Review Summary: The former X-Factor USA finalists put out a pretty decent EP that shows that yes, this fiery five-piece girl group is "Better Together".
Who the hell is Fifth Harmony is probably the first question that most of the general public is asking, unless you have of course been one of the thousands of dedicated fans called "Harmonizers" who have supported the American girl group since their inception in the Fall of 2012. No, they weren't formed by the kiddie networks in Disney and Nickoledon like boy-band R5 (another likely you've never heard of) or Big Time Rush (now you might've heard of them, or not). Formed by music mogul Simon Cowell, these five ladies from San Antonio,Â*Miami, Houston, and California went through Season 2 of the now-defunct X-Factor USA and ended up in third place behind Carly Rose Sonenclar and winner Tate Stevens. The ironic part is that while haven't won the X-Factor USA, Fifth Harmony, or 5H has turned out to be the most successful act from the American reality show competition, being signed to a joint record deal to Cowell's Syco Music and L.A Reid's Epic Records in early 2013. Those who have crossed paths with the X-Factor USA haven't had the same, especially with the first two winners in Melanie Amaro and Tate Stevens garnering mediocre success: with Amaro haven't released an album yet in the three years after she was on the show, and Stevens already getting dropped by RCA Nashville, the very record label he fought to be in. Time will tell with the third and final season winners, duo Alex & Sierra (also formed by Simon Cowell) but chances are that they'll share the same fate. To summarize basically, America doesn't produce great talent anymore, that's why Cowell packed his bags for his home on the X-Factor UK to once again lead the musical assault on the States, as highlighted in the popularity of Little Mix, One Direction, Adele, Ellie Goulding, and now Sam Smith. The American version of the show ended up being dropped by Fox due to the departure of Cowell, along with massive decline in the ratings.
Fifth Harmony might as well be the girl version of One Direction, placing both third in their respective countries on the X-Factor, having one member stand out among the rest in entertainment headlines (with Harry Styles obviously in 1D and Camila Cabello in 5H), and coming out as easily the breakout stars from the franchise. While haven't had the explosion in popularity like their male counterparts, they are becoming one of the highly underrated names in all of pop in the States, and also one of the most underrated live acts as their vocals in concert have been said by many to be the best by any artist they've ever heard from. That's something that 1D certainly cannot do (check out their recent live televised performances), along with the majority of the pop music industry. With wins at the Radio Disney Music Awards, opening for pop superstars Demi Lovato and Cher Lloyd (and Austin Mahone in the Summer of 2014), and their first headlining tour in 2014 with "5th Times A Charm", the former X-Factor USA finalists are certainly doing what they can to make some buzz around the entire music establishment, however they still haven't had their big break despite the successes they've had and still have an immense amount of underwhelming support even though they are one of the breakout names from the X-Factor. In October of 2013, Fifth Harmony released their debut EP in Better Together, a five-track (or seven-tracks if you include both the iTunes and Target bonus tracks) sampling of what's to come for their long-awaited debut studio album, slated for a late Summer to Fall of 2014 release. The extended play comes out as a pretty decent set of tracks, which considering the bombardment of girl groups like Little Mix producing less than stellar albums, is quite uncommon for a pop girl group.
Â*Â*Â*Better Together starts out with the retro-dance track "Don't Wanna Dance Alone", which comes as a great introduction to those not familiar with Fifth Harmony. Call this intro track a sequel to the late Whitney Houston's "Wanna Dance With Somebody", with similar messages and upbeat sound. It all starts out with Lauren Jauregui on vocals, whose fierce and strong sound easily sets the tone for the track and for the entire EP. While a fantastic buildup to the otherwise catchy chorus rolls through, member Normani Kordei Hamilton strikes with a sound that bears similarities to former Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland. After the chorus Camila Cabello comes in, whose vocals are easily the most unique in the group, delivering a raw edge to the girl group with that raw sound bearing similarities to one-hit pop wonder Vanessa Carlton. Dinah Jane Hansen arrives afterwards with the most wide vocal range in the group, able to hit pretty high and low notes, earning comparisons to a young Beyonce Knowles even. Pretty funny considering L.A Reid said to her during auditions on the X-Factor, after performing ironically a Beyonce track that she took it to places that "even Beyonce didn't". Finally, member Ally Brooke Hernandez wraps up the track before returning to its chorus with a very vibrant voice which brings in plenty of great energy. "Don't Wanna Dance Alone" incorporates just the right amount of dance and pop elements, which comes as one of the highlights in the EP.
Better Together has many shining spots, displaying the incredible vocals that all five ladies have along with nice, upbeat sounds that will certainly get you going. The girl-power anthem "Miss Movin' On" is a massive highlight, with fantastic vocal sets from Lauren and Dinah along with all five teaming up for an explosive chorus that is sure to impress. It gives the track a big boost while also fronting the "moving on from a relationship" message, which as generic and dull as it sounds, considering their is plenty of that in pop music and Taylor Swift bombarding Top 40 radio with songs like that, it provides an otherwise different twist which comes as refreshing and much-needed. The ridiculously sugary but ratchet "Me And My Girls" is an ode to booty-popping, twerking, whatever you want to call it, "dropping it low" with your ladies which definitely sounds corny and generic, but with a catchy hook and party-like, fun sound this track is certain to get you moving in no time. "One Wish" is definitely the best track overall, shying away from the big-production sounds that occupy the majority of the EP for a stripped-down, acoustic sound with some filtered bass blended with it. It turns out to be the perfect musical arrangement for Fifth Harmony, in which this particular song is their big "F.U" track. They hold off going full-throttle vocally aside from the chorus, and even charting toward unexplored waters with some rapping in the bridge, showing that these five ladies are not afraid to try something different from the norm.
Unfortunately, Better Together does have it's share of scratches and bruises which only gives this EP some setbacks. The self-titled track has a great fun sound to it, but it's plagued with incredibly dull lyrics and an annoying chorus. Call this an attempt at a Mariah Carey throwback track, but one that doesn't even make it's target. It is a shame considering Harmony Samuels, the man responsible for making Ariana Grande insanely popular, was one of the writers in this track but failed massively with this track. This specific track is one of those generic pop songs that while tweens and teens will blast it at full volume, the rest of us have our heads shaking in disappointment and how pop music continues to go in circles. The adult-contemporary track "Who Are You", the only ballad on the EP and easily the most somber one, has a depressing, eerily dark sound that unfortunately backfires and comes as too romantically sappy. An ode to teenage male insensitivity (really"), lyrically it is plagued by the same issues that caused their self-titled track to collapse, with weird lines like "Friday fell back in love/Saturday we didn't talk/Sunday you said you needed space." that fail to be taken seriously. Vocally they still continue to go strong, with their best being in the chorus at the near end of the track, which is the only positive thing in this track and the only thing giving it any lasting emotional effect on the listener. The Demi Lovato-inspired pop/rock spinoff track "Leave My Heart Out Of This" is certainly the worst track Fifth Harmony has ever done, with lame production as you can easily hear the Auto-Tune in the vocal sets for Camila and Ally in the beginning of the track and later Dinah in the middle. Considering the girl group can sing really well live without it, it comes as both a major disappointment and shock. The whistle heard three times in this track is absolutely irritating and unoriginal. Again lyrically it's pretty terrible, which considering their worst songs have been criticized for this particular issue they need to step it up a bit there. Vocally they should do more of what they did in "One Wish", tone it down a bit and not having to go full-throttle like they did the majority of the EP which may come as a potentially negative.
Overall, Better Together comes in as a pretty decent introduction as to who the hell this girl group named Fifth Harmony is. While they had a few misses, they sure did hit it right on target the majority of the EP which has become uncommon for most pop records these days. The material put out is by far better than the low-end crap being thrown in by groups like One Direction, Little Mix, and Emblem3. The messages are universal in this EP: breaking up with your boyfriend, getting back with him, he can be like Jekyll and Hyde ("Who Are You" essentially is about that), girl-power and while it can be pretty hard to actually take seriously, believe me it is, the majority of it is not all that bad. While 5H charted towards plenty of bubblegum-pop and dance on this record, their debut studio album is said to be charted towards a more rhythmic sound and more R&B, which will be interesting to see how it goes. Vocally this pop girl group arguably, with their incredible vocal sets and harmonies, surpass any pop girl group that has come and go the last 20 or so years. Fifth Harmony puts out a good EP that deserves to be given a few listens, displaying their unbelievable vocals with fun sounds, however their is some bumps with meaningless and bland lyrics along with terrible song structure, but with this pretty decent release this should further their presence into the mainstream music scene a bit. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing still remains a unanswered question, however it may just be answered when their debut studio album hits later in 2014. It might just be the make-it or break-it point for Fifth Harmony, considering that they're still gaining underwhelming attention two years after the X-Factor.Â*