Jessie J - R.O.S.E. (All four parts) (Review)

Martin_Canine
JESSIE J
R.O.S.E. (Realisations, Obsessions, Sex & Empowerment)
★★★★1/2

There was a time when Jessie J was called the British Lady Gaga, but to be honest, I never saw the resemblance. To be fair, over the years the media compared a bunch of artists to the godmother of artpop: Ke$ha, Nicki Minaj, Jeffree Star and Katy Perry were all called counterparts of Miss Bad Romance, and while the music was often fairly different, I could always see where the idea was coming from. But with Jessie J, she never seemed to have any similarities to Gaga. They both were pop, but that’s about it. With hits like Price Tag and Bang Bang, Jessie J had some of pop’s biggest pleasures of the decade, yes, but she was less electronic, more rooted in soul and neither as freaky nor as experimental as the biggest music diva of her generation. Her appeal was completely different. Gaga can sing very well, but at the time of Jessie J’s biggest triumphes, she concealed this behind provocative lyrics, lush synthie production and earworm melodies - she had points to make, and used a variety of pop and avant garde elements to achieve that. Jessie on the other hand always made clear that her voice is huge, and sometimes chose beats that complemented her massive singing - all within a very conventional pop range, and often feeling like she’s aiming for less than she’s capable of (going for catchiness, when she could compete with the classic divas). Gaga’s music was a statement, and a demonstration of creativity in multimedial mainstream, while Jessie J’s was all about pleasant, powerfully sung earworms with a strong attitude.

But then, one day, she vanished without a word. Jessie J, who seemed on her way to become the next big pop star, was in a creative crisis, not able to write anything she herself was satisfied with. A complete reboot was needed in order to proceed. Among the things she did was dropping the poppiness, dropping the comfort, and dropping the public expectations. Forgetting the next big radio hit, instead aiming for higher musical and lyrical values. She needed to let out everything that bothered her and bleed the words. Coming 4 years after her last album in 4 chapters of 4 songs each, R.O.S.E. is a contemporary RnB record like it wasn’t heard for about ten years, but with ambitions as high as the best of recent artpop albums. It’s an admirable symbiosis of astounding singing ability, great production and intelligent poetry. And the emotions cut deep.

Every part of R.O.S.E. is named after one letter of the title, and has one common mood and theme. They are available as individual releases, but still have a narrative chronology and are regarded by Jessie J as one album.

The R stands for Realisations. It’s the most gut wrenchingly, no holds barred honest section of the record. It contains an intro called Oh Lord that’s much too short but has feelings that barely fit onto most full length albums. She starts off with a whimpered “I don’t wanna do this life anymore”. We truly feel it. What an expressive voice. On Easy on Me, she ends a painful fight with self acceptance with the message her grandfather sent to her the day before he died. One word: tears. Dopamine is so uncomfortable that we all feel guilty. Essentially, it’s what Katy Perry’s Chained to the Rhythm was last year, but without the cynical earworm chorus, that’s why we don’t take it as lightly and actually listen to what she has to say. Yes, we all prefer positive feelings over the painful truth.

O is for Obsessions. It deals with topics such as jealousy, false friendship and overwhelming romanticism. Petty is about a cruel woman who pretends to be a nice, caring friend just to backstab people. The funky Real Deal on the other hand is one of the few more uptempo songs of the album. With a certain Destiny’s Child feeling, Jessie sings about her obsession for a man she wants to risk everything for.

On S, for Sex, she proudly celebrates both meanings of the word: her gender and intercourse. “Let's get naked / Start meditating, feel elevated and say / I love my body, I love my skin / I am a goddess, I am a queen”. Jessie J sings about nudity and the body in a way it is desperately needed to be sung about: as something natural, not as something dirty and most definitely not as something that should give in to some sort of trend or “beauty” standards. With the same honesty and directness she comments on her sex life: Play, which is sung over Cheryl Lynn’s Got to Be Real instrumental in addition to some 2000s RnB drums, celebrates the act as something that can be mutual fun for both parties involved. Nothing vulgar, nothing objectifying - just sex.

The final chapter is E for Empowerment, and it starts right off with Glory, that, played directly after the before mentioned track, feels like a comment that consent is always needed: “Hate that I can feel him on me / His dirty energy / His head, it sounds so cold and loud / Make a noise now, history”. Powerful lyrics, and a much needed approach to the topic of sexuality in modern society to frown upon sexual abuse, yet not sex itself. Because she precisely addresses the point so many miss: you never force yourself onto anybody, THAT is the problem - whether the mutual consent is given changes if the experience is horrible or wonderful. Glory is a hopeful tune, looking forward to a great future. I do, too. In this world, there is space for both respect and sexuality.

Notice how brilliant the transition of the tracklist is (which needs to be listened to as a whole, not individually)? Starting off with vulnerable negativity, changing to the bittersweet mix of love and frustration, to the wonderful mix of love and fun, to hope and strength. It’s as if she reversed the cycle of a rose - from withered to being in full bloom.

Comments

P