It’s been nearly a year since Fifth Harmony broke up, and Lauren Jauregui is thriving.
“I’ve been in rooms with people I never could have imagined being in rooms with,” says the singer over the phone from her apartment in Los Angeles. “I’ve just been making music that I’m really proud of and speaks to my personal journey and my experience.”
Jauregui, 22, has been constantly working to create a path of her own. Since she was 16 years old, Jauregui was a part of the X-Factor formed pop group Fifth Harmony. Along with Camila Cabello, Dinah Jane, Ally Brooke and Normani Kordei, Jauregui was supposed to live up to a curated music industry image. They were effectively the second-coming of the Spice Girls, but more modern, and soulful. Now, Jauregui is more than ready to erase the image that once held her up.
And how so? By exploring beyond pop music. “To be honest I got my start in pop, but it was because I was placed in a girl group that was elementally pop,” she says.
But being in a group helped Jauregui learn how to own her craft and career as a solo artist. “I’m grateful for the group experience because I was able to learn about how to navigate certain energies without having to compromise my personal vision. Now I have to do it by myself which is a little more vulnerable of experience because it’s music and art that means a lot to me,” she says.
Because Jauregui’s breadth of experience, it’s easy to forget that she is in her early twenties, though her somewhat short career is representative of what some might say is a lifetime of work. She’s had her own vision and voice for a long time, regardless of whether people noticed. Growing up in the spotlight, she’s found a sense of self-assuredness and maturity that many young adults don’t have at her age.
She is, however, wading through the “bureaucratic stuff” of the industry. “It’s a little more threatening, [and] I take it a little more personally, but I think I’m learning a lot about myself and my strengths,” she says. In the meantime, she’s trying to master the eloquence battle of balancing her artistic expression with business.
Jauregui is, however, most focused on crafting her own alternative, soulful R&B sound. There aren’t a lot of pop elements to her music, and that’s okay. She knows it’s a departure from the pop ethos of Fifth Harmony, but it’s all her. “I’m leaning more towards live instrumentation and my vocals are very raw so I’m really focusing on my lyricism.
That’s where I feel like my strong suit is,” she says. Instead, she finds herself enamored by live instrumentation – guitars and drums – recalling a mixture of genres she listened to growing up. “I’m pretty vocal about the fact that [Fifth Harmony] wasn’t necessarily a representation of my personal taste in music or my expression in music. I think I speak for a lot of us when I say that,” Jauregui says. Still, there was a perception that Jauregui’s music would be of that nature. But Jauregui thinks she and her former band members were just all expert chameleons. “All of us are just good at music. We’re all musicians,” she says confidently.
Perhaps one of the most pivotal moments that proved Jauregui would have a promising career was when she was featured on Halsey’s bisexual anthem “Strangers” in 2017. Not only did Jauregui’s powerhouse vocals shine on the track, but it gave more visibility to the LGBTQ community. “It was cool to see real pronouns present. It wasn’t something that had been done in pop music from the perspective of a relationship between two women,” says Jauregui.
She adds, “I think Halsey is brilliant and such a talented artist, and I hope to work with her some more.”
Jauregui has since spoken openly and proudly about her sexuality, but she’s quick to note that it shouldn’t be her or anyone’s most defining characteristic. “For me, it is who I am, but it doesn’t define who I am, the same way no one’s sexuality defines who they are. It’s awesome to be proud of the love you’re able to express in this lifetime,” she explains. That being said, it gets brought up a lot. “I would prefer if most of the headlines weren’t about [my sexuality], but I understand the sensationalization of sex in our culture so I don’t really care too much at the same time,” she says. “I get it, people like to talk about who people are fucking.”
“Strangers,” in some ways, prompted a new beginning for Jauregui. Last June, Jauregui premiered her first solo track “Expectations,” a soulful rock ‘n’ roll power ballad that proved she could move well beyond pop. “‘Expectations’ came right from my soul – it’s got that bluesy soul influence,” she says of the track. On the track, Jauregui asks for respect from a partner as she sings, “Respect for my time, respect for my space, respect for my energy / ‘Cause I’ve been waiting here all night for you to warm me up.” In fact, Jauregui drew inspiration for the song from her relationship with boyfriend Ty Dolla $ign.
In February, she followed up her debut single with a contrasting sound in the melodic R&B “More Than That.” Thematically the songs are introspective, from personal experiences and her own observations. “I’ve been weaving through a lot of my songs and putting them down on paper understanding certain feelings I’ve been having in my life,” she says.
“It’s also been cool to write with other people, to understand there’s a perspective that’s the same as yours but comes from a different anecdote.” For Jauregui, it’s a combination of her first two singles that define where her sound is headed, an “alternative soul world” she’s living in right now. While she’s currently finding inspiration all-around, she’s particularly taken with artists who have a truly singular vision. “I like Billie Eilish, Rosalía [and] 6lack’s music. The internet is a huge vibe. There’s a lot of amazing people making music,” she says.
With “More Than That,” Jauregui also released a breathtaking video to go with it. Since the perspective of the song was her in-between two men, she wanted to put her own twist on the place the people in the song were obviously going.
