By Joey Gibbs
Madison Beer reminds me of the run-of-the-mill popular girl from my high school: entitled, on the after prom committee and embroiled in some sort of drama. But when we’re paired up to peer review each other’s papers, she is extraordinarily nice to me and we even joke around.
Those small relationships I had, the ones that never left the classroom, that was the amount of depth I got from Beer’s debut album “Life Support.” Beer’s debut album has a lot of strengths and even more potential, but her persistence on capturing a sound that is not hers weakens her artistic impact.
Madison Beer has already had her fair share of controversy before her debut, which made me skeptical. From claims to have romanticized Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” to allegedly being a bully when she was younger, it felt naive to be a fan of her. She had no real body of work before fame struck her like a truck, with Justin Bieber sharing one of her YouTube covers in the early 2010s. Her single “Selfish,” released in February of 2020, plowed TikTok and became the sad song of that spring.
Her discography is a big mess: her initial surface-level bubblegum stuff, her obscure EP, her collaborations with the League of Legends K-Pop group (no clue how she got there). She was all over the place, and “Life Support” decently helps ground her stardom and position.
The album’s cohesion and production was stellar; there was a consistent and enjoyable aesthetic that each track shared. Beer does have incredible and alluring vocals; however, the many tracks on this surprisingly 47-minute album do not use that to her advantage. Beer hides behind reverb and flighty high vocals, covering some of her mediocre lyricism. She incorporates a lot of what I like to call pop-sprechstimme, popularized and most notably used by Taylor Swift in “Look What You Made Me Do.” Beer also uses this sort of vocoded vocal a lot when she could have just done a regular harmony.
“Interlude” is almost unlistenable because of her weird and raspy tech voice when I know for a fact she has the talent to have just done it acapella. Beer has a lovely mid-voice, can travel from chest to head with ease, yet resorts to this talk singing. The first felt half-baked and uninspired; there was nothing really memorable about any of it. The lyrical content was alright, enunciation was really foggy, and some melodies were jagged and curt.
“Default” was, to quote Kelly Clarkson, a beautiful disaster. For a song about struggling, she certainly was struggling with it. The opening of it was so welcoming and bittersweet, her voice in lovely harmony with the strings. Then we are introduced to this weird echoey mid-section, and the song had this abrupt and painful ending. I have no words for that ending but “why?” Also, there are two spots on this album — in “Default” and “Selfish” — where Beer is just obviously out of tune; the mixers must have had an off day.
Beer knows how to sell and captivate her audience with a melody, and “Blue” showcases that very well. “Blue” is, in terms of lyricism, the strongest track on the album. Beer plays around with a lot of metaphors, some to her advantage and others distract from the lyrical intimacy. “Blue” is a moshpit of these metaphors, where right and wrong fight with one another. “We were like a California / fated to die any minute” is bittersweet and is a good comparison to ephemeral love. Yet, in the second verse she compares it to a “gorgeous bed of roses / fated to die any minute.” The obvious, and albeit better, choice would have been something of or related to thorns because there is nothing transient about a bed of roses. Her lyrics sometimes portray this beautiful emptiness — they sound exquisite and deep, but with a little thought you see that there is no substance.
The latter half of the album was brilliant; it felt authentic, it had loads of charm, and it helped her stand out as a musician. A lot of reviews compare her to Lana Del Rey, Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish, which is sonically present throughout a majority of the album. It’s like she’s still scared of being herself and resorting to sounds that sell big — Grande’s atmospheric vocals, Eilish’s distortion, Del Rey’s swoon and croon. The latter half sounds like appreciation and integration rather than mimicking and incorporating.
The strongest track on the album is without a doubt “Emotional Bruises;” her honeysuckle voice echoes all around us as she bemoans about a toxic lover. This song was Beer’s dark and Beer’s moody — not del Rey’s or Grande’s. The end of the album should have been “Everything Happens for a Reason,” as her delicate voice bounces up and down a duple meter, accompanied by pastoral strings. This track was an excellent conclusion — a blend of sweetness and distortion, wishful thinking and reality.
The real last track was a weird noise track called “Channel Surfing/The End,” which really did not add any satisfactory cap on the album. The last track visits each song on the album as if they were TV channels; I really love her soft-spoken “thank you so much,” but I wish it was directed at herself or even her lover rather than us.
I am excited for what Beer has to offer and where she can go from here. “Life Support” toured a lot of sounds and directions she could take; I just hope she lets her voice lead and let the production follow suit. I would recommend listening to “Life Support” if you’re in a reflective mood. Lyrically and sonically she takes a lot of time on this album trying to find herself.
This will not be the masterwork she keeps with her for her career. It does, however, provide excellent stepping stones to that body of work which will truly be memorable and meaningful. Soon enough, her debut will have a couple strong standouts, but the rest of it will grow old fast and end up needing life support.
- Emotional Bruises
- Stained Glass
- Everything Happens For A Reason
- Effortlessly – It hurts to put Effortlessly here, but it was disappointing how such an incredible opportunity to be personal and down to earth was covered up by production and reverb.
- The Beginning – It was pretty but there was nothing interesting about it, just 40 something seconds of pretty sighs.
- Homesick – This track was absolutely killed by the useless and embarrassing Rick and Morty sample untactfully stapled at the end of the song.