Normani Has Been Nagged For Years. Fans Should Let Her Enjoy This Moment.

Normani attends The Vulture Spot at Sundance Film Festival in January 2024 in Park City, Utah.
Normani attends The Vulture Spot at Sundance Film Festival in January 2024 in Park City, Utah. Jerod Harris via Getty Images

Six years ago, Normani posted on Twitter that she had chosen the title for her first solo album; @dizzydorahoe, a self-proclaimed Normani stan, wrote “ur sick” in a yearly protest due to the lack of an actual album release.

While out celebrating the June 14 release of her debut album “Dopamine,” the former Fifth Harmony member was surprised with a cake topped with those same tweets. I like that Normani can joke about the six-year wait between that first tweet and the album’s actual release date, and her most ardent fans’ frustrations with how long it took her to finally release her solo debut.

It has been a long road to this moment even for the most kindhearted Normani fans. Fans were understandably disappointed that updates following the album’s announcement became scarce after her teasing, but there was also an odd level of resentment many seemed to harbor against her. There were a barrage of tweets and comments about how she doesn’t care about her art, that she doesn’t deserve their fandom, and so on. At one point in 2022, Normani had to tell one of those projecting fans: “just shut the fuck up.”

Delayed or not, “Dopamine” is a solid debut. For all the doubts expressed about her, the album suggests Normani does have drive and is developing her own sound. Much of “Dopamine” echoes a lot of 2000s era Timbaland and Rodney Jerkins production vibes and recalls the Southern influences of her Houston and New Orleans roots.

Although classified as “pop” on music streaming outlets, it’s ultimately more of a grown-and-sexy-crafted body of work. Normani has cited Janet Jackson’s “Discipline” as a favorite, and that love of sultriness is best exhibited on works like “Lights On,” “All Mine” and the G.I. Joe-sampling standout “Grip.”

Brandy is so impressed by Normani’s channeling of her that she lends background vocals to the Victoria Monét-penned “Insomnia.” What impresses me is how on “Big Boy” and “Still,” I hear some of the best meshing of R&B and Houston/Southern hip-hop since LeToya Luckett’s debut (a huge compliment if you have taste).

As much as I’ve come to enjoy “1:59,” the follow-up to “Wild Side,” I am surprised that Normani didn’t lead with “Candy Paint” as her 2024 reintroduction given how that song, above all, is the one her fans have most clamored for.

Normani performs onstage during the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Normani performs onstage during the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Jamie McCarthy/MTV VMAs 2021 via Getty Images

Normani has always been right that her breakthrough single, “Motivation,” was a bit too bubblegum pop for her sensibilities. Her dancing made the video entertaining, but the track itself sounded like the sort of music that I didn’t want Ciara making. Whereas ‘crunk ‘n B’ brings out the best in Ciara, Normani’s pocket is “Wild Side” featuring Cardi B, which harkens back to the sort of R&B she professes to love most.

Longtime Normani fans do have a right to be confused by how the rollout of “Dopamine.” The album’s track list wasn’t revealed until the day before it dropped and there have been no additional music videos.

That has only sparked more debate about whether the years of anticipation have been worth it. Many critics, including some calling themselves her fans, have thrown around the “flop” label after the album’s low-charting debut in spite of the fact that the album hasn’t even been out a month. Even before the release, her detractors have openly called her a “flop,” which Normani did acknowledge impacted her in a recent interview with The Guardian

“Honestly, it was just a reminder of all the questions I was already asking myself,” she said of the criticism. “I’ve had to learn to grant myself some grace and forgiveness, because a lot of it was just out of my control. I did the best with what I could, and that’s on top of the business shifting, teams changing. It was a lot.”

It’s good that she’s learned to give herself more grace. 

Although Normani was part of Fifth Harmony, a group that sold in excess of 30 million albums worldwide, it was not a group widely known by Black audiences. (In fact, if I hadn’t been a practicing gay man in the 2010s, I would have never heard of ’em as some of those clubs wore “Worth It” to death back then.) And as Normani herself has shared through the years, quite a few Fifth Harmony fans antagonized her for racist reasons.

As a solo act, for all of Normani’s strengths and talents, she is nonetheless a new and developing artist and ought to be judged as such. This idea that she has to be an instant superstar was always unrealistic and unforgiving. Just ask Beyoncé — because y’all didn’t appreciate “Work It Out” and it took a minute before we got to “Crazy in Love.” Everyone makes her the template for big success, especially after breaking out from a successful girl group, but few recall her actual history.

There have been unrealistic expectations thrusted on Normani by fans and critics alike. It’s not useful for her as an artist. It’s even less useful as a person. 

Behind the scenes, Normani’s mother, after 19 years of remission, was diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time in 2020. A year later, her father was diagnosed with prostate cancer just as her mom was completing chemotherapy. As someone that has tried to work through art while a parent battles for their life, I can personally attest to how difficult that task is. 

You would think her biggest fans would extend more empathy given the circumstances. Then again, as kind as people can be in those life-or-death situations, I, too, know how some can be no less cruel. 

For Normani’s sake, I hope she can now instead focus on the fact that “Dopamine” is a debut album to be proud of.

She has time to fix the rest as she prioritizes a new R&B-loving audience over that pop crowd.