“I created this heaven burlesque strip club where Aphrodite comes down, visits with her three graces and embraces the beauty and strength of these women that are dancing for us,” she explains. Jauregui was in complete awe of the dancers’ talents. “They were dancing all day – it was like 8 hours of them working. They are athletes.” Jauregui wanted to capture how captivating their work is. “I just admire that strength so much, and I just wanted to capture that in the way they’re admired for their talent.” While she wants to learn how to pole dance, Jauregui has not yet embarked upon that journey. “I have zero upper body strength, so I don’t think I’d be very good at holding myself up on a pole. You have to make sure your body is super dry, you’d think that’s the opposite.”
While Jauregui has been hyper-focused on creating, the process hasn’t been totally seamless for her. Aside from writing one verse for Marian Hill’s 2016 single “Back To Me,” Jauregui’s debut album marks her first venture into songwriting. So, it’s only natural that she intermittently gets a case of writer’s block. However, there are usually specific circumstances that prompt them. “It usually happens to me when I don’t vibe in the room I’m in, whether it’s my own personal fault or another person in the room I don’t vibe with to express or create. I think I speak for a lot of artists [when I say that],” she explains.
Right now, though, Jauregui maintains she’s in a very “inspired” place. “Art is super temperamental, to be fair,” she says. She acknowledges that “Sometimes you just don’t feel inspired. Sometimes you’re depressed you can’t write. Sometimes you’re so depressed all you do is write. It really depends on your mood.”
Along with refining her sound, Jauregui has spent the past year focusing on something else that’s important to her: political change. It’s not surprising considering how she’s used her platform since the 2016 election. In 2017, Jauregui penned an open letter to President Trump coming out as bisexual and condemning the hateful immigrant ban he enacted. The musician also openly supported (DACA) and stood in solidarity with Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students to help create gun reform after the 2018 school shooting. She also used her platform to voice her anger when Trump chose to pardon Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
In the past year, Jauregui has continued to advocate for political causes. Last June, she moderated a Teen Vogue panel on immigration and ICE reform. At the top of the year, Jauregui delivered an impassioned speech and performance on the state of the woman at the 2019 Women’s March in Los Angeles. “We are told to have a strength that is digestible, an ambition that is gentle, a warm smile that is delectable but I don’t want to be devoured anymore,” she told the crowd. Additionally, she also worked with Amnesty International, Revolve Impact and the Stonewall Inn. “For me, it’s community involvement. I’m a firm believer in grassroots energy and people who are really helping the people themselves,” she explains of her efforts. She’s currently focused on working with The LA Coalition and Reform L.A. Jails. “There’s a lot of stuff going on in L.A. [so I’m] trying to help fix the prison reform system because it’s so bad. Right now we have a couple of initiatives we’re working on so that they don’t continue to work on building two new jails in L.A. county,” she explains.
With all of her work towards trying to create change, you might think Jauregui is exhausted – and at one point she was – but she’s since shifted her perspective. It’s sustained her passion throughout the Trump presidency.
“It’s not really about fighting for me anymore – it’s about reform. I went through a phase where I felt like the fighting back and getting angry was the best method, but I believe more than it is a fight, it’s about creating these communal systems where we eradicate that middle barrier,” notes Jauregui. Right now, Jauregui is feeling particularly inspired by New York congressional representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who she admires for her eloquence and for her dedication to promoting real change. “She’s a major idol for me right now. You know when your mom walks in and is like, ‘Okay. This is how it’s gonna get done. I’ve seen you struggle long enough – I’m just gonna fix this shit,'” she says. “She’s insanely human and she actually takes her position in public office seriously.”
Jauregui hasn’t met Ocasio-Cortez yet, but she’d love to meet her along with the other women “stepping up to the plate in Congress. Public office is meant to serve the people – not just be a breeding ground for re-election,” she says.
Watching how Ocasio-Cortez navigates politics has helped inform the way Jauregui does. “While it’s a fight, it’s about organizing the community in a grassroots way where we all understand what role we all individually play and how important each of us are. Essentially the power lies in our hands,” she says. Jauregui stresses the importance of being educated.
“Whether you’re an artist, a teacher, lawyer, a doctor, we’re all citizens of the United States or of the world, we should be informed about the world around us,” she says. Jauregui takes pride in staying atop current events and politics and using her platform. “It’s not obscure for an educated artist to make a comment about a political situation because If you’re educated about the topic you’re more than entitled to state your opinion,” she says.
Jauregui won’t stop speaking up anytime soon. At the same time, she’ll be focusing on finishing up her debut album, which she’s hoping to release it by the end of the year: “Expectations” and “More Than That” are just scraping the surface of what she has coming. It’s really cool to be involved with the whole songwriting process. “I would rather be free of those minor pressures,” she says.
“I would just rather make music that I’m proud of.”
Article initially published in print, March 2019
Words: Ilana Kaplan
Photography: Jerry Maestas
Hair: Justine Marjan
Makeup: Carlene K