Three years ago Lauren Jauregui introduced herself as a solo artist with her slinky and soulful single "Expectations." Now, the 25-year-old's career is truly taking flight with the unveiling of her debut EP, PRELUDE, her first project as a fully independent artist.

Largely written between 2018 and 2019, the seven-song collection tells us who the singer-songwriter is in a post-Fifth Harmony world. Jauregui's signature smoky vocals are stronger than ever as they sinuously dance atop lush productions that lean more R&B than bubblegum pop.

Lyrically, PRELUDE delves into mature and confessional territory. Jauregui addresses mental health on "Scattered," a collaboration with Vic Mensa. "I think I might need some help; I don't feel like myself," she admits.

Meanwhile, "Sorry" — a vocal masterclass that details the decision to step away from a relationship — is handled with restrained expertise. "I'm sorry, but I can't love you anymore," she confesses over mournful strings.

The song and EP draw comparisons to Christina Aguilera's opus Stripped. Both were released by an artist coming into herself and gaining the ability to say what needs to be said. And Jauregui certainly has the vocal ability to back up that comparison.

For Jauregui, the ability to express herself was hard-fought and achieved by going her own way. The EP was released on her own label Attunement Records.

PRELUDE is also a promise of more to come. With plans for a tour in November and an album on the way in 2022, Jauregui is just getting started.

Below, Lauren Jauregui tells PopCrush all about her EP's breathtaking visuals (including footage from a docu-style live performance), what's next for her and the most important lesson she's learned after nearly a decade in the industry.

How do you feel to be at the finish line with PRELUDE?

I have moments where I’m feeling incredibly excited and emotional. Just really ready and very grounded. I’m also teetering between this state of like, “Oh my God... This is really happening!? Who the f--k am I if I’m not creating this project?" This has been my whole identity for the past four years.

The overwhelming feeling is just gratitude that I’ve been able to finish this the way I envisioned and am able to put it out the way I envisioned without any obstacles.

How would you say the music differs from your earlier solo material?

Only four songs came out in like three years. I think that kind of speaks to how I felt. It was a little more restrictive. “Expectations” was definitely all from my heart. One hundred percent written by me and me putting something out there I really wanted to.

The other songs — although they were still great songs because I wouldn’t have put out any songs if I didn’t f--k with them — they just weren’t exactly telling the story that I think I’m telling sonically. “50 Feet” was the one that was the closest to it. I fought to make sure it came out with “Lento.” To make sure it made a little bit of sense where I was going sonically.

I feel like now there’s no impediment to who I am sonically now. There’s no confusion. This is where I’m at. This is the sound that I’ve curated. This is what I want to say. This is me expressing myself in my full authenticity. PRELUDE is just an introduction; it’s how I named it. It’s the beginning of where I’m at.

You’ve had writing credits all the way back to some of the earliest Fifth Harmony albums and co-wrote every track on this EP. How would you say your pen has evolved?

I’ve definitely grown into myself as a songwriter I think. When I was in the group I wasn’t as creatively involved. There were moments where we were creatively involved but for the most part it was people writing songs that we would sing. That kind of really disconnected me from my songwriter-self because I just felt like I wasn’t capable of writing.

I’ve been through the phase of, “I don’t want anybody to do anything; I want to do it all by myself.” And then I kind of grew past that once I realized collaboration is the best way to bring out what you have inside you. That doesn’t mean I’m always going to have a co-writer. I don’t think I’ll always need one, but I’ve opened myself up a lot more to the possibility of creating with other people and still having my sonic voice acknowledged and present.

I’ve carved out who she is now. I think with this project I'm going to solidify that, so there’s not going to be anymore mistaking. This is also for me in my own mind. I just have grown more firm in that knowledge and truth in myself.

How does the lead up to PRELUDE differ from anything you released with Fifth Harmony?

When you’re in a group, the five of you or the four of you are taking on the court of public opinion. When you’re just yourself, and you’re putting your literal heart and soul on a platter it can be a little more daunting to have people’s opinions come back at you. But I feel like this is always where I was meant to be: Creating the stuff I feel and sharing it with the world. I feel like my personal gift in this life is the way that I express myself. Getting to do that in such a way that it’s unique to me I think is definitely the biggest difference. It’s just a bit more vulnerable than it ever was.

What song were you must excited for people to hear?

I like them all so I’m kind of annoying in that sense. “Scattered” was one of the ones I was most excited about. I feel like sonically it’s really different. I don’t think it’s a sound that's been explored a lot. I was really fascinated to see the feedback on that one. Also “On Guard” with 6lack is one of my favorites. I love when I can say something simply and convey a concept effectively with ease; I feel like I did that with that song. 6lack added his essence to it, and it took it to where it had to go.

So many of the lyrics on this EP are very confessional. What made you decide now was the time to showcase so much of yourself?

Ironically I’ve been ready for a while. A lot of these songs were written in 2018 and 2019. I’ve been sitting on this music for a really long time. Actually this self that I’m exploring — even though there’s remnants of her still — I’ve healed her a lot from the point when I wrote these songs. So it’s the catharsis more than anything to get these out. I really think it was a matter of my independence. It’s hard to convince major labels to drop anything that isn’t going to be a Top 40 hit in their eyes. That wasn't my intention.

This project is really about me defining who Lauren is an artist. Of course there’s still strategy involved; there’s still that aspect. I really wanted my music to be what drives things. My music being my confession. Being my expression of my truth and the way that I lived my life. I think that’s what art is really about for me.

Now is when God aligned the planets so I could put it out. God knows I’ve been trying to put this s--t out for a minute. It’s happening exactly as it was supposed to.

Do you think all this coming together in that perfect storm makes it doubly rewarding?

It definitely does. It’s been really interesting to watch because I had this feeling in my gut, in the back of my head like, “Damn, am I doing this right?” But the me that I’ve become through this process is so sure of her purpose. That’s what's driven this whole thing and driven me to this precipice that I’m on now. It’s that belief in what I personally have to give the world. I just really have to sit like, “Wow. I did this s--t.” I got to this finish line. I’m 25 years old. I have the rights to my creative freedom, and I am moving in authenticity. That’s what this is about for me at the end of the day.

What an incredible personal and artistic victory! You mentioned that the songs on this EP are from 2018 and 2019. I’m sure you’ve been creating since then. Does that mean you have a lot more to come?

Oh yeah, honey. I’ve got a lot coming. This is the precipice. This is what I’m saying. B---hes think a b---h was asleep. She was not asleep. She was working.

There’s definitely more coming in 2022. I want to give the complete album. This album is something I’ve been working on for a while. I’m really ready to release her. She’s just not me anymore. She is, but she isn’t. She’s a piece of me, but she’s no longer who I am presently. I’m really ready to create new. I want to get the full album out the way so I can reset and refocus and go to an island somewhere so I can write the second album.

The visuals for your solo career has been stunning. How did the artwork for this era come together?

I’m as involved in my visuals as I am in my music because I feel like visuals are an extension. I’m a very cinematic person so when I create I already have the movie and the visual in my mind usually. It was very heavily influenced by the music and what the music said.

I did a photomshoot with Amanda Charchian. The photos came from an impromptu shoot. We got this really beautiful location and shot in a bunch of different outfits just to see what we’d create. The images that came from it were just so stunning.

When I saw the cover for PRELUDE in its raw form I was like, “This is the cover.” It says emotionally and visually what I hear sonically. The way that I’m caressing my face and sinking into the water and looking down. I’m very present with myself but very disconnected. I think that's exactly what I’m saying in the music.

Then I really wanted to bring these songs to life. All of them together so people could feel top to bottom visually what I’m seeing. I created this house performance, which was a docu-style live performance piece I wove together. Really put my heart and soul in full on. And all my money. It came out so f---ing stunning because of my incredible team.

You’ve been in the industry for a long time. What would you say is the most important lesson you’ve learned?

I think one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is belief in self. How you have to fortify who you are in order to navigate this realm. There are so many people who will attach themselves to what is your legacy. There are so many people who will try to derail you from your truth in order to do what they think will make money. My belief in myself, my fortitude of self and my consistent presence with my purpose versus what people think they want from me... I think has been my biggest lesson.

You can get absolutely nowhere if you don’t believe in yourself, and you’re not giving yourself the self care or the space or mental capacity necessary to do this job. If you don’t have the belief in yourself to understand that the no’s are not rejection. They’re protection. That was difficult, but it was the most important [lesson] that I got to at the end of this all.

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