Normani had spent six years touring and making music with a best-selling girl group — Fifth Harmony — before her performance at the Billboard Music Awards this past May. Only last October, she had signed a solo management deal with Brandon Silverstein’s S10 Entertainment, which is a partnership with Roc Nation, and the band announced a hiatus shortly thereafter.
By the time she had been booked to perform at the Billboard Music Awards, Normani had only one single out — and it was a collaboration with another one-name wonder: Khalid. “Love Lies” debuted at No. 43 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the awards ceremony was going to be a landmark moment for the 22-year-old artist.
Seconds after she joined Khalid on stage, the agile movements of her body backlit by blue and purple lighting, it became clear she was ready to steal the show. The audience exploded once she stepped into the spotlight with a series of precise, sinuous dance moves.
On Twitter and social media, Normani began to trend. “is it me or did @Normani just slay the whole @BBMAs,” wrote singer-songwriter Julia Michaels. Her peers tweeted their support. “normani…i don’t have any other words really… take the wheel,” wrote Kehlani. Actress Gabrielle Union also reposted the video, adding, “Me & @DwyaneWade watched this performance other night & kept saying ‘Wow! She’s a star, she’s special’ Keep shining young [Crown Emoji]”
“I can’t wait for people to see the Normani I know, she’s such a real genuine artist, a true powerhouse and she has such an amazing creative spirit,” Khalid said in a statement to Billboard. “Working together on ‘Love Lies’ was so fun, her voice is crazy good. I think this next year is going to be huge for her and I am so happy for her.”
Besides “Love Lies,” a recent remix of Jessie Reyez’s “Body Count” alongside Kehlani is the only other song Normani is credited on as a solo artist. She’s performed other song covers, but “Love Lies” and the electrifying Billboard Awards spectacle — after which the song reached a new peak on the Billboard Hot 100 — are the only public evidence of her individual potential as a star.
Signed to Keep Cool/RCA Records, a new label imprint founded by Tunji Balogun, Normani is currently in the studio working on her debut album. Each new addition to Normani’s list of collaborators has built up the suspense of her impending release: she’s been working with Grammy Award-winning production team The Monster and Strangerz as well as Calvin Harris; and was recently spotted in the studio with Sam Smith. “I want to make records that I’m really proud of at the end of the day, and something that me and my best friends would jam out to in the car,” she says. The album is influenced deeply by the sonic identity of New Orleans. “I want to incorporate… that Southern feel, because I’m a Southern girl.” The Fader described it as “classic R&B delivered with raspy vocal runs and with lots of plucky, bluesy sounding guitars and horns underneath.”
The flurry of excitement that surrounds Normani’s solo career and the arc of her success have invited comparisons to another southern girl — Beyonce, who she recently met. “[Beyonce] has paved the way for artists like me,” says Normani. She found strength, she says, in Beyonce’s representation as a black woman artist during both the high and low points of her career. “I want to see little black girls and boys win, and not be afraid, because I’m doing it too. And at one point, I was scared,” she says. “But Beyonce gave me that … I could do it, too.”