Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Normani finally arrives with Dopamine's sultry R&B paradise


Release date: 14 June 2024
Normani Dopamine cover
14 June 2024, 14:00 Written by Tanatat Khuttapan

Listening to Dopamine for the first time came with an ultimate exhalation of joy – but at what cost?

Fifth Harmony’s indefinite hiatus immediately placed Normani in the rocket launch to a solo global sensation. Collaborations with the industry’s biggest artists rained on and gave an enduring commercial boost to her (the one with Sam Smith, “Dancing With a Stranger”, is still in rotation at many malls and plazas), cranking up the hype engine that most hoped would culminate in a debut. Despite the releases of 2019’s “Motivation” and 2021’s “Fair”, the singles originally intended for the album, the continuous lack of an official announcement began to jeopardise her high-flown momentum. All of that has mostly vanished now, but Dopamine is here, landing on the decade’s busiest year yet in pop music.

Keeping the tracklist unknown until the release week is, at first sight, a brilliant marketing strategy. Fans have been speculating on which old material would make it there. But such planned surprises don’t work when Normani has been on and off about the record for six years; everyone who’s followed her since 2018 deserves some clarity. The reaction to this is likely polarising. There’s ample unheard-of material that some are delighted to hear for the first time, but those who are attuned to her past teasers might never get to enjoy them on physical formats. Apart from “Wild Side”, other singles remain as standalone, and “Black Woman”, a gorgeous jazz-tinted demo, is nowhere to be found.

Normani is a precious flint against the mainstream steel; a decade's worth of experience in the scene is destined to create sparks in it. Dopamine contains a handful of delectable pop essentials that leverage the industry’s most profitable formula and her undeniable stage presence. The iridescent four-track run from “All Yours” to “Insomnia” almost makes the long wait worth it. Co-written by R&B veteran songwriter Victoria Monét, the Janet Jackson–inspired highlight “Lights On” glitters in steamy reverbs and commanding trap-percussion, striding with the elegance of a fashionista à la “That’s the Way Love Goes”. You can already picture by the hazy atmosphere how dazzling a live performance of it will be.

It’s a sultry R&B paradise for any pleasure seekers, albeit as criminally short as an abrupt strike of the eponymous hormone. With “Insomnia” closing off the ostensible first chapter, Dopamine sprints through various renditions of dated trap pop that blows all promises set by the earlier songs. “Grip” might pass the cultural relevance assessment thanks to the G.I. Joe’s 1974 Kung Fu Grip commercial sample, yet the insubstantial, playful but equally tortuous lyrics (“Feel it picky, picky”? “Got it litty, litty”? Huh?) hamper its high-spirited celebration of downtown life. The tiresome four-note loop and Gunna’s trite autotune can’t save “1:59” from being a department store classic either. Even the cashiers won’t notice it.

Unfortunate circumstances, from the label’s extensive inertia to personal plight, delayed the album too far back to be regarded as refreshing. Some songs feel peculiarly aged, like “Take My Time” with its late-2010s electro-pop influences mixed with Janet Jackson’s “All for You”, suggesting the possibility of it having been finished and shelved for a while. Does the record deliver after all these years, then? Occasionally, but not satisfactorily when playing with the tempting what-ifs. The rollout exists on the gated ground. An excitement too reasonably delirious and exhaustive stands guard, inhibiting massive success, and the spiritless trap beats that mushroom on Dopamine can only dream of defeating it.

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