Higher and Higher.
Is Flying Solo
Lauren Jauregui is exhausted. Lauren Jauregui is invigorated. Lauren Jauregui has spent all day at the photo shoot for this cover, sporting numerous high fashion looks, and is now sitting at a West Hollywood poke restaurant, munching tamago and spicy tuna. Lauren Jauregui has a stuffy nose. "I'm not just singular," she tells me in between bites. "I'm not one thing all the time." Also, Lauren Jauregui is high. We both are.
As Jauregui herself said, she is multidimensional. This means she can flawlessly transition from serving fierce, angular poses to blasting music in the car, taking selfies with the glowing sunset, and passing me a vape, which she says an Uber driver once gave her. (I blanched at this, but she insisted, "I changed the cartridge!")
Jauregui hasn't slept in 24 hours—she caught a red-eye following a three-day solo jaunt in Hawaii, but was kept awake by boisterous seatmates; men, obviously. In spite of this, she's bursting with soul, with joy, with passion. I feel it as she banters with her team, has lively phone conversations with her mother, and in the way she never stops moving, always involved with whatever is going on in the room. Jauregui is a leader; she takes creative control wherever she can—while making decisions both marginal, like urging her makeup artist to use a dark red lip with a Heathers-like schoolgirl punk look, or grandiose, like writing and composing a debut solo album.
This impressive duality is not surprising for anyone who knows Jauregui, and is aware of all she's capable of. I've known her for a few years—we collided at a party after the Kids' Choice Awards (no, really) and have been friends ever since. And so I've long been wowed by her brain; she's wise beyond her years ("I was born old," she says). But now, something has changed; Lauren Jauregui has finally found her independence. This energy is oozing from her pores—it's tangible, visible on her skin.
But, like, actually visible. The former Fifth Harmony member commemorated the genesis of her solo career by inking its date on her forearm: "6.6.18," she says, her lips curling into a smile as she points to a tattoo of the numbers. The ink memorializes the first night Jauregui opened for Halsey on the Hopeless Fountain Kingdom Tour. Though Jauregui's debut performance without Fifth Harmony was a set with electronic duo Marian Hill last year, Jauregui explains, "The first time I performed solo-solo was this day."
Though only 22 years old, Jauregui has had many such memorable days, all of them leading up to the independent trajectory on which she now finds herself. It all started, though, back in 2012, when Jauregui auditioned for The X-Factor when she was 15 years old. After being placed in a group with four other young hopefuls, Jauregui and her fellow fledgling pop stars finished third in the competition.
Fifth Harmony went on to amass millions of fans (endearingly dubbed "Harmonizers"), release three albums, and collect dozens of awards, from MTV Moonmen and Teen Choice surfboards to more esteemed awards with less fun shapes, like Billboards and AMAs. Despite all the acclaim, when the group officially disbanded in March 2018, Jauregui seemed ready, and had already released two singles, "Back to Me" with Marian Hill and "All Night" with Steve Aoki. But even more importantly, Jauregui had already dived headfirst into writing her forthcoming solo album. Both the new music and her intrepid demeanor make clear that Jauregui knows exactly what she wants—and is well on her way toward achieving it.
Though Jauregui boasts over 6 million followers on Instagram, she's unbelievably normal. At the cover shoot, while sporting a Cher Horowitz-esque plaid blazer and midnight-hued heels that clunk against the hardwood floors, she giggles through a phone call. "Yes, you can get on the calendar," she tells her mom, on one of those classic parents-versus-technology calls. She insists that she already shared the calendar on Gmail. "Just try," she pleads.
In order to really understand Jauregui, it's important to start at the beginning—her family. Jauregui explains how her parents influenced her journey: "My dad was super-supportive," she says of her decision to audition for The X-Factor. However: "My mom wanted me to finish high school and low-key college, but she said high school before I started pursuing anything in music, because my mom's an educator. She's a math teacher."
