Eyebrows were raised and re-raised in January when Essex singer-songwriter Jessie J landed the top spot on BBC’s Sound of 2011 poll. While the poll is more an educated guess than a sound bet – previous winners included such underwhelming talents as The Bravery and Mika – it was still unusual that it should be led by a young singer who’d only released her first single two months earlier.
More to the point, the two tracks that had been released for public consumption – ‘Do it Like a Dude’ and ‘Price Tag’ – were little more than solid, by-the-numbers radio pop tracks with little to separate them from better-established, recognisable American acts. Even so, they sounded distinctly undercooked. The sunshine reggae-funk of ‘Price Tag’ is best heard without the preachy “we just wanna make the world dance / forget about the price tag” chorus, while the stereotypical “dude” described in ‘Do it Like a Dude’ sounds bizarrely like Michael Jackson (“grab my crotch, wear my hat low like that”).
Who You Are does little to dispel those early impressions. Many of the album’s 13 tracks could conceivably have been lifted from another singer’s album: ‘Big White Room’ sounds like an acoustic outtake from Alicia Keys’ overwrought As I Am; ‘Price Tag’ from Natasha Bedingfield’s Pocketful of Sunshine; ‘Rainbow’ a bland alternative to Beyonce’s Sasha Fierce singles. Where she does display some measure of individuality, in her lyrics, she frequently comes across self-righteous at best (‘Price Tag’) and downright conceited at worst (‘Who’s Laughing Now’).
This shouldn’t be altogether surprising. Jessie made a name for herself as a songwriter-for-hire, scoring her first hit with Miley Cyrus’ ‘Party in the USA.’ However, whereas other performers – Lady Gaga being the prime example – have used writing for other singers as a base from which to form their own unique styles, Jessie J still sounds like she’s writing to impress. It’s a shame because beneath the posturing there’s a good songwriter with a voice to match the likes of Christina and Alicia Keys, which is why Who You Are is as much a disappointment as it is a surprise.