The decline of Fifth Harmony: How the foursome killed their career with “Down”

With the new release of a goodbye music video, Fifth Harmony is no more. You could say they were headed for an icerberg the day their most arresting member, Camila Cabello announced she was calling it quits. But the four member lineup (dubbed by some as 4H) really nailed their coffins a year ago when they issued “Down” as their first single as a foursome.

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The world was watching closely to see what the remaining members would do now that the Shawn Mendes-dueting starlet had left, and anticipation for the girl group was quite hefty.

While Camila might have chipped at some of Fifth Harmony’s fanbase (collectively known as “Harmonizers”), most of them initially remained loyal to the group, as demonstrated when both Camila and 4H released their first post-departure singles.

“Crying in the Club” was Camila’s debut solo offering, issued for digital download on May 19 under Syco, the label Fifth Harmony had been signed to since their formation on The X Factor in 2012. Two weeks later, 4H followed with a Gucci Mane collaboration “Down”, also under the same label.

Both songs were released around the same time to target summer radio, but while neither fizzled, one of them did a very tiny, slightly better.

Camila’s “Crying in the Club” was a haunting, tropical dance-pop number sonically similar to Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You”, which tore up the charts earlier in the year. Meanwhile, 4H’s Down”, was essentially a clone of yesteryear’s “Work From Home”, the group’s beat-driven urban pop song with tropical embellishments that reached #1 on Top 40 radio.

Where “Work From Home”‘s hook was basically the word “work” on repeat, “Down”‘s chorus was similarly just its title repeated. Both songs were twins from the same womb, except “Down” was the unoriginal, less interesting younger sibling the world didn’t need.

And yet, “Down” initially defeated “Crying in the Club” when it entered the Billboard Hot 100 at #42, five positions above Camila’s when hers debuted two weeks earlier. While “Crying in the Club” sold over 33,000 digital copies in its first week, “Down” sold 36,000. Clearly, excitement was higher for 4H, and Harmonizers were still loyal to the band.

But while “Crying in the Club” lingered in the fifties and sixties for nine more weeks, “Down” quickly descended the Hot 100 and even exited the entire chart after five weeks. It simply wasn’t a replayable song worthy of being the foursome’s first offering without the Cuban American starlet.

It was a pivotal choice given the world’s anticipation, coupled with the foursome’s severe need to prove their star power even without Camila, who had been perennially deemed even during their X Factor days as the only one that shines in the group (right, Demi Lovato?)

After wasting such a crucial opportunity with “Down”, it was practically impossible for 4H to turn things around. Their next single, “He Like That”, failed to chart even with a music video, promotion and radio push.

When 4H released their self-titled studio album (their first without Camila) in August 2017, it sold only 32,000 in its first week, 17,000 less than their previous album, 7/27 did only a year earlier.

Even a new song featuring Pitbull titled “Por Favor”, capitalizing on the Spanish pop trend helmed by Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito”, was retroactively added to the album’s Spotify track list, but it failed to crack the Hot 100.

Initially, Camila wasn’t faring much better… until the lucky girl struck lottery when one of her promotional singles, “Havana” caught onto radio and erupted.

Syco, the label that was still representing both parties, re-strategized “Havana” as a full-fledged single. It ascended to #2 on the Hot 100 in the winter (surprising for a summery Latin song), where it lingered for weeks before finally claiming the top spot this January.

That same week, Camila’s self-titled debut album entered at #1. It sold 65,000 copies in its first week, more than all three Fifth Harmony studio albums’ starting numbers (both pre- and post-Camila).

What started out as two acts competing neck and neck with their first post-departure singles has unfolded with two very different outcomes a year later. Camila’s eventual success as a solo artist pulled most of Syco’s resources away from the struggling 4H, who never put out a hit after Camila left.

After a less-than-stellar tour with weak ticket sales, 4H has since gone on “hiatus”, a euphemistic term we’re all familiar with when it comes to groups. Their last release as a group as a grateful goodbye in the form of a music video for the song “Don’t Say You Love Me”. Its title is almost hilarious given the circumstances eventually led to this breakup.

It really boiled down to that one pivotal decision to release “Down” while the world was watching. Maybe if they went for something else, Fifth Harmony would still be going strong today.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly states a Fifth Harmony album title as “22/7”. The correct title is “7/27”. Credits to Marian Lim, self-proclaimed ex-fan of Fifth Harmony for the correction.

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