Girl Group, Interrupted: Can Fifth Harmony make it without frontwoman Camila Cabello?

Despite their popularity, competitive reality shows have never been remarkably successful at producing lasting talents. It might be because marketability isn’t the first priority of winners, or that the market is simply too competitive to ensure a spot for every winner or runner-up.

However, a few artists have managed to cement themselves in the industry, successfully using their platform to catapult themselves into a future of sold-out tours and triple-platinum singles. Those include One Direction, Carrie Underwood — and most recently — Fifth Harmony.

Fifth Harmony was a surprise. After being formed by Demi Lovato and Simon Cowell to qualify for the group category in The X Factor’s second season, the contestants had a transition period to decide what their identity as a group should be. Each of the five had incredibly strong vocal talent, and they only seemed to get better as each episode progressed. However, even by the end of the season, if viewers were asked which group would have successful careers, they would have likely said Emblem3, Fifth Harmony’s male counterpart. The market seemed to demand boy bands and Emblem3 fit perfectly as teenage music sensations. Since then, Emblem3 faded into oblivion while Fifth Harmony produced two studio albums and several chart-topping singles.

Fifth Harmony established themselves as the most popular girl group of the new generation — a void that desperately needed to be filled after the dissolution of the Pussycat Dolls and Danity Kane. The girls found their niche: empowered women of color who didn’t shy away from sexuality, feminism or achievement. Their songs echoed with dynamism and fierceness, and their vocal talents shined through in every hit. Making their way around venues across the world, Fifth Harmony performed catchy pop tunes and built up a sizable fanbase of Harmonizers. The girls had broken into a seemingly impenetrable mold — and they looked good doing it, too. 

When Camila Cabello announced in December 2016 that she was leaving Fifth Harmony to pursue a solo career, fans were upset, to say the least, but would have been naive to be surprised. The girls had always been talented individually, and Cabello had already been featured on a Shawn Mendes song. As expected by a group that had formed on a whim — even one as successful as Fifth Harmony — the group members would inevitably itch to go solo and try their hand at an independent career. The real question: Would the first person to jump ship be able to carry their own success?

From the beginning of the band, it was clear that Cabello had something unique. Her incredible voice control allowed her to navigate difficult riffs with complete ease and she had a unique sound. Still, vocal talent is not quite enough to build a strong solo career. Perhaps it was her time with Fifth Harmony, her contacts in the music world or something entirely different, but Cabello thrived the moment she broke free. Her single “Crying in the Club” gained immense popularity, as did “Bad Things,” her collaboration with Machine Gun Kelly.

She has proven to be a force to be reckoned with and has piqued the interest of fans, ex-fans and skeptics alike. If she continues to use her talent to navigate the pop market and makes smart collaborative decisions, Cabello could join the leagues of Zara Larsson and Alessia Cara — budding talents and fiercely talented pop princesses.

The other members of Fifth Harmony have expressed interest in pursuing solo projects and careers as well, mirroring the footsteps of fellow The X Factor graduates One Direction. Out of the remaining four, Lauren Jauregui immediately emerges as the best candidate. An avid social justice advocate and one of the more prominent soloists from the beginning, Jauregui has already shaped her own persona outside the group. Also proving her capacities by being featured on Halsey’s song “Strangers,” she is the natural favorite to rise to the top.

Whether or not Fifth Harmony decides to stay together or disband, the group has played an important role in promoting feminism, diversity and sexuality in music.  Each member has the potential to cement herself as a force in pop music, some more likely than others. While the group’s future remains unknown, Fifth Harmony opened the door for a new generation of Spice Girls and Destiny’s Children — and that’s an accomplishment worth noting for years to come.