After the viral sensation “Boo’d Up” mounted the charts earlier this year, Ella Mai substantiates the smash single’s success with a self-titled debut album that spotlights her versatility as an R&B lyricist and performer.
Following the prelude, “Good Bad” starts the tracklist off strong with a sassy, provocative back-and-forth bop that simultaneously puts you in the mood to chill in a cute, little coffee-house but also to get up and dance shamelessly. “Dangerous” directly follows as another jive-worthy track, as Mai considers the risk in loving someone. The kinetic energy in these first two songs starts the album off on a high note that immediately draws you in to keep listening.
“Sauce” transitions into a slower, more reflective portion of the album. The quirky, boastful track is a bit tongue-in-cheek but brings an infectious smile to your face, knowing how much Mai must’ve been feeling her oats writing this one.
“Whatchamacallit” provides a strong melody with Mai singing from the upper end of her vocal range, with a well-orchestrated harmony from Chris Brown, though seeing his name on the tracklist is somewhat alienating given his controversial past. Luckily, skipping this song for that reason wouldn’t cause the listener to miss much.
“Cheap Shot” is a laidback track that’s catchy and well-written but fails to stand out amongst the larger effort.
Mai’s dynamic vocals are on their finest, most luxurious display in “Gut Feeling,” which features H.E.R. A beautiful, soulful ballad from start to finish, Mai shows the full capacity of her vocal range, accompanied by the rich, deeper notes of H.E.R. to complement. Everything from the piano to the background vocals makes this song feel the most thoroughly produced and well thought-out track.
Toward the end of the album, Mai begins to lose a little steam. Many decent-enough songs are difficult to differentiate from one another. “Close” and “Easy” are the two slowest, and probably most forgettable songs on the album. Their close proximity to the end of the album is concerning because the best songs on the album, arguably, should often open and close the tracklist, with the weaker ones filling out the middle.
However, Mai redeems herself on the bonus track, “Naked,” an unapologetically honest acoustic track where she clocks herself for things like her resting bitch face or wearing baggy clothes, in a plea for someone to love her despite her flaws.
By the end of the album, it’s apparent that the most popular song is not even the strongest song on the album. With enough talent and the potential for legs to stay on the charts for weeks to come, Mai has proven herself a worthy, strong contender as an up and coming artist in the R&B industry.