might have made one or two changes, and that was the birth of Fifth Harmony. Now, once we were on the live show, they were a part of Simon's crew. He had the groups. So everything I said on television was almost, not nasty, but I was competing with them. So their fans think I don't like them [laughs] and I've been busting my ass for four years to help get them there and their fans still think I don't like them, so can you help me? 

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When you think about who these young women are now, how are they different from the teens you met back then?

When I met them they were the sweetest girls in the world with pure desire and true talent. And now they're the sweetest girls in the world with pure desire, true talent, and a lot to say. [Laughs] People grow as people, as artists, as talent. In the beginning they were a product of X Factor and while they always had a point of view, they were often sort of told what to do. They've taken their career into their own hands. So now what you're experiencing, with the success that they're having, is their vision. It's no longer the television show or the record company's vision. Now Fifth Harmony is Fifth Harmony's vision. 

What's at stake with the group's sophomore album, and why release 7/27 so soon after their debut LP?

This is one of the best pop albums I've heard in years. Like I love the Justin Bieber album as a full-on proper pop album. I think it's incredible. And I think this one is close -- it's that caliber of album. The only thing that matters to me is they do their best, and put their best musical foot forward. They're already a global phenomenon. They've become the biggest girl band in the world. People haven't quite accepted that, but they will. They have to maintain that and continue to grow that. You don't want to slide backwards here, that's really the point of it, but I'm proud of the album that they've made. I love every song. And by the way, there's more. We didn't even have to stop. We might not. We may go back and cut a couple more songs because they keep coming up with more great stuff.

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What were your goals for 7/27?

Okay, this sounds a little contradictory and I don't mean it that way. As an overseer, what I really wanted to accomplish was something that felt global, that felt modern. Like, I love Kygo and DJ Snake. That's what I love in music. I love the Chainsmokers. I love EDM-influenced pop music. I love Calvin Harris. I just love the EDM influence -- not EDM itself, I love that too, but as far as hit records and radio's concerned, I love the EDM-influenced pop music. That what I was hoping we could accomplish because there's something very hip about it, and when you're that young -- Camila is 19 -- it's really important in this setup that you make music that kids your age listen to. So I didn't want them to make an album that was too adolescent or too mature, and I think they just threaded the needle.

Is it important to you that they are women of color? 

I think that's a beautiful thing that they are five young women from different ethnic backgrounds, but I don't know if that matters to me. What I care about is their voices and their songs are incredible. I don't see music that way. Pop culture's ethnicity is popularity, you know? [laughs] And that's how I see it. I'm really proud of them, but we're not the poster children for ethnicity.

I know they were very proud to have Barbies, of various skin tones and body shapes, made in their images.