On the Road… with Normani

The 2022 Pirelli Calendar aims to capture the atmosphere for an artist on tour – for rising star Normani, performing live is where she really gets to shine

With her slick choreography and transfixing stage presence, Normani appears a natural performer, so it’s a surprise to hear the singer, dancer and former gymnast describe herself as a soft-spoken “introvert”. Yet there’s something extraordinary that happens when she takes to the stage: “Performing for my fans is such an exhilarating feeling for me,” she says. “Any time I’m on stage I feel like nobody can touch me. I almost transform – I go into another realm.”

The Atlanta-born, New Orleans and Houston-raised Normani is also a self-confessed perfectionist who loved the attention to detail of her Pirelli Calendar shoot with Bryan Adams. “It was amazing,” she says of the two shots – one, taken from above, twisted up in the sheets of a hotel bed, the other exiting a tour bus. “It was seamless, I felt sexy, the lighting was bomb – and I’m always a stickler when it comes to lighting.”

A former member of the all-girl group Fifth Harmony, Normani has been in the public eye since she was 16, when a successful audition for The X-Factor paved the way for her place in the band’s line-up. She came into her own when she started recording outside the group, first releasing a hit 2018 duet with Khalid, Love Lies. Since then, she has collaborated with Calvin Harris on a two-song EP and with Sam Smith on the smash hit Dancing with a Stranger. In 2019, Normani toured with Ariana Grande for her Sweetener World Tour before releasing her first solo single, the high energy Motivation. A year into her solo career, she became the fastest solo artist without an album to hit one billion Spotify streams. The 25-year-old, who is completing her debut album, talked about favourite memories and life on the road.

What does touring mean to you?
For me touring is an opportunity to really get to engage with my fans. I love being able to put a face with a name. I’m really bad when it comes to social media so I feel like that’s my opportunity to make it up to them. I love being able to feel their energy, especially for a live show, I feel like that’s where I really get to shine.

Do you make time for yourself when you’re travelling, exploring places?
I feel like in the beginning, honestly, I didn’t prioritise that as much but that was because I didn’t really have control. I was part of a girl group so we really worked our butts off and barely had any time to really explore. But I feel now with me having more ownership and control over my schedule I definitely prioritise being able to enjoy these places.

What was the experience like of being photographed by Bryan Adams?
It was a really fun experience. I’m a huge fan of his work and it’s amazing that he’s also a musician, so we talked about that a lot. He talked about my upcoming album and asked me what my inspirations were so I was really comfortable with him… and he was really open and received any ideas that I had and made me feel comfortable, because you can be surprised, some of these shoots sometimes can be a struggle, but this was effortless, this was seamless. I can go to bed tonight and sleep at peace. I felt sexy.

What did you think of the set?
I felt that it was pretty fitting coming off being quarantined for over a year. To be honest I’m ready to be outside, I’m ready to go back on tour, I’m ready to go on the road and I’m such an introvert, which is really, really funny… like even the introverts are ready to get outside, you know? I’m typically the one who’s in the tour bus, watching a movie, don’t really go out to do much, but I’m ready to be free.

How would you describe the experience of being on stage, connecting with your fans?
Being on stage performing for my fans is such an exhilarating feeling. Any time I’m on stage I feel like nobody can touch me. I almost transform – I go into another realm. I feel like when I’m on stage, it’s me and God and nothing else that I have going on in my personal life really matters in that moment. Where I’m most present is when I’m on stage and when I’m tapped in sometimes I black out and can’t even remember, but it’s just amazing having my fans and my support system right there alongside me.

What’s your favourite memory?
I’d say one of my favourite memories – because I can’t choose one, there’s been so many amazing memories – would have to be getting to go on top of the Eiffel Tower with my mom. That was something that was so special and it meant so much. I want to take my family all over the world with me and travel, and go to places that I have yet to go to, too… like I want to go to Africa so bad, I feel like for me that’s very, very important.

You’re an artist who has lived on the road with both a band and now solo. What are the pros and cons?
The pros are me being able to see places that I probably would never be able to see even in a lifetime and being able to share my gifts with the rest of the world, and… really genuinely be able to say thank you for supporting me. And a con, I would say, is sometimes you have to sacrifice missing out on things, you know? I would never change or trade my life for anything else… but I didn’t get to go to high school so I don’t know what it’s like to go to my own prom… I learnt how to be an adult in a fairly different way, which made me grow up fairly fast… so yeah, it’s just the sacrifice, but it’s worth it. It’s worth it.