Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Jessie J’s sweet talk amounts to sweet nothings

Illustration for article titled Jessie J’s sweet talk amounts to sweet nothings

Although R&B/pop starlet Jessie J is a massive superstar in the U.K., her U.S. profile is far more low-key. Part of that is due to industry shenanigans beyond her control; for starters, her last studio album, 2013’s Alive, wasn’t even released in America. But much of her underachievement here is due to a lack of creative innovation: While she’s a credible songwriter for other people—she co-wrote Miley Cyrus’ “Party In The U.S.A.”—her own music and vocals tend to be reminiscent of other pop artists.

On the new Sweet Talker, Jessie J makes great strides toward becoming more distinctive, especially on the hooky, fast-talking hip-hop twirl “Ain’t Been Done.” However, she continues to be malleable to a fault, channeling Pink (the sparse, piano-sparked R&B slow-burn “Personal”), Rihanna (the title track, co-written by Diplo) and Demi Lovato (“Said Too Much,” a radio-ready anthem built with Europop precision). Most of all, Jessie J lands in the ballpark of Katy Perry’s earnest, melismatic warbling, yet without the playfulness or personality the latter brings to her candy-colored pop.

To be fair, she shouldn’t shoulder all the blame for these generic results. Nearly every song on Sweet Talker was constructed by a team of co-writers, a level of sonic micromanagement that stifles the music’s direction rather than improves it. In fact, the album succeeds most when Jessie J loosens up. The laid-back ’80s hip-pop jam “Seal Me With A Kiss” features De La Soul (and the same Funkadelic sample which appeared on “Me, Myself & I”); the high-stepping, Britney Spears-esque “Burnin’ Up” has a tongue-twisting 2 Chainz cameo; and the strutting soul revue “Bang Bang” with Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj is both flirty and fun.

Best of all is “Loud”: The sweeping ballad features striking string lines from violinist Lindsey Stirling, and dynamic vocals ranging from conspiratorial coos to inspirational diva belting. On a moment such as this one, Sweet Talker stops trying to shoehorn Jessie J into a pop star pigeonhole and lets her personality shine through. Here’s hoping her next album contains more of this character building and fewer chameleonic maneuvers.