Chalk it up to gender bias, or just to shifting trends, but recent history has not been kind to girl groups–even while their male counterparts like One Direction have flourished. That’s why it meant something last month when the five-piece pop outfit Fifth Harmony notched its first Top 10 single with “Work From Home.” The song is a winking trifle of a thing–and, it should be noted, an extended metaphor about intimate travails, not an ode to telecommuting–but it’s also historic. Now perched at No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart, “Work From Home” marks the first time in a decade that an all-female pop group has cracked radio’s upper echelons. (The Pussycat Dolls were the last, in 2006.)
Just like One Direction, Fifth Harmony was formed on a franchise of the reality show The X Factor. Last year the quintet’s debut album, Reflection, spawned a Top 20 single with the funky anthem “Worth It.” Yet the new album 7/27 (out May 27) represents a more aggressive bid for superstardom, with songs produced by hitmakers like Max Martin. Sonically, it’s in line with much of what’s on the radio–tropical synths and dramatic beat drops on tracks about matters of the heart. But the group’s ambitions come into focus on songs about empowerment, like the funky Missy Elliott–assisted “Not That Kinda Girl” and “That’s My Girl,” a celebratory blast of good feeling.
7/27 works best in that mode, as a soundtrack for the #squad era (today’s chic hashtag denoting sisterhood). It’s the product of what we might call Beyoncé feminism: sexually liberated, high gloss and hard to argue with. Which is fitting. After all, even an artist as singular as Beyoncé was once a member of Destiny’s Child.
This appears in the May 30, 2016 issue of TIME.
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