Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Jessie J is one of the most talented pop vocalists of our time, yet she hasn’t cracked the US market. She’s a star in the UK, where she was a judge on their version of The Voice and studied at the BRIT School, which ushered in some of the most notable artists from across the pond — from Adele to Leona Lewis to Amy Winehouse.
Sweet Talker, Jessie J’s third album, seems a far cry from the “true” Jessie J. When she released her second album, Alive, in the UK, her American label refused to release it in the US because they didn’t think “it [would] work for their territory.” So, after attempting to retool Alive, the US release was scrapped, and Jessie J embarked on creating what became an especially mainstream, perhaps more American, album.
And for anyone familiar with any of Jessie J’s prior music, this album comes as a bit of a shock. It’s even pop-ier than usual with less raw vocals and more dance beat. Out of the entire album, “Ain’t Been Done,” “Burnin’ Up,” and “Seal Me With A Kiss” are the three songs I could potentially hear at Paces (well, including “Bang Bang,” but that doesn’t count).
“Burnin’ Up” (not the Jonas Brothers song for all you closet middle-school Jonas Brothers fans) feels very Danity Kane. This would be a perfect song for the up-and-coming group Fifth Harmony, but altogether a miss for Jessie J. Throw in a random verse with 2 Chainz and this song will go down as one of the oddest pieces in the Jessie J songbook. “Ain’t Been Done” is riddled with Jessie attempting to rap then transitioning to her famous belt for a catchy chorus where she tells listeners that she’s going to “do it like it ain’t been done.”
But here’s where I question the entire album: it feels done before. Sweet Talker is the creation of Jessie J, who has the vocal talent of Beyoncé (yes, I said it), trying to be Miley Cyrus. The reason Beyoncé is so successful is because she knows what she does and she does it well. But Jessie J has had a hard time creating her identity, apart from the third girl on “Bang Bang” or the writer behind Miley Cyrus’s infamous “Party in the U.S.A.” In order to succeed, she still needs to find what sets her apart from the rest of the female pop stars invading every Top 40 radio station across the country.
And moving on from the two muddled attempts at being too many things (read: Beyoncé, Miley, and Nicki combined) — Jessie J hits the metaphorical nail on the head with “Personal,” “Said Too Much,” and “Loud.” These tracks embody Jessie’s strengths: vocal ability, raw emotion, and honesty.
“Loud” is the true power ballad of the album. Building from a simple intro by renowned violinist Lindsay Stirling, Jessie J complains, “The world is so loud. I try to drown them all out in the sound, but they won’t stop until they tear you down.” One of my favorite songs on the album, “Loud” is a welcome addition to my “feeling sad/drowning in midterms/over Swarthmore” Spotify playlist.
After listening to Sweet Talker several times, I’ve come to the realization that the track order takes listeners on a journey from confidence to insecurity to an apt finale where Jessie J utters, “I need to show it but I don’t know how to, how am I supposed to grow?” — perhaps alluding to her struggle to fit in to the American music industry.
In “Masterpiece,” Jessie J utters the words, “Can’t color within the lines.” And while this album is far from a masterpiece, that line sums up the entire album. Jessie J leaves the lines to try out bad rap, odd collaborations, and girl group dance tunes, but she colors in her lines when she shows off her incredible vocal ability and heart-wrenching emotions throughout the album.
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