Though Jauregui has a real love of history and academia—that mom gene—she still knew that she wanted to go on that audition. And her mom's response? "Once she found out that I got through [TheX-Factor auditions], she was like, 'Oh, bitch, I knew that this was gonna happen. That's why I wanted you to wait.'"
Despite her reservations, Jauregui's mother was as encouraging as everyone wants their parents to be. And Jauregui knows she's lucky; she glows when she talks about her parents. "I'm so grateful that, every day, my family is so supportive of my dreams and who I want to be as a person," she says. "They never tried to make me feel like I had to be something… Maybe it's 'cause they knew that they couldn't tell me that shit, 'cause I was so set on what I wanted to do my whole life."
And now, it's clear, that all the work Jauregui has done, from competing on a reality singing competition to circling the globe with her girl group, is paying off, resulting in her living out her dream. "Every single ounce of what I went through in Fifth Harmony prepared me for this moment, to be this person I am now, to have the career opportunities I do now, to have creative freedom," she says.
It's this last thing that is the most significant: Jauregui has total creative control on her debut solo project—something that was missing in her past ventures. Being part of one of the biggest girl groups since The Spice Girls had its benefits, of course—namely, the industry clout which afforded her the opportunity to helm her own solo project on her own terms. "Most people have to compromise a lot, and I haven't compromised once," she says. "[Industry people] are really attentive to my needs and my voice, and that's the coolest feeling in the world. That's something that I hadn't experienced as of yet."
Most people have to compromise a lot, and I haven't compromised once.
But she has experienced plenty of other things: In the last six years, Jauregui says, her will, her character, her integrity, and her well-being were tested. But she's grateful for the hardships. "I was able to prove to myself throughout this whole process that I am the person that I say that I am," she says. "Even if nobody else recognizes it."
Recognition, though, is bound to come soon—it will be inescapable once the new album comes out. This became clear to me just as everything else was getting hazy. This became clear to me as we went from the cover shoot and to the restaurant. This became clear as the sun was setting, a familiar neon pink fireball taunting us from behind velvet mountains. This became clear as we got high on that long ago Uber driver's vape. This became clear as we barreled through the WiFi-less hills of Calabasas, dashed down the scarcely clear 101, and Jauregui played me every song—some half-finished, all unmixed, a few with just raw vocals and guitar. I thought, This is the way all music deserves to be heard—with the artist, rough tracks, purple-black starry skies, car lights, friendship. It was one of those rare encounters with magic—not the Hogwarts kind, but the kind that charges your soul with vibrational human connection.
While listening to the first song, I told her, "It's just so crazy to hear…"—and she finished my sentence—"To hear just my voice?" Jauregui dragged her pointer finger through the air, belting at the top of her lungs, filling the car with stunning surround sound. She fiddled with the car's bass and treble levels, making sure the playback was just right. She pointed out a sample that enlivened her, and told me how she composed certain instrumentations (she'd sing the notes or play them on piano, and a producer would arrange from there). A few times, I'd shout a compliment over the blaring beat, and Jauregui would rewind, insisting, "You missed the best part." Sharing her art made her luminesce, and her pride and confidence were contagious.
The music is soulful and lively. In some ways, it's unexpected, as the sound is a noticeable deviation from the bops and bangers customary to Fifth Harmony. But in actuality, the style makes total sense for Jauregui as a solo artist—the songs are expressive and honest. Her smoky, mature vibrato carries the depth and sensuality of Amy Winehouse, while the composition contains hints of Lauryn Hill's minor harmonies and pulsating hip-hop beats. Some tracks are brimming with Latin influence, her own Cuban background emblazoned in the beats' rhythmic twos and threes. Lauren Jauregui has clearly come into her own with this solo project—she wrote every song, and the lyrics are direct reflections of her character and experiences.
