You Should Be Addicted To Jorja Smith

Rashidi Noah

You Should Be Addicted To Jorja Smith

Rashidi Noah

“Addicted” is one of the best songs of the year. The opening track and lead single from Jorja Smith’s new Be Right Back EP was extremely well chosen because it definitely grabbed my attention. The song harnesses Smith’s considerable talents as a proven master of British soul and refracts them back into the world at surprising angles. Against a backdrop of moody, Radiohead-esque rock — wispy keyboards, a stuttering snare drum, smoky guitars that seem to flicker in and out of existence — Smith shows off her poise and finesse in the face of heartbreak. Her voice darts and flutters across the rhythm with a casual grace, lightly pogo-ing into stretched out syllables that quiver with fine-tuned precision. “The hardest thing/ You are not addicted to me,” she sings. “I’m the only thing you should need.” She sounds like if Adele was more inclined to artfully sigh than to belt out glory notes.

This is one of many modes Smith explores on Be Right Back, vibes she conjures as means of communicating heartbreak. She’s become an expert at such depressive metropolitan R&B since emerging half a decade ago out of Walsall, a small city or large town in England’s West Midlands. As a teenager, she scored a breakthrough single in 2016 with “Blue Lights,” evoking Rihanna as she referenced Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones, Part II” and interpolated Dizzee Rascal’s “Sirens” over plaintive chords and a hard-slapping beat. An international spotlight followed a year later via Drake’s mixtape-as-playlist More Life. “Jorja Interlude,” on which he rapped over her manipulated vocals, segued directly into “Get It Together,” a jazzy dance track that essentially functioned as a Jorja Smith showcase. Within another year Kendrick Lamar had looped her into his own opulently curated release, the Black Panther soundtrack album, letting her swagger all over smoldering guitars and throttling less-is-more drums on “I Am.”

By then, she was ready to take her place as one of the new queens of British soul, able to traverse a spectrum between the earthier sounds of Lianne La Havas and the sleek commercial R&B of Ella Mai. Smith’s 2018 debut album Lost & Found served up warm neo-soul grooves, lithe club pop, jazzy hip-hop excursions, heartrending piano balladry, and more. The songs manifested young romantic turmoil in a handful of ways, be it passionately emoting amidst swirling strings on “The One” or spitting bars over loose, nimble guitar riffs on “Lifeboats.” Although she sang on “Teenage Fantasy” about being too young to have figured out who she was, the variety of sounds felt more like a flex, as if she was showing off just how multifaceted her sound could be without compromising her identity.

That continues on Be Right Back. Smith positioned the EP as a minor release ahead of her proper sophomore offering, even comparing it to a “waiting room.” Yet the project still finds her venturing across various production styles, making them her own. On “Gone,” she brings weary texture to the empty space between an electro-organic drumbeat and twinkling keyboards overhead. “Tell me how to keep my world moving on without you,” she blearily wonders, addressing a lover who has apparently trotted out a familiar self-loathing script. “How could my world be much better off without you?” Next up, “Bussdown” leans into Smith’s Afro-Caribbean influence, pairing her with Nigerian-born rapper Shaybo and lacing their vocals with a subtly hiccuping reggae groove; you can practically see smoke rising off of it.

Along with “Addicted,” this trio of pre-release singles suggested the EP designation could have been Smith unnecessarily hedging her bets on a project fully worthy of album status. Instead, as Be Right Back segues into its quiet middle section, it becomes clear she was right to delay her LP2 launch and categorize this one as something less than her next grand statement. None of the songs here are duds, but a bleary sameness sets in at the center of the tracklist. Whether she’s luxuriating over loose acoustic strums on the cafe-ready “Time,” emoting to bare electric guitar chords on “Home,” or finding a middle ground between those sounds on “Burn,” I find myself missing that inspired interplay between Smith’s vocals and production. You know the part of a concert where they bring out a stool for the singer and the band goes backstage for a break? The middle of Be Right Back is like if this break dominated the rest of the show, a gulf to be traversed between higher-energy highlights.

Fortunately the last two tracks jolt the record back to life with double shot of cinematic drama. “Get out of my head!” Smith exclaims on “Digging” as tumbling toms and shimmering out-of-focus guitar create a sense of low-key chaos. “I want a piece of my mind instead.” Even better is “Weekend,” which shows off her falsetto over a sputtering backbeat and somber piano chords that wouldn’t be out of place on an early James Blake album. “You keep me waitin’ for a minute, I can take that,” she sings to an old beau who burned her. “I was young enough to think that you would come back.” Unlike the love interest in the song, Smith seems like a sure thing to return with an immaculate new album down the road. In the meantime Be Right Back is plenty good enough to get newcomers hooked and give longtime fans their fix.

