Lauren Jauregui is ready to step out on her own, but on a night in early October, she’s preparing herself to step in front of her fans and debut her first official solo song and video following Fifth Harmony’s hiatus.
“I’m excited! I’m so excited,” she repeats, already dressed up for her video’s private fan screening at Angelika Film Center in New York. “I’m so ready for people to hear it.”
Once work with the X-Factor-formed girl group wrapped earlier this year, she began recording. First sessions came in May with British producer and songwriter Kid Harpoon (Harry Styles, Jessie Ware, Shawn Mendes), and she later found herself working with a collection of big-name studio stars to help translate the creative freedom she’s been yearning for into earnest, R&B-leaning pop songs, much like what’s heard on her debut single, “Expectations.”
“I wrote, like, two songs, maybe, that I was proud of in the timespan I had at home before I was thrown into this world [at 16-year-old],” she tells Rolling Stone. Those early writing exercises were done on the piano in her childhood home. Once she was placed in Fifth Harmony, she had less time to explore that side of herself.
“I didn’t really list to a lot of music or make a lot of music ’cause I didn’t really feel inspired to. I was working and doing what I was supposed to, and that took up my entire life.”
During the early years of Fifth, she found solace in poetry (Rumi and Maya Angelou are her favorites) and journaling. “Towards the end, when we were just the four of us, we all kind of gave each other the freedom to explore ourselves musically,” she recalls, referring to the time after Camila Cabello’s departure. For Jauregui, freedom meant getting into studios with new, diverse artists, which eventually led to her appearing as a featured artist on tracks by Marian Hill, Steve Aoki, Halsey and Ty Dolla $ign, her boyfriend.
“I like to call it ‘The Features Era,'” she says, adding that her Halsey duet “Strangers” was the only song she didn’t write on out of “respect [for] the integrity of the song [Halsey] had written.” Getting to once again flex her songwriting muscles reinvigorated Jauregui after spending her teen years feeling creatively suppressed.
“Once Fifth was over was when the shackles [came off],” she offers, bluntly. As the last member of the group to debut an entirely solo single, she’s mostly watched and listened to the other girls’ solo music from afar. Dinah Jane is the only one she speaks to regularly.
“I can’t create when I feel stifled. That’s just not in my capacity. I need to feel free.”
Being set free meant learning about herself and the industry from scratch. For her, the songs she wrote have come from a place of “healing without having it be a public spectacle,” so she’s revisited her history in order to get “that internal stuff out and really heal myself fully through my art.” Through observation of her collaborators during her “Features Era,” she saw the way people like Halsey and Ty Dolla $ign worked as solo artists in the studio and how hands on they were with their music. “That process is definitely very different from having the one voice that’s curated by a label,” she says.
Jauregui admits to playing with the double meaning of her single’s name: “Expectations,” lyrically, is about repeatedly getting your heart repeatedly broken by a dishonest partner, but the name also refers to how many fans and detractors have waited with baited breath to see what she (and the rest of her group) would release following Fifth Harmony’s disbandment. In some ways, she wants to throw people off the scent.
“There’s this whole precedent that there should be some sort of expectation of what’s to come, but it’s very unexpected,” she teases. “It’s not what everyone assumes I’m gonna be making, which is why I love it.”
Right now, Jauregui is focused on properly nurturing her songs. She’s already gotten a taste for solo touring, having opened for Halsey during the Latin American leg of her Hopeless Fountain Kingdom tour this summer. For those dates, she had to scrap together a 30-minute with no solo music out, but her next tour will follow the release of her debut full-length next year.
“It’s just a matter of creating each little world right now, and making sure that each one has the thought and nurturing put into it that it needs,” she asserts. “I don’t want to put out commercial-ass quick shit. When people see or hear my stuff, I want them to resonate to some degree. Hate it or love it, I want them to feel something.”