"That was my favorite one," I say after a fiery track about girl-on-girl love. Knowing that I'm gayer than Cate Blanchett in Ocean's 8, she squints at me and says, "Obviously." In her new music, Jauregui writes openly about her romantic history with both women and men. "My art is just self-explorative," she divulges. "I'm gonna talk about whatever it is that I'm going through, so if what I went through, I went through with a girl, you're gonna hear about it from that perspective. If what I went through, I did with a man, you're gonna hear it from that perspective, 'cause I just love souls."
All of the change that will ever happen in the world has to start with the individual.
Jauregui is not afraid to be honest about who she is, and what she believes, and has come into her own politically on a very public stage. In November of 2016, maddened by the results of the presidential election, she wrote a letter for Billboard in which she came out as bisexual. The following year, she collaborated with Halsey, who also identifies as bi, on the melancholy queer number, "Strangers," (which they performed together nightly on the Hopeless Fountain Kingdom Tour). Since coming out, Jauregui says she's absorbed quite a bit about fluidity.
"I've learned so much, even about the gender binary since I came out as bisexual, and I'm sure that I could fall in love with anyone as long as their soul was genuine. That's all that really matters to me. I don't care about the physical," she jokes. "I care about your trauma and shit, and if you're projecting that shit on to me." Jauregui adds: "But that's really it, because, at the end of the day, we're all just humans and if we're attracted to each other, we're just attracted to each other. So, I just explore that fluidity all the time."
At the end of the day we're all just humans and if we're attracted to each other, we're just attracted to each other.
It makes sense, then, that the beauty of this album lies in its versatility. At times it's about the ways in which Jauregui is plagued by attraction, at times she's crushed by a complicated friendship, but mostly, her expression is totally genderless. "Most of the songs actually don't even allude to boy or girl, they're just you that I'm talking to," she says. "Because it doesn't matter. Especially when it comes to love, it really doesn't fucking matter." Here, the passionate and political voice we've come to know and love shines brightly. "We need more love in the world," Jauregui says. "Make all the love you want with whoever the fuck you want. Why are you gonna waste your time hating yourself 'cause of who you like or who you wanna fuck? You might not even like them, you might just wanna fuck them, and that's fine!"
Jauregui is funny—like laugh-out-loud funny—and whip-smart. She breaks up thought-provoking monologues about self-loathing and karma and the GOP with observations like, "There's a cockroach on the floor," or by accidentally knocking a chopstick off the table and crying, "Fuck!" Since 2016, she's honed her voice as a loud and proud activist who speaks in a language that appeals to everyone willing to really listen. Jauregui has taken to social media to slam the draconian Trump administration on every important issue, from LGBTQ and women's rights to police violence, gun control, racism, immigration, and the intersection of it all. Whether calling out Florida Senator Marco Rubio for his hypocrisy on religion (Jauregui is a Miami native), or tweeting, "You disgust me" at Donald Trump, she has found her platform, and she's not stepping down anytime soon.
"I just wanna break stigmas, bruh," she quips. Her philosophy on politics has morphed, she says. She wants to let go of anger. You know: that blistering fury that bubbles in our throats after hours of scrolling through Twitter, consuming constant hits of rage from a bottomless pit of tragic news stories interspersed with SpongeBob memes. Jauregui is done with that. Now, she just wants to focus on caring for people, which she does, and often—you can feel the vastness of her empathy, not just for her family and friends, but in her everyday interactions with strangers, like the poke shop employee she enchanted, or the toddler who approached our table to drum her chopsticks on the mochi freezer. "Hello," she chirps to the stringy-haired kid. "Are you a drummer?" Jauregui turns to me: "She's so cute, I love her."
But there's no derailing Jauregui from what she's talking about. She says in the next breath, "All of the change that will ever happen in the world has to start with the individual." In her eyes, the political landscape is as volatile as it is right now because every issue is, inarguably, extraordinarily personal. "I just feel like the political state is a personal state with everybody and how they really feel about themselves… Everybody is so scared of themselves," she says. "Of course they're not gonna be accepting of another person if they can't look in the mirror and love that."
And in case it wasn't clear, here's how Jauregui feels about Trump: "The president is the number one example of that kind of person. Like, that man does not love himself. There's no possible way. If he loved himself, he would educate himself and not make himself look so stupid all the time."
