Alessia Cara faces major label pressures on ‘The Pains Of Growing’

Alessia Cara
The Pains Of Growing

Def Jam · November 30, 2018

The Pains of Growing is a troubled album, representative of the negative impact major labels can have on the artistry of new and promising singer-songwriters.

It’s been over three years since we were introduced to Alessia Cara with her hit-single ‘Here.’ ‘Here’ painted Cara as mainstream pop’s introverted outsider; someone who didn’t see themselves as adhering to the sonic and thematic traditions of pop music. However, her first studio album, Know It All, approached the realm of a wannabe-Lorde, with watered-down melodies and desaturated production. It definitely seems as if Cara got caught up in the Def Jam machine and became the latest example of a major label crushing a promising new artist’s individuality and uniqueness. Alessia Cara’s sophomore album, The Pains of Growing, is aptly titled: a coming of age story reflecting her artistic maturation. She hasn’t completely matured yet, but she’s growing.

The Pains of Growing shows a much wider range of musical diversity than Know It All, including traditional pop anthems like ‘Not Today,’ the Amy Winehouse-esque ‘Comfortable,’ the bouncing pop-reggae ‘Trust My Lonely,’ and the stripped-down guitar of ‘Wherever I Live,’ ‘I Don’t Want To,’ and ‘A Little More.’ In general, including the tracks that are more sonically diverse, the project hovers between mainstream pop and adult alternative, having a sort of identity crisis. Cara’s husky and emotional vocals, as well as her pop-outsider vibe, seem perfectly suited for the modern alternative scene, but Def Jam seems intent on keeping Cara in the pop realm.

This discord is apparent in a lot of places in the album. Heavy bass drowns out the mix on ‘Not Today,’ and although there are some places percussion adds to the song, clunky beats are shoehorned in on ‘Girl Next Door’ and ‘Easier Said.’ The production is best when Cara herself takes the lead, and this is especially apparent on her simpler songs. ‘I Don’t Want To,’ ‘Wherever I Live,’ ‘A Little More,’ and ‘Out of Love’ all keep production simple and highlight Cara’s beautiful vocals.

Lyricism on this project is hit or miss. On ‘Nintendo Game,’ a clichéd comparison of love to video games, Cara clumsily references Zelda and the Mario Kart track ‘Rainbow Road.’ The punchlines are corny and forced and fail to register with the rest of the track. The use of “lonely” as a noun on ‘Trust My Lonely’ might only offend the most uptight of grammar snobs, but repetitive lyrics and overdone post-breakup themes are tedious. However, Cara also shows that she can be lyrically compelling, putting a new spin on the lonely, on-the-road ballad with ‘Wherever I Live.’ Cara cleverly details the struggle of living hotel to hotel: “and this toilet’s rusted / food came, but I don’t trust it.” On ‘7 Days,’ Cara compares the world to a TV show and asks God if creating the world was “worth the seven days.” The metaphor, although not entirely original, sees new ground when mixed with Cara’s cynicism and defiance. Finally, on ‘All We Know,’ Cara questions knowledge in today’s complicated media landscape, presenting the semi-Socratic conclusion that “all we know is that we don’t.”

Overall, The Pains of Growing is a troubled album, representative of the negative impact major labels can have on the artistry of new and promising singer-songwriters. Cara saves the project from being a complete disaster with intimate and powerful vocals, and occasionally clever and moving lyricism. However, if Def Jam wants Cara to continue to develop and reach her full potential, they need to loosen the reigns and let her feel out her own path.

Listen to The Pains Of Growing:

About Connor Friday 5 Articles
Connor Friday is a freshman CS and Business major. He hails from the great state of frostbite and road construction, Minnesnowta. He thinks that Pete Seeger is an American hero, and will never change his mind.

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