CHART WATCH

As I publish this column, Billboard hasn’t released its latest Hot 100, but here’s how it will go if projections hold true: More than a year past the release of Future Nostalgia and seven months since a remix featuring DaBaby was released as a single, Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” has reached #1 on the Hot 100. Somewhat shockingly, it’s Lipa’s first #1 single in America, surpassing the #2-peaking “Don’t Start Now” to become her highest-charting hit to date. (Her breakthrough hit “New Rules,” although a #1 smash in the UK, only reached #6 in the US.) “Levitating” is the second #1 hit for DaBaby following last summer’s Roddy Ricch collab “Rockstar.” The song has been lingering in the top 10 for a while now thanks to radio airplay and TikTok’s “You want me, I want you” meme. Hey, whatever it takes to get Dula Peep to the top.

UPDATE: A full two days later than normal, Billboard has finally released this week’s Hot 100, and “Levitating” is NOT #1! Instead, Silk Sonic’s “Leave The Door Open” returns to the top spot this week, with Dua and DaBaby slotted in at #2, projections be damned. Wild shit! I need an oral history of all the behind-the-scenes machinations here.

After former number ones “Peaches” (#3) and “Save Your Tears” (#4) comes Doja Cat and SZA’s “Kiss Me More” steady at #5. Masked Wolf’s “Astronaut In The Ocean” reaches a new #6 peak. After Polo G’s “Rapstar” at #7 comes the debut of another rap star, J. Cole,” with “i n t e r l u d e” at #8. It’s Cole’s fifth top-10 hit, and you can expect more of them once the rest of The Off-Season impacts the chart next week. The Kid Laroi and Miley Cyrus’ “Without You” and Lil Nas X’s “Montero” round out the top 10.

In the absence of any debuts in the top 10, Moneybagg Yo’s A Gangsta’s Pain climbs back to #1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart for a second nonconsecutive week. In its third week on the market, the album tallied 61,000 equivalent album units, almost all of it via streaming. The rest of the top 10 comprises titles from Morgan Wallen, DJ Khaled, Justin Bieber, Dua Lipa, Rod Wave, Young Thug, Pop Smoke, the Weeknd, and Luke Combs.

POP FIVE

Olivia Rodrigo – “good 4 u”
In my opinion we are nowhere near the saturation point when it comes to Paramore worship in pop music. The more Paramore worship, the better. Also, to quote Stereogum commenter stagedrunk, “aw shit aw fuck she’s really good at this pop star thing.”

Nicki Minaj – “Seeing Green” (Feat. Drake & Lil Wayne)
It’s no “Truffle Butter,” but it successfully targets my imperial Young Money nostalgia zone.

Katy Perry – “Electric”
Would have been nice if the Katy Perry Pokemon song was a bit weirder than this!

Bella Poarch – “Build A Bitch”
This song is a whole lot of nothing, but if Bella Poarch can parlay a viral TikTok into a Build-A-Bear-themed feminist pop hit, who am I to stop her?

Dixie D’Amelio – “FUCKBOY”
On the other hand, if this is what happens when TikTok influencers go viral, maybe we better clamp down on that whole Bella Poarch dealio while we still can.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Ariana Grande got married to real estate agent Dalton Gomez this past weekend, as prophesied in the final verse of “thank u, next.” [TMZ]
  • A new Lil Nas X song, “Sun Goes Down,” drops Friday in advance of his SNL debut. [Twitter]
  • Migos’ Culture III is out 6/11. [Instagram]
  • Rihanna shared a message about the Israel-Palestine crisis. [Instagram]
  • Drake will receive the Artist Of The Decade award at the Billboard Music Awards. [Today]
  • Taylor Swift became the first woman to win the Global Icon Award at the BRIT Awards. [Twitter]
  • Charli XCX and beabadoobee are Ray-Ban’s new brand ambassadors. [Billboard]
  • Maren Morris and Miranda Lambert lead the 2021 CMT Awards nominations. [CMT]
  • BTS, Justin Bieber, and Lady Gaga will appear in the Friends reunion special on HBO Max. [Slashfilm]
  • As part of a new development deal, Miley Cyrus will play Stand By You, a Pride concert special for Peacock. [People]
  • Here’s the trailer for Pink’s Amazon Prime Video documentary P!NK: All I Know So Far. [YouTube]
  • Ashe did “Me Without You” on Seth Meyers. [YouTube]

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