Normani ‘Dopamine’ Review: Showstopping & Liberating Affair

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Normani is a showstopping performer no matter the texture, tempo, and emotion at hand. Since her departure from Fifth Harmony, the singer proved time and time again that she can capture the attention and applause of her audience by doing just what a song calls her to do. It’s never too much, and it’s rarely underwhelming. “Waves” with 6lack, released back in 2018, is a climatic pop-leaning record that places Normani’s soaring vocals and sweet falsettos over grungy and moody production that also perfectly juxtaposes 6lack’s lower register. When given a roomy canvas, like on her 2021 song “Fair,” Normani makes sure her voice fills the room with runs that travel uninterrupted from stage to seat. On her long-awaited debut album Dopamine, she manages much of the same through performances that are not only impressive but liberating and boldly sensual in ways that add a new dimension to Normani’s artistry.

The road to Dopamine was a long one undoubtedly, but seemingly instrumental in developing the artist we hear on her 13-track debut. “Motivation,” released back in 2019, was the turning point for Normani – a prelude of sorts for Dopamine. With an upbeat spirit and triumphant production, Normani stepped out on her own to prove her readiness for the spotlight. A splashy video arrived with the song and presented Normani as a performer who could captivate at any given moment. The way we see Victoria Monét now is the journey Normani seemed ready to set out on. Dopamine is much darker and gloomier than “Motivation,” but it still grasps the attention of onlookers with the same elements: lyrics that dig deep into the emotions, production that caters rather than distracts, and a singer who sees all the tools at hand and knows just what to do with them.

Proof of this lives on “Candy Paint,” the grown-up version of “Motivation.” In an interview with Elle, Normani said the former “bridges the gap, I think, between ‘Motivation’ and where I am now.” Both aim to entice a lover with the golden gift of intimacy, but the latter plays it safe and colors inside the lines that separate discreet and compliant from defiant and bold. “Candy Paint” presents Normani on the other side of the border, where the freedom that comes with it is too good to hide. “If you let me take him, you might never get him back,” she sings with undeterred certainty. “I’m a baddie and I don’t know how to act.” This liberation is the foundation for Dopamine. It’s a flag that Normani proudly stakes into the ground in the world her debut lives in and she wastes no time exploring it.

“Big Boy” kicks off the album in dominant and assertive fashion. “Only ever see this type of sh*t in the movies,” Normani boasts over trunk-rattling production backed by New Orleans-influenced trumpets. Anchored by woozy synths and Houston’s trademark screwed-up production, Normani remains assertive on “Still” as she brags about her status and being “too busy livin’ my life.” Normani’s newfound liberation is the light at the end of the tunnel. She reached it only after a long journey that saw her work through the emotional whirlwind that included both her parents being diagnosed with cancer and the critiques of fans who were too impatient to offer her the grace to grieve and come back to music on her own terms. It should come as no surprise that Normani’s escape from the dark times has pushed her to live each day to the fullest.

Normani’s assertiveness doesn’t only take shape over grand productions that call for an epic performance. It’s just as present in more timid moments that swap the lively energy of a party for the burning passion of bedroom intimacy and the overwhelming emotions behind heartbreak. She sees no worrisome risk or penalty in being painfully honest in pain or brutally forward in her sexual desires. “Distance” begins as a timid and soft-spoken account of a partner’s failures in a relationship before erupting into an epic declaration of the end of a once-promising love story. On the flip side, Normani seduces her partner with the summoning “Lights On” as she whispers sultry requests that are sure to make the ear melt. “Don’t even address me unless you gon’ undress me,” she sings before promising to “make you come fast like a ’98 sports car.”

Dopamine delivers samples of all the lanes Normani can switch into and thrive in at any given moment. She finds comfort in the bounce and joyous trumpets of New Orleans and the woozy sounds of her Houston hometown as much as she does the vulnerable and emotional moments heartbreak can bring. With that being said, Normani’s debut is more than a display of versatility, it’s a statement of status and evidence of how she can sweep her suitors and competitors off their feet with ease. The question is never “Am I enough?” or “Can I compete?” or “Can I stand out?” for Nomani who instead, understands that she is the prize. Within the confinements of Dopamine and the mind of the artist who created the album, doubts about its quality are about as present as a skippable track on the album. Normani the person went through hell in the half-decade journey to Dopamine, but in the end, Normani the artist emerged from the fire to be the bright and free star we always knew she could be.

Dopamine is out now via RCA Records. Find out more information here.


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