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ALBUM: Fifth Harmony – “Reflection”
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ALBUM: Fifth Harmony – “Reflection”

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Reality television and music has proven a consistently toxic combination. It’s easy to see why – reality TV is after all celebration of the mundane that overdramatizes everything it touches. On both sides of the Atlantic televised talent shows have become the default entry point to the music industry.

This wouldn’t be a problem if genuinely motivated and innovative musicians were taking centre stage on such programmes, but of course they are not. The goal of appearing on X Factor, The Voice or any of the other nigh-identical series is not to find musicians but to create celebrities, and a product to sell. The spawn of such things reflects this perfectly – the biggest success story One Direction have been a brand more than they are a band since their inception, which was in of itself concocted by TV executives rather than natural musical chemistry. Fifth Harmony, essentially their female American counterparts, are cut from very much the same cloth, but if anything make 1D sound pioneering and exciting.

If every successful pop song of the last five years was placed into a musical blender, smashed together incomprehensibly then cut up into 10 distinct but incomprehensibly homogenous individual tracks, the bulk of their debut full-length ‘Reflection’ would be the result. This is an album so uninspired it frankly beggars belief, its influences painfully transparent to the point where multiple songs come off as bastardised clones. Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty” appears  to have somehow become the model for contemporary pop, recalled overtly in “Worth It” as well as slightly less obviously on opener “Top Down”, which also finds time to take cues from Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”. Elsewhere “Them Girls Be Like” tries with all its power to replicate the jangling percussion and effortless hook of “Single Ladies”, and “This Is How We Roll” provides an encapsulation of chart dance pop so tired it’s frankly funny. If anything it’s a PG reboot of J Lo’s “Booty”, and while the lyrics are hilariously clunky (“everybody in the party; if you came here to party; better move your body; damn look at that body”) they are at the very least age-appropriate for this band of teenagers.

When they’re not giving prior hits a facelift in the hope nobody will notice, Fifth Harmony (or rather the team of business people disguising themselves as songwriters behind Fifth Harmony) simply go as obvious as possible. “Sledgehammer” and “Everlasting Love” could have been produced in a Radio Ballad 101 course, both boasting big hooks but about as much substance as a Buzzfeed article; although they’re infinitely preferable to “BO$$”, a song as odious as its title suggest which decides repeated mentions of Michelle Obama and Oprah constitute a memorable chorus. Fifth Harmony are at least for the most part competent singers – “funny, jazz-influenced” Camila has a tendency to sound as precocious as possible that slightly ruins things – but the material they have to work with has no merit whatsoever.

That is except for entirely unexpected final number “We Know”, a stripped-back vocal-based peach of a song with tasteful sung melodies and an inherent maturity entirely absent from the rest of ‘Reflection’. It’s an utterly refreshing end to proceedings – a cool mint at the end of a turgid, tasteless restaurant meal, if you will – that shows Fifth Harmony could be interesting, openly talented and artistic. Instead they are a product, designed to get radio play and make their backers lots of money. Reality television’s stranglehold on mainstream channels of delivering music will ensure such garbage perpetuates its place at the top as long as the world continues to lap it up.

‘Reflection’ is lowest-common-denominator pop of the worst kind that will take attention away from deserving musicians and perpetuate a trend that if there is any justice in the world will die sooner rather than later. Put another way, any album with “hashtag I woke up like this too” is worth neither your time nor your money.