Likes: Fireflies, Putcha' Body Down, Heaven Lost an Angel
Dislikes: My Baby
Overall: Breaks out from the Disney mold, better vocals than expected
For anyone who is on the fence like I was as to whether or not “Shake It Up” Disney newcomer Zendaya has any real vocal ability, in addition to being a great comedic actress who can dance her butt off, you might want to take a listen to her new self-titled debut album.
Surprisingly enough, Zendaya’s sound isn’t easily recognizable as a “Disney girl” (as her 1st single “Replay” sort of hinted at) and that alone sets her and the album a part from the rest of her predecessors. Disney-affiliated debut albums are usually “kiddy bopper” ones with mind-numbing ditties that no one over 16 wants to admit to knowing the lyrics of. However, Zendaya’s is actually quite musically mature and has an urban (yes, urban) sound throughout that incorporates the high-tech bells and whistles from the dubstep, techno and EDM genres we’ve all grown to “love” over the last few years. The production is solid: every bass-thump rumbles the subwoofer with purpose and the music is just as infectious as the melodies being sung over them. The rhythmic natures of songs like “Putcha Body Down” and “Only When You’re Close” make it obvious the album is dance hip-hop influenced.
Vocally, Zendaya has introduced herself as any singer who wants longevity in this industry should: she cherishes her vocal strengths, knows her limits (with both range and texture) and how to utilize vocal tricks in a way that keeps the listener impatiently waiting for the next showcase. Her best vocal feature is her airy, soaring head-voice, where she performs a variety of versatile runs. Her chest voice has a thin, Taylor Swift quality to it, which may thicken as she grows a little more as a vocalist and maintains more character (she’s only 17). Her voice has a distinctive quality, having more dexterity than a Cassie or a Rihanna, but not as refined as her contemporary, Ariana Grande. Her knowing what she lacks as a singer ironically adds to the enjoyment of the record because we are literally mystified as to what her vocal weaknesses are (aside from the tone of her chest voice, which she can’t help right now), giving the perception of a vocally seamless and coherent project.
The songs are catchy and have a witty and illustrative lyrical quality, but they don’t go beyond the topic of love and how a guy is supposed to make her feel. “Fireflies” (written by Dawn Richard and produced Harmony Samuels) is enjoyable in every regard as well as the soft-spoken, mid-tempo “Cry for Love.” “Heaven Lost An Angel” has a nice new-aged 80s theme and the Nick Jonas-written “Love You Forever” is a great summer-into-fall jam, having a melancholy undertone, while the actual percussion keeps the tempo at a head-bobbing pace. Literally, the album as a whole is appealing, cohesive and flawless. Here is my only real qualm, and this goes for most of these newer artists: what is the deal with putting the crappiest song at the end of the album?! I was enjoying the ride and then “My Baby” comes on and I’m ready to push stop and try to erase the song from my cerebral cortex. The song sounds like it belongs in 2002 and should have a rap feature with Mannie Fresh and Juvenile or the Franchise Boys. To add to it, it’s her worst vocal performance on the entire album.
Nonetheless, Zendaya is a star in the making, with the full package of singing, dancing and acting. Hopefully, she can break the Disney curse and become even more successful and potentially an icon. For now, we can settle for great consistent albums with amazing production and her clear, crisp, puerile voice maintaining the attention of teenagers and adults alike. That in itself is a feat that most Disney girls before her couldn’t claim at her age.