Where do we even begin with Normani’s astoundingly brilliant first single? The former Fifth Harmony member unleashed her debut solo track today, and frankly, the list of names involved is ridiculous. Co-written with Ariana Grande, pop’s chief magician Max Martin, and serial hit-maker Savan Kotecha, the song is also produced by Ilya Salmanzadeh (who has worked extensively with Grande, as well as Taylor Swift and Katy Perry). Behind the scenes, it’s a who’s who in spinning pop gold. As you’d expect, ‘Motivation’ is an absolute banger.
Following in the throwback footsteps of Ariana’s reference packed visual for ‘thank u, next’, Charli XCX and Troye Sivan’s nostalgia-trip ‘1999’, Anne Marie’s ‘2002’ and Kelela’s Sims tribute ‘Frontline’, the video is a feast of ’00s pop references – paying tribute to many of the stars that paved her way.
Opening with a pre-fame Normani devouring music videos on the hip-hop and R’n’B channel BET’s 106 & Park, her jaw suddenly drops as she realises she’s the star of the fastest rising song in the world. The first shot shows Normani strutting down the street in a cropped white vest, in a nod to the lead single from Beyoncé’s own debut solo album.
That notorious song, of course, was 2003’s ‘Crazy In Love’. Propelling Bey from Destiny’s Child to solo superstardom, it’s a huge power flex from Normani as she strikes out alone after life in a pop group. ‘Motivation’s single artwork, meanwhile, shares the same baby blue hue as ‘Crazy in Love’, and later in the video, there’s a nod to Beyoncé’s iconic chainmail-gemstone outfit.
Dancing on the streets, wearing a vest top emblazoned with the year she was born (1996) Normani’s choreography weaves in signature moves from both Beyoncé and Ciara. Visually, there are a few clear similarities with Christina Aguilera’s ‘Can’t Hold Us Down’, Nelly and Kelly Rowland’s ‘Dilemma’ and Ciara and Ludacris’ collab ‘Oh’ – a video which also opens with a young Ciara watching her own future music video. Meta!
Along with Queen Bey’s breakout moment, ‘Motivation’ also includes a visual reference to Britney Spears’ own debut single ‘…Baby One More Time’. Though it’s not a direct replication of the scene where Spears performs in front of a chain link fence – cheered on by sign-waving fans – the sequences have similarities, and elsewhere in the video there’s a basketball. In Normani’s update, she lobs the ball up in the air and performs an effortless pirouette, while doing a literal keepy-uppy mid choreo. Iconic. Fun fact while we’re on a Britney trip: this song’s co-writer Max Martin rose to fame after penning Spears’ track.
Speaking of basketballs, Normani’s own scene is filmed on the set from J-Lo and Ja Rule’s remix of ‘I’m Real’, and closely mimics several camera shots from that video. And shortly after showing her own prowess on the court, Norm’ proceeds to bust out an entire run of flips and somersaults. Oh, and that isn’t a stunt double. The multi-talented singer has been doing dance and gymnastics training since she was a kid. Your fave could never!
Next up, it’s a very subtle nod to ‘Touch’ by Omarion, and J-Lo’s ‘Jenny from the Block’, as Normani and a bucket-hatted partner have a dance-off in front of a familiar city-scape backdrop.
And then comes pouring rain, complete with the clout of a full brass band. It recalls Amerie’s percussive back-up band in the video for ‘One Thing’, along with a modern reference point: Beyoncé’s astonishing Coachella headline set last summer. And as for the watery downpour itself, Normani’s following in the steps of Ciara’s ‘Gimme Dat’. The noughties pop nods just keep coming; successive sequences borrow inspiration from Rihanna’s choreo-staples, and the single artwork for ‘Crazy in Love’.
Phew! Can all music history lessons be this much fun, please?