Review Summary: Good thing she did not quit her day job...
In the pop-culture world, the name Disney has long ceased to signify talking animal cartoons; nowadays, the House of Mouse is nothing short of a media powerhouse, dipping its toes into art forms as diverse as film – animated or otherwise – television, theme parks, and music.
This latter field in particular has, for the past three decades, proven to be an invaluable treasure trove for the corporation, with multiple mini-starlets launching from their orbit into super-stardom. From Britney, Justin and Christina to Raven, the Cheetah Girls, Demi, Miley, Selena and the Jonas Brothers, the Walt Disney Company has, at this point, managed to place almost as many graduates within the musical industry as they have within the film industry, if not more – which just goes to show just how all-encompassing the corporation's reach has become. Not only that, but some of these graduates overlap
between the two industries; Joe Jonas, for instance, is now an up-and-coming actor as well as an established musician. A fairly similar thing, albeit in reverse order, would happen to the subject of this review, a young lady who, despite an initial foray into the world of music, would go on to forge a name for herself as a promising young film starlet, leaving a single self-titled album as the only evidence of her attempt at becoming the next Miley Cyrus.
For that - the next Miley, or perhaps the next Demi - is exactly what Zendaya Maree Coleman (commonly known only by her first name) is attempting to be on her sole outing, an album which not only treads the same paths laid out by her more successful predecessors – offering up a well-balanced mixture of club-driven electropop and modern pop-R'n'B – but also reveals Zendaya, as a singer, to be an equally well-balanced, if somewhat less talented, mixture between the two aforementioned Disney Channel graduates and somebody like Rihanna, who gets evoked at multiple points throughout the album. The problem, then, is that while all the ingredients are in place for the birth of another Disney startlet (including a contract with Hollywood Records, a subsidiary of the House of Mouse almost exclusively devoted to launching its graduates' musical careers) said ingredients are never more than adequately average, failing to make said starlet stand out from the pack in any way. Zendaya herself has a perfectly capable, though not particularly adventurous, set of pipes, and her choice of musical style and lyrical content - almost every song deals with either overwhelming, borderline co-dependent romantic need or flirtation through dancing - are (were) perfect for the 2013 pop zeitgeist, but sadly, the album itself reveals a lack of ambition to be anything more than a collection of passable club-pop songs – the exact same ambition which helped her predecessors and role models thrive.
Perhaps the fault for this lies with Zendaya's producers moreso than the singer herself; while never dipping below the threshold of the acceptable, and generally being careful to play to Zendaya's strengths as a singer, the team responsible for the musical side of the Oakland native's debut album seldom offer up anything memorable or even above average, proving that, disposable though electropop may be as a style, there is such a thing as being too
disposable. While the beats on Zendaya
, the album, display all the right influences, there is precious little that sticks, or even justifies repeat listens, a fact which is not helped by a certain tendency to build up to anti-climaxes - witness, for example, the failure to follow through on a textbook rising beat on opener Replay
. or the squandering of a well-placed, Miley-esque electric guitar riff on Scared
This tendency is all the more baffling as the writers and producers do prove themselves capable of coming up with a couple of playlist-worthy club bangers over the course of the album's forty-two-odd minutes. Replay
itself is a fairly strong choice for a single, being appropriate as both a radio single and a mid-tempo, cool-down dancefloor cut, and third track Butterflies
is an absolutely irrepressible beast of a club-pop track, as well as hands-down the best song on the album. Together, these two songs make for a promising start to the album, and position Zendaya as a worthy aspirant to Miley and Demi's throne.
The baffling nature of the record's tracklist also begins to show here, however, as sandwiched between these two standout tracks is perhaps the most anonymous, least memorable track on the album, Fireflies
- a song whose only similarity to its immediate successor is its insect-themed, one-word title, and which has the unfortunated added effect of creating an awkward cluster of two similarly-named songs back-to-back at the start of the album.
After its early peak with Butterflies
, the album then rumbles pleasantly (if anonymously) past its other two standout tracks - Heaven Lost an Angel
, a track which stands out mainly for the blatant 90's-early 2000's aesthetic of its chorus, which owes more to acts like Alice Deejay or Sophie Ellis-Bextor than anything created in the decade prior to the album's release, and Only When You're Close
, a mid-tempo banger with, for once, a well-utilised pre-chorus buildup – through a competently executed ballad (Bottle You Up
) to an undistinguishedly acceptable finale, leaving the listener with a feeling that, while their time was not entirely
misspent, nor was listening to this album a particularly worthy
use of forty-two and a half minutes.
In fact, while Zendaya and her team are kind enough to keep the experience brief and breezy in an age of overstuffed, overlong dance-pop albums, they almost make the listener wish they had
gone a little further, reached a little higher, risked a little more. As it is – as this review's overuse of terms like 'pleasant', 'adequate'
has no doubt given away – Zendaya
the album ultimately proved nothing more than a short-term money spinner for the Walt Disney Company; as a launching platform for Zendaya, the artist's, musical career, it must sadly be considered a false start, leaving the then-eighteen-year-old at the starting line while some of her peers zoom away into the distance.
Fortunately, the Californian would be able to rebound from this misstep fairly quickly, and within a scant few years, her self-titled 2013 album would be little more than a dot in the rear-view mirror of an otherwise soaring career – which is just as well, as it shows Zendaya understood the main takeaway from her ill-fated flirtation with the world of music and did not, in fact, quit her day-job.
Heaven Lost an Angel
Only When You're Close