When “Bo$$” was released as the first single from Fifth Harmony‘s debut album, Reflection, the ode to Michelle Obama and purses so heavy resulting from Oprah dollars, hinted at a full-length defined by unflappable self-possession and poise. The five members of the girl group — which germinated on The X Factor and has quickly gathered millions of young fans thanks in part of national tours supporting Demi Lovato and Austin Mahone — have delivered on that promise with Reflection, which makes a point of keeping the focus on girl power and never letting the group’s collective strength to buckle.
Pop music is full of female artists offering healthy outlooks on issues like body image, sexuality, friendship and self-worth; Rihanna has no time for male shenanigans, Katy Perry wants her fans to know that they are all fireworks, and Nicki Minaj spends more time objectifying men than getting fazed by them. Fifth Harmony echoes those sentiments, while also showcasing them from a younger perspective. Back-to-back songs on Reflection mention Instagram filters, and what Ally, Camila, Dinah, Lauren and Normani lack in pop experience, they make up for in smartly placed adulation of icons like Mariah Carey (“Like Mariah”) and Beyonce (the title track).
But Fifth Harmony is also taking things one step further: the back half of Reflection is basically a misandrist constitution, with the 5H ladies brushing off lazy dudes on “Suga Mama,” game-players on “We Know” and the flight-before-fight bros on “Going Nowhere.” The run of songs is (for this male listener) spectacular to digest, since Fifth Harmony’s laser focus never wavers. There are male collaborators like Kid Ink and Tyga, but they are left to operate in the background, and even on languishing anthems like “Sledgehammer,” the pining for romance is never coupled with insecurity or weakness. On Reflection, Fifth Harmony is giving teen girls a soundtrack to impenetrable control, refracted through the image of five females who forever have each other’s backs.
Best of all: Most of the songs work. Working with a long list of songwriters and producers, Fifth Harmony show that they are capable of slick synth-pop, grungy hip-hop and fluttering R&B, the latter clearly indebted to the girl groups of the ’90s. Even when a song doesn’t come together, Fifth Harmony’s identity never falls apart. Reflection represents a promising first step for a girl group that has long been awaiting stardom and has quickly established itself as a wrecking crew of positive role models.
Which songs on Reflection are the most worthy of replays? Check out our track-by-track take on Fifth Harmony’s debut.
1. “Top Down” – An elastic synth riff serves as the foundation for the giddy pile-up of “Top Down,” which includes tottering beats, a “Problem”-esque horn riff in the hook, PG-rated rhymes and united crooning on the chorus behind looped yelps worthy of DJ Mustard. Despite the many spinning plates, “Top Down” never becomes incoherent and makes one want to visit Electric City on multiple occasions.
The album’s first single is packed with pop-culture references and brimming with female assertiveness; even if nods to the nae nae, Dr. Dre beats and Kanye-versus-Ray J don’t stand the test of time, the 5H brand of confidence — buoyed by a boisterous trumpet swing — surely will.
Fifth Harmony worked for years toward a spotless pop single, and with “Sledgehammer,” the ladies found it. The springy account of lovesickness, co-written by Meghan Trainor, fires on all cylinders, with vocal hooks blossoming from every corner of the song and a bridge that brilliantly breaks down in tempo to capture the singers’ collective sense of yearning. Fifth Harmony’s first Top 40 hit on the Hot 100 chart, “Sledgehammer” becomes more impactful with each repeated listen.
4. “Worth It” feat. Kid Ink
Reverting back to the shoulder-brushing braggadocio of “Top Down,” “Worth It” snakes around another horn sample and some sideline side-eye from special guest Kid Ink. Whereas the first three songs on Reflection leave distinct impressions, “Worth It” sounds oddly incomplete, as if the empty spaces of the track had been scribbled in with spare parts and repetitive phrasing.
5. “This Is How We Roll” – Pulsing with power chords in the chorus and grimy electro-pop in the verses, “This Is How We Roll” is a Dr. Luke/Cirkut concoction that would not have sounded out of place on Kesha‘s Warrior album. As it stands, the track’s fusion of pop-rock and club music fits awkwardly but does not fail to entertain, especially when the script is flipped in the final chorus.
6. “Everlasting Love” – After five songs that aim to provoke movement, Fifth Harmony targets teenage romance with “Everlasting Love,” a brisk, breezy nod to 90s R&B. The lyrics may be relegated to greeting-card cliches, but the song knocks, with the chattering percussion and gentle piano flourishes taking center stage as the ladies croon their hearts out.
7. “Like Mariah” feat. Tyga – Calling a song “Like Mariah,” and building that song around an iconic vocal hook from “Always Be My Baby,” is a risky move for any new pop act, but Fifth Harmony admirably pulls off the sunny R&B vibe and falsetto runs of the pop icon they’re honoring on the track. The Tyga interjections sound unnecessary here, but expect “Like Mariah” to become a fan favorite when 5H performs the song live.
8. “Them Girls Be Like”
Like “Bo$$,” “Them Girls Be Like” oozes self-assuredness, this time swatting down female rivals instead of tongue-wagging males. The millennial-friendly lyrics are an absolute blast to swim through: “We ain’t like them girls that do too much/If you thirsty, you can’t sit with us,” the girls declare, saluting a well-worn Mean Girls catchphrase seconds after celebrating no-filter selfies.
9. “Reflection” – The album’s title track is based around a genius bait-and-switch, as Fifth Harmony coos sensual compliments (“Where you from? Must be heaven,” “Think I’m in love, ’cause you so sexy”), but flips the script to reveal that the words are intended for themselves, not their male admirers. “Reflection” strives to capture that Beyonce-approved brand of brassiness and mostly hits its mark, especially on the trap-happy chorus.
10. “Suga Mama” – A 2010s update of “No Scrubs,” “Suga Mama” is a strike down against guys hanging out the passenger side of their best friend’s ride, who expect their woman to pay for them instead of finding a source of income. Some of the lines of “Suga Mama” are straight-up uproarious: “Ain’t nobody love me like you do/I won’t call you lazy… but how you pay for food?” the group asks, leaving no terms uncertain.
11. “We Know”
More than any other song on Reflection, the bitter ballad “We Know” allows the five girls of Fifth Harmony to display their unique skill sets. After Lauren lets her accusations tumble forward on the pre-chorus, for instance, Dinah is given the baton and belts out the titular hook.
12. “Going Nowhere” – An effervescent rant against a guy trying to exit a relationship that’s still humming along, “Going Nowhere” is powerful enough to be ranked among Reflection‘s most immediate pop pleasures. Producer Flict, who also helmed “Suga Mama,” nets another win with his gummy synth riff here.
13. “Body Rock” – No, it’s not that ubiquitous Moby hit from 1999, but a stretchy dance cut courtesy of R&B/pop veteran Harmony Samuels. “Body Rock” has one of the album’s most rapid tempos but falls oddly flat, as if the bid for the dance floor was drained of the unmistakable personality that marks the rest of the album.
14. “Brave, Honest, Beautiful” feat. Meghan Trainor – A few songs about Fifth Harmony tried to act “like Mariah,” the girls are joined by Meghan Trainor to advise their listeners to “dance like Beyonce,” “shake like Shakira” and “pose like Madonna” on the fist-raising empowerment track. The collaboration sounds undercooked from a production standpoint, but the confident message rings through, and ends the album with the girls in a power stance.