Music

The untold truth of Normani

Normani Kordei has moved from being 20% of Fifth Harmony into a total solo star in her own right. Along with landing a number of high-profile collaborations with the likes of Ariana Grande, Sam Smith, and Megan Thee Stallion, Normani officially struck out on her own with her 2019 single “Motivation.” The song established her not just as a singer, but as a dancer and an all-around performer.

Before “Motivation,” before Fifth Harmony, and before The X Factor, Normani was a little girl, growing up and dreaming of making it in the music industry. Normani has achieved a remarkable amount in her 24 years, that doesn’t mean it has been a straight road to the top for the singer. She has had to overcome a number of personal challenges, from hate on Twitter to honest-to-goodness natural catastrophes.

Before going global, Normani’s story begins in the American South, in Atlanta and in New Orleans.

Hurricane Katrina forced Normani's family out of New Orleans

Normani was born in Atlanta in 1996, but shortly after she was born, she moved to New Orleans with her family. She was raised there until she was 9, when her family relocated to Houston, Texas after Hurricane Katrina made New Orleans practically uninhabitable.

Her New Orleans roots, however, had a big impact on her career. According to her Fifth Harmony biography, the iconic music scene of the Big Easy was hugely influential in her decision to become a musician, and she also had a small role as a child in Treme, an HBO series depicting the titular New Orleans neighborhood in its recovery from the storm.

Houston, too, had an impact on Normani’s artistry, thanks to one of the city’s most famous residents: Beyoncé. While Beyoncé has been a household name for basically Normani’s entire life, it was after the ex-Fifth Harmony member moved to Queen Bey’s hometown that she started to come into her own as a performer. The Destiny’s Child alum has been a huge source of inspiration for the younger singer, who said in her 5H official bio, “When I’m on stage I pretend to be her. Her alter ego is Sasha Fierce and mine is Beyoncé herself.”

Racist trolls bullied Normani off Twitter

Girl groups are almost always full of tension; each singer wants to make it as a solo star when the group eventually dissolves, and fans will pick favorites, rally behind them, and often attack others. However, as the only Black member of Fifth Harmony, the attacks directed at Normani turned vile and racist.

In 2016, after what some fans perceived as a slight against fellow bandmate Camila Cabello, Normani’s Twitter was flooded with so much racist abuse that she was forced to leave the platform altogether. According to an extensive interview in Rolling Stone in February 2020, the experience made her feel like “the other one in the room” compared to Cabello, with her dad saying “She’s still scarred from that.”

Normani took a long time to open up about these experiences, explaining in 2020, “I struggled with talking about this because I didn’t want it to be a part of my narrative, but I am a black woman, who is a part of an entire generation that has a similar story.” The ordeal, however, steeled Normani’s resolve, as she said, “To my brown men and women, we are like no other… We deserve to be celebrated, I deserve to be celebrated and I’m just getting started.”

Normani's mom beat cancer and inspired her to give back

Not only was Normani’s childhood affected by Hurricane Katrina, it was maked by her mother’s cancer battle. Her mother, Andrea Hamilton, was diagnosed with breast cancer when Normani was 5, and said she was so young that it was hard for her to even understand what it meant. The singer told Entertainment Tonight, “I remember my grandmother mentioned my mom was sick. She was actually the first person who tried to break it down for me, but I didn’t fully understand.”

Normani went on to say that at her young age, she thought that her mom being sick meant having a cold or the flu, explaining, “I didn’t understand the severity of breast cancer until my mom was getting her head shaved by my dad because her hair was falling out… It became real once I saw my mom in a different state.”

Hamilton won her battle with cancer, which Normani says is “something that deserves to be celebrated.” Inspired by her mother’s battle and her strength, Normani has since become active with the American Cancer Society, participating in her first breast cancer 5K walk in 2017 in Santa Monica.

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