Monday, August 26th, 2019

Normani – Motivation

Then again, we might have discovered some get-up-and-go…


Josh Buck: In a single four-minute clip that plays like the arthouse version of the reference-heavy “thank u, next” video, Normani decisively earns her mononym. 

Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa: Once, the great TSJ writer Josh Winters said that Normani would be the Dawn Richard of Fifth Harmony, and man, “Motivation” just proves him right. 

Alfred Soto: What a powerful track: the Fifth Harmony singer chooses a falsetto floating above the whomping beats just enough for us to hear how the beats toughen her and her falsetto lightens them. To record an empowerment track that abjures self-help nostrums is deserving of a nineteen-week stay at #1. 

Alex Clifton: As someone who came of age in the 2000s, I remember a time when the radio played good R&B to dance to; it was the soundtrack of every bar mitzvah and prom I attended. There’s been a dearth of those sorts of songs since — we’ve had some EDM bangers, but I’ve longed for a song that was less like a rave and more like a late summer block party. This is everything I could’ve wanted: the best song Beyoncé never released, a powderkeg of energy and fun that overwhelms and delights. The video choreography is already classic (I’ve been thinking about the basketball-bounce move for a week solid), I anticipate seeing this memed to death, and I’ll enjoy every variant I see of it. Moreover, it’s so wonderful to see Normani finally get a song where she can let loose — rather than “Love Lies,” which I found rather wet, “Motivation” is an actual showcase of Normani’s talent. We’re witnessing the bona fide birth of a star.

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: An iconic video with beautiful representation and killer choreography, a cast of A-list songwriters all bringing their A-game, and a song sturdy enough to back it all up: “Motivation” is nothing less than the birth of Normani as a star.

Katherine St Asaph: The fact that the Normani Starmaking Apparatus wasn’t cranked into gear for the ludicrously underrated “Waves” but for this midtier 3LW song is baffling. It’s “Check On It” when the moment calls for “Crazy in Love”; it’s Kelly Rowland’s “Motivation,” i.e., managed expectations.

Tobi Tella: Everyone is begging and clamoring for Normani to happen, and while I have nothing against her, I’m not sure why? Maybe it’s because I don’t look on the days of Fifth Harmony with fond memories, or maybe it’s all of her previous singles being generic midtempos. She has a nice enough voice but I just don’t know if the it-factor is there somewhere, because it’s certainly not in “Motivation.” It’s definitely fun and upbeat, and the 2000s noisy R&B pop intro gave me nostalgia for an older, tackier time, but everything about “Motivation” is too safe. The instrumental is nice but never really gets to the next level, the lyrics are beyond empty outside of slang, and there’s nothing in the vocal performance that makes me want to call her out as the new superstar of our time. Props for the music video though — I’d definitely play an only-Normani Just Dance.

Jessica Doyle: Something about this song isn’t clicking for me, in a very fundamental way: the stutter of the background feels at odds, uncomfortably, with the rhythm of her voice. Watching the video didn’t help: it felt like the choreography was designed for yet a third different song. I tried to concentrate on her voice alone, but then got distracted by wondering why the decision was made to draw on the final n in “motivation” but speed through consonants during the verses. “Dancing with a Stranger” drove me nuts because Normani was so good and everything else was so mushy, and now even when she’s solo, there’s all this noise (rather than song) getting in the way. I want her next song to be a simple power ballad, and I don’t even like simple power ballads.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: A lot of excitement over an Ariana Grande b-side, huh.

Kylo Nocom: Chirpy Dangerous Woman kitsch-pop that makes me happy in a way music hasn’t in a long time. All music will henceforth be rated on whether it would be improved with a brass band breakdown or not.

Will Adams: The impressive video helps loads; without it I find myself checking Spotify to make sure I’m not listening to Ariana.

Hannah Jocelyn: The video is so clearly a [10], Dave Meyers finally forgoing special effects extravaganzas for something nostalgic that invites viewers into the celebration, rather than pushing them away in smug “you had to be there” (or “I had to be there”) fashion. It props up the song, which has some already-iconic moments like the horn riff and the meme-in-waiting “it ain’t regular, that ain’t regular” but can’t quite capture the same energy. A lot of this is due to how sparse the song is; the a cappella “think about it, ooh, I think about it” repeating at 1:52 and 2:37 shows a strange lack of creativity in the arrangement. With the video, those things can be forgiven, but there’s not nearly enough nuance or detail in the production or even the lyrics to make this a vital listen on its own. 

Joshua Lu: I can’t shake the feeling that this is something I would find 30 songs deep into an algorithm-generated workout playlist, but regardless it’s refreshing to hear Normani emerge so fully realized after years of unthreatening collaborations. Let’s savor this moment before she’s forced to work with Zedd or whoever.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Normani talks about giving us “innovation” but she’s really doing everything but that here — “Motivation” is a combined-arms formation of nostalgic R&B tropes, leaving behind the smooth, boring ballads that her first few solo singles trafficked in for something much higher energy. There’s nothing really new here but Normani makes a compelling argument that there doesn’t need to be — to witness her at the head of the ersatz marching band is spectacular enough, she seems to claim. “Motivation” is a pop jam designed to show off its performer as a student of the game — Ariana’s co-write is painfully obvious, and the overall Beyoncé-ness of it all is a little on the nose. But the joy of “Motivation” is that it’s a lot of fun even when you can see the machinery.

Nortey Dowuona: I have nothing to really say except: if Normani isn’t the artist my (imaginary) niece names as her inspiration to pursue pop music, we have failed as a species. (Also, The Dancing is Better than that other guy.)

Vikram Joseph: “Motivation” just refuses to sit still. It snaps, fizzes, sways, pops, bounces off every wall in the building. It’s an unadulterated hit of pure summer that makes me want to dance in ways that would be deeply ill-advised for me to attempt. It’s incredibly immediate and possesses at least two instantly iconic pop moments (“ain’t regular, that ain’t regular!” and that sweet, delirious trumpet hook), and yet it’s sonically rich and intensely intricate. It’s irresistible, and really, why would you want to resist this?

Reader average: [7.5] (6 votes)

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7 Responses to “Normani – Motivation”

  1. Wow some of y’all were determined to tank her, and succeeded. She just missed the 7.0 mark

  2. sorry for not lying

  3. lol at the idea that there was a conspiracy to systematically underrate normani

  4. I went and re-listened after reading all the [8] and up blurbs here and… yeah, still not feeling it. She has a ton of charisma, but it’s an undercooked squib of a song.

  5. I mean, it’s entirely possible. Who knows what the conspirators’…. Motivation was though?

  6. Honestly worth it for that joke alone.