Yes, the Taylor Swift comparisons are justified – “I Really Like You”‘s vocal blast coming out of the spoken word bridge recalling “Shake It Off”; “Your Type”‘s hook (“I miss you, I mean it, I tried not to feel it”) cops a soundbyte from “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” (“I say, “I hate you,” we break up, you call me, “I love you””) (No shit! They sound exactly the same!). No, this isn’t as good as 1989. If E.MO.TION sounds more consistent, then that’s because there’s nothing as high as [lists half of 1989]. No, this doesn’t “sound more 80s” than 1989. Pitchfork‘s Corban Goble’s main criticism of E.MO.TION – that we don’t learn anything about the artist through the music in comparison to other mega-popstars – is silly. (Question: does David Bowie’s music? Didn’t think so.) The problem with E.MO.TION is simpler: the songs aren’t there.
Some are; enough to give this a ‘B’: “Run Away With Me”‘s synthesized-saxophone hook, opening the album like a large brush stroke on a blank canvas; “I Really Like You”‘s choruses; the backing vocals in the last instance of the choruses of “Gimmie Love.” On the aforementioned point of consistency, while nothing incites active dislike the way “Bad Blood” does, E.MO.TION‘s worst songs are boring or unctuous: “All That” (supine ballad, but because it’s a ballad, it’s serious (unlike “I Really Want You,” and so it’s invited comparisons to Prince); “Your Type” (driven by a synth warble, just like “Warm Blood” and “When I Needed You”). You could replace either with bonus track “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance” for a better time. And the songs that I didn’t mention are just there: “Boy Problems,” like “Gimmie Love,” has a nice chorus but isn’t really worth talking about otherwise; there’s a saxophone in “Let’s Get Lost” that sounds like it just peeked its head through the door (it’s not doing anything worth mentioning other than appearing); compare to the saxophone in Robyn’s “Monument.”
If it weren’t for Pitchfork‘s noticeable shift towards the mainstream (ie. recently reviewing Justin Bieber and how their 80s’ songs list would have looked totally different if released ten years ago) (I predict future Taylor Swift reviews), I would have wagered that E.MO.TION‘s attention was because a lot of indie stars helped write and produce the album: Blood Orange on “All That”; Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij on “Warm Blood” (the album’s most overrated song); the Zolas’ Zachary Gray on “LA Hallucinations”; As Tall as Lions’ Daniel Nigro on “When I Needed You”; HAIM producer Ariel Rechtshaid throughout. (Sidebar: Blood Orange might be the most overrated alternative R&B artist/producer ever. Cupid Deluxe wasn’t anything special, and neither were his productions for Sky Ferreira or FKA twigs.) But the best songs from E.MO.TION (“Run Away With Me,” “I Really Like You”) were produced and co-written by people who’ve been producing and co-writing big-name pop songs for years; methinks her rejection of Max Martin was a bold but ultimately unwise move.
And the reason she rejected him is because the discrepancy between “Call Me Maybe” selling 7.6 million copies and Kiss not selling over 300,000; she doesn’t want to be forever tied to a one-hit wonder. So here, she buckled down to make an album-album, writing over 200 songs for this album and going through several iterations (I believe I read that she wanted to go with a folk-pop route originally). Here’s Scooter Braun (manager/co-executive producer) “We had the biggest single in the world last time and didn’t have the biggest album … This time we wanted to stop worrying about singles and focus on having a critically acclaimed album.” Commendable, of course, and I would say she succeeded. But succeeded to what degree? Not enough.