Fifth Harmony's satisfyingly shady debut performance at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards—in which a Camila Cabello stand-in was casually tossed from the stage... or jumped on her own terms, depending on who you ask—represents a reinvigorated sense of self, control and creative renewal, for better or worse. The four piece, who walked away with Pop Video of the Year on Sunday, August 27 released their grand, occasionally deflated sounding third studio album this month. The self-titled release rockets along in only thirty-three minutes, which is jarringly-brisk—even when attention spans are being cropped to Hit Clips extremes.

In the wake of Cabello’s abrupt departure in December, prognosticators dissected every possible outcome. Each deliciously revealing statement came under severe scrutiny, and we all lapped up that shameless public drama rather savagely. Here, Cabello’s undeniable vocal punch is colossally missing from the proceedings, but her absence also allows the group’s talented singers a chance to step into the spotlight.

The newly-minted quartet—Normani Kordei, Ally Brooke, Dinah Jane Hansen and Lauren Jauregui—have made an impressive bid for Girl Group of the Decade, and their combined talents are best utilized here on such smoldering R&B jams as “Deliver,” which pounces along like a Destiny’s Child track; the finger-snap-happy “Angel;” and “Lonely Night,” a tropical, euphoric number fluttering with breezy, warm accents and an unassuming slink. “If you don’t treat your mom right, bye bye,” Hansen hisses on the latter. But there’s no malice in her intentions: instead, she has simply had enough of the bulls--- and of fucbois. “If you’ve got another chick on the side, bye bye.”

Unfortunately, sprinkled between each of these crucial mile markers, there are enough milquetoast samplings to make your stomach turn, from the sluggish “Don’t Say You Love Me” to the humdrum buzz of “Messy” and “Bridges,” which look good on paper but are gravely lacking in execution. The group's usually-reliable brand of fierceness has largely lost its sparkle, and you won’t find a “Sledgehammer”-level bop on here (#JusticeForSledgehammer), nor such a viscerally-raw jingle as “Gonna Get Better.” Even lead single “Down” feels a bit dated and tired. At their best, Fifth Harmony are a revelation—a manifestation of love, acceptance, diversity and musical excitement. At their worst, they’re an amalgam of cliche-riddled girl group melodramatics. (“Sauced Up,” however infectious it may be, is one of the worst offenders).

The crown jewel of the record lies with “He Like That.” Hansen once again leads with lusciously-addicting vocal vigor, as she unapologetically prowls on the “good boy” with the tatted up arms and who “put that bass in the beat.” Never mincing their words, the group unleashes a string of lustful pronouncements: “He like that bang, bang, bang / He like that bomb, bomb, bomb / He like that love, love, love / I’m like that drug, drug, drug / He trip when he on it, one taste and he want it.” If you’ve seen the vibrantly-lit visual, you know the song vibrates with liberating sexual context. Coming at a time in history when women continue to be slut-shamed, 5H brandishing their sexuality so fearlessly is imperative and empowering.

When the four independent women stormed the stage to accept Pop Video for “Work From Home” at the VMAs, their speeches were slurred with tears, humility and heartfelt thanks. "Thank you so much to our families. We know that it's not easy raising four women," Kordei gushed. "We put you through hell and back." Voice breaking, Brooke added, "This is such a monumental moment for us. I'm just grateful for how far we've come."

Who knew five years ago these wide-eyed ingenues would go on to become one of the most engrossing rags-to-riches stories in modern pop music? They’re the kind of pop stars we love to champion, and while Fifth Harmony may be nowhere near their full potential yet, we’ve got a feeling they have plenty more to say. And we're still listening.

Fifth Harmony's Best Dance Breaks:

Fifth Harmony Through the Years:

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