Who You Are

by Jessie J

Things we know about Jessie J.

boom - Jessie J Who You Are album image

1/ She won the Beeb’s Sound of 2011 poll.

2/ She is bi-sexual.

3/ She’s got a dodgy ticker and suffered a minor stroke, which is why she doesn’t drink alcohol or do drugs.

4/ She’s written songs for, amongst others, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus.

5/ She is the next big thing. Or at least that’s what we’re told.

And that’s part of the problem; all this information was discovered about her before actually hearing any of her material. There was a time when an artist could go about their business, build a solid career, and have no-one have a clue about their private life. But since we all went digital, everything is now instant. Instant access, instant recognition, instant success. Music it seems, is the new Nescafe.

The only problem for artists with such immense hype however, is that they somehow have to live up to it. But how much of Jessie J’s debut album does her talking for her?

What better way to start an album than with a number one hit? ‘Price Tag’ put Jessie on the map, and it’s not difficult to see why. It has the kind of hook that can pull the biggest of cynics in. It’s dead catchy. The only problem is, is that it sounds more like the Black Eyed Peas than they do. It really wants you to hold hands with someone and have a Coke and a smile.

‘Nobody’s Perfect’ is quite a heartfelt song riddled with honesty. Jessie would like to “turn back the hands of time” because, well, she made a mistake and broke someone’s trust. The song is only let down by some vocal gargling; it’s as if her voice is having some kind of fit.

There’s a strong soul vibe for ‘Abracadabra’ that sounds like it was written specifically for the top five of the US hit parade. It’s polished and doesn’t put a foot wrong. And yet there’s something too obvious about it, which is a comment that could apply to the entire album.

There’s a fine line between being confident and being cocky. Jessie doesn’t just cross that line, she jumps over it with the prowess of an Olympic Gold medallist long jumper with ‘Big White Room’. The main grumble is that it’s a live track. Normally that wouldn’t really be that big a bone of contention, but it feels like the only reason it’s included here is so that we can all gather in the glow of the sycophantic adulation that Jessie J basks in. Whoop bloody whoop. It gets worse when she plays up to this fact. Problem is she makes her voice jump through way too many hoops; at one point she sounds like a bleating sheep crying for help. Yes Jessie, sometimes less is more. More is not only showing off, it’s actually a little embarrassing.

Next up is a soul ballad that is loaded with war metaphors. The problem is, she kind of runs out of them pretty early on into ‘Casualty of Love’. “The battle of us could be simple, escape without being hurt, coz love is our shield, keeps us concealed from what could get any worse”. That’s not a bad metaphoric picture she paints there, corny as it may be, but she can’t sustain it. By the end of it, unless you’re twelve and / or a bit soft in the head, you’ll be wanting a sick bag.

It’s also worth noting that at this point, despite definitely bigging herself up as being a proper Londoner innit, she’s singing as if she was born under the stars and stripes.

The next track certainly has a lot of commercial promise. ‘Rainbow’ includes the lyric “We’re the colours of a rainbow”, which means that it could be used for either a Benetton campaign or a Skittles ad. Nice. It’s shameless, that’s what it is.

Perhaps as a way of reminding us (or perhaps herself?) of her roots, Jessie goes all Lily Allen with her mockney overtures. “Hey Jessica you’re so funny, you’ve got teeth just like Bugs Bunny”. Deep. She then tells of how people from her past are all of a sudden coming out of the woodwork and saying how cool she is now. Despite her protests of ‘ha, well look at me know’, it’s probably more of a case of the type of people she used to be ‘friends’ with more than anything else. At least Allen was consistent with her mockney, and didn’t just turn it on in an attempt to cash in with another demographic.

‘Do it Like a Dude’, her first single, is just an ugly track, despite its popularity. There’s nothing wrong with a strong woman singing to other women that they are every bit the equal of men, but the lyric “Do it like a brother, do it like a dude, grab my crotch, wear my hat low like you” just goes about it completely the wrong way, even for this morally ambiguous Skins generation.

Jessie lets out the funk with ‘Mamma Knows Best’ which would make a great staged musical number.

Next is ‘Love’. Apparently she hasn’t really wanted to write a love song before; this song clearly proves she’s out of practice. It’s difficult to take any song seriously that rhymes ‘love’ with ‘glove’. What’s even worse, she resorts to literally spelling it out, because let’s face it, nothing says love like two consonants and two vowels. With some more awful vocal warbling, this is the lowest point of the album.

‘Stand up’ has a reggae flava, just to prove how commercial - sorry, versatile Jessie is.

And tucked towards the end of the album is ‘I Need This’, a sickly power ballad in the style of Glee. And yes, it’s probably only a matter of time before Jessie appears on the show, it’s pretty darn popular after all.

Finally there’s ‘Who You Are’ which pushes the voice out if not the boat. Dreary.

The irony is that despite having a number one hit in ‘Price Tag’ that conveys a message of us all getting a bit sucked in by commercialism, this album has been created with the one sole purpose of making money. It’s an album of songs that attempts to tick all the right boxes, with nothing but markets and profit margins in mind. In doing so, it has no real heart. In fact where its heart should be is clearly a box left to have money stuffed into it.

That’s not to say that Jessie J isn’t talented. Sadly though, it’s all about the product. At some point she’d probably be more successful writing songs than performing them, but right now she’s riding the hype train to every destination. She’s a marketing ploy that’s bound to take the world by storm, but at what price?

Maybe Jessie should be asking herself the question her album title poses. By trying to be all voices to all markets, it’s difficult to know who this bisexual ‘Sound of 2011’ really is. Who knows, maybe she’ll concentrate on working on her own identity, as opposed to merely mimicking established stars and their proven brand of music.

So let this be a warning to us all: don’t always believe the hype.

two out of five