Some may forget that Fifth Harmony began in 2012, when the quintet’s members’ ranged between ages 15 and 18. Lauren Jauregui, just 16 at the time, portrayed the sultry and sassy pop princess in the making—a role model to so many teenagers even though she was just a teen herself. “We tried our best to be ourselves, [but] we were also adolescents, so you have to think about who you were at that age and being thrown in front of cameras,” Jauregui says.

As one of the X-Factor-formed group, the now 21-year-old has been expected to live up to a particular, calculated image: “When you’re really disconnected from who you are and you’re ashamed of it, you can write and tell a story, but you can never really tell your story.” After a contemplative pause, she goes on. “That’s what separates a lot of artists from others—the connection.” She attributes such lacking connection to the label contracts that control so many artists and force them to remember they are a commodity that must appeal to the masses. “That’s why you see so many people dying inside. Imagine the shame and insecurity.”

Today, however, Jauregui chooses to let authenticity reign. Perhaps as a means of mental survival, the Los Angeles-based entertainer is frank about what other artists remain silent on. Our first glimpse of an empowered Jauregui came was in 2016, when she proclaimed her bisexuality in an open letter that also slammed Donald Trump, fearlessly calling those who voted for the “power-hungry business tycoon” hypocritical “racist, homophobic, sexist, xenophobic, assholes.”

Jauregui’s voice, both off and on stage, is blossoming at the same time Fifth Harmony’s existence disintegrates. Since Camila Cabello left the group to go solo in December of 2016, the remaining four members released their third album, a self-titled offering that earned multiple awards and continues to sell out stadiums throughout the world. After months of speculation, however, the quartet confirmed on March 19 that they would be taking an “indefinite hiatus.”

Jauregui gave herself time to test life as a solo artist before the group officially announced the split. Last May, she collaborated with fellow openly bisexual artist Halsey, who she’ll tour with this June in Latin America, on the song “Strangers.“ What began with lyrics that described yearning for a man were modified with female pronouns to showcase the depth, emotion, genuine love and pain in specifically queer relationships. “I love the concept of there being this visibility because most of the songs you hear about bisexual women or female attraction sexualizes the female connection,” Jauregui says. The song was lauded for embracing an often marginalized community.

I believe that art is the core of what starts revolutions.

Jauregui has also released songs with Marian Hill (“Back to Me”), Steve Aoki (“All Night”) and rapper boyfriend Ty Dolla $ign (“In Your Phone”). She describes her work this past year as a solo artist as nothing short of liberating. “Right now, I’m just exploring myself and getting in touch with myself creatively,” she says. And even if she doesn’t have any plans for a record or EP quite yet, she is sure that she wants to keep her options open, stating, “To be real, I don’t want to give myself boundaries.” Following the same open-ended language, Jauregui is not yet willing to box herself into a genre, but will admit that she’s heavily influenced by electronica, pop, rock ‘n roll, alt-rock and Latin music—particularly Cuban music. “It’s definitely different than my work with Fifth Harmony. It’s me.”

Born in Miami, Florida as a first-generation Cuban-American, Jauregui was raised to stand for integrity and global awareness. Besides her all-girls Catholic schooling, her home life was surrounded by a lineage of fierce women who never shied from challenging the status quo. “My grandma wanted to go to college and she grew up in the 1930s and 1940s, which was kind of unheard of in her town in Cuba,” she proudly remembers.

While some critics—and many trolls—encourage entertainers to remain impartial when it comes to social justice and politics, Jauregui asserts her militancy is a natural progression. “It’s in the foundation of who I am,” she says. Her 2016 open letter to Trump’s loyalists was only the beginning of a pledge to inspire her followers to harness their individual might. When Trump introduced his so-called “Muslim ban” and campaigned on the promise of building a border wall to seal off Mexico, she knew she needed to “get loud now.” Falling in line with her millennial peers, she turned her Twitter account into a continued open letter to Trump; among her countless calls to action, she’s declared support for a renewed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) act, stood alongside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students to effect gun law reform and vocalized anger over Trump’s decision to pardon Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio, writing, “It’s incredible to me that you’ll pardon a man who is known for running his prison as a Latino concentration camp and call him a patriot, but then deport kids with a dream to be successful citizens with safe lives.”

When asked about what she looks forward to most in her career, Jauregui points to her aim to change perspectives on social issues and encouraging her fans to do their own work. “It’s so crazy how little people know about what they can do, about their rights, what they’re putting into their bodies and everything that’s going on globally,” she says. “I believe that art is the core of what starts revolutions.” And her own metamorphosis? It’s just beginning.

Makeup: Lyndsay Zavitz
Hair: Clyde Haygood for Forward Artists
Stylist: Jessica Paster for Crosby Carter Management