The rising pop star’s second EP features solid songwriting and not much else.
In a world with so many pop musicians clawing to break into the mainstream, The Charli XCX-managed songstress Elio is right on the cusp. She’