Though the political commentary on her new album isn't as sharp-tongued as what Jauregui has to say in person, it is overt, but it's about her experience of the political landscape, rather than the issues themselves. "I touch upon so many different topics," she says. "But I explore them all from my own experience or what I think of it, so that way it doesn't really infringe on anybody and I'm not really telling anybody what to do with their lives."
An evolved political philosophy is just one piece of Jauregui's personal transformation. Most notably, she proudly calls herself a songwriter now, even though, like many young women, she was bogged down with imposter syndrome for years. "I had pent up so much self-consciousness around music," she confesses. "I had created this false sense in my mind that I couldn't write and that I couldn't do anything right and that there was no point in even trying because I was gonna fail, and obviously the whole world was gonna compare me to everyone."
The comparison machine is a nasty game our culture plays, especially in regards to disbanded singing groups, especially female ones (thanks, patriarchy). Jauregui knows she'll be compared to her contemporaries. "People are gonna be like, 'Oh, her music is better than hers.' At the end of the day, they're gonna say that type of shit. So, I was really in my head about that, and kinda like, 'I don't even want to fuckin' do it. Why am I even gonna try?'"
Stop questioning yourself. Stop thinking you're gonna sound stupid. Stop thinking you're gonna do something wrong.
It took numerous sessions with inspiring producers and songwriters for the singer to truly blossom. On the upcoming album, she worked with producers like Illangelo, a longtime collaborator of The Weeknd, Jeremy Lloyd of Marian Hill, and King Henry (Beyoncé, Justin Bieber). About one song she played me, Jauregui proudly said, "This song was made by three women"—herself, songwriter Ilsey Juber (Shawn Mendes), and Alex Hope (Troye Sivan).
One particular session with Twice as Nice's Khalid was transformative for Jauregui and her self-esteem. The duo talked for five hours straight, which led to Jauregui writing the first song she'd ever written expressly for her own project and sound (she had previously contributed to the singles with Marian Hill and Aoki, but says she wrote those with the respective artists' audiences in mind). "Every song I did after [Khalid], I just went in with this mentality of like, You're a writer. Like, shut up and just write. Stop questioning yourself. Stop thinking you're gonna sound stupid. Stop thinking you're gonna do something wrong." After that fateful day, Jauregui was energized. "I needed to see it's not perfect all the time," she says. "This is for sure my calling. This is what I'm supposed to be doing. I belong here. I earned my place here."
This is what I'm supposed to be doing. I belong here. I earned my place here.
When Jauregui was young, she'd practice signing her autograph, muse on possible stage names, and choreograph dance routines in her bedroom. So it is all the more gratifying that, today, she's doing exactly what she had always dreamt of doing, and that all the preparation and work paid off. "It all mattered," she says. "It all brought me to where I am. It all made me exactly who I am, and I'm so excited to do this now and, like… be me."
Lauren Jauregui has proved herself a powerful vocalist, with one of the strongest and most unique voices in pop music. But it's her moxie, internal strength, and activism that make her the full package. "We're culture-changers, period," she says, of being an artist. "Whether we grab that power or not, that's the power we have. Some of us can grab it, and some of us don't know what to do with it, don't want to do anything with it, and that's fine." She adds, "Everyone has their own calling and journey to what they want to do. But for me, this platform means so much more than just making art, because art isn't just singing and dancing. It's making shit that makes people think about how they're feeling."
But how is Jauregui feeling? On the verge of releasing the project she's been working toward for years, she's feeling excited and energized. But she's also at ease in this specific type of energy, and is able to have fun with what she's doing and who she is. Which is why, when I ask her to sum up her debut album in just one word, she comes up with the perfect answer, emblematic not just of the philosophy of her work, but of her philosophy of life: "Duality," she says. "I'm just playing with the duality of my existence."
Lauren Jauregui has so much to share with the world. Now, it's our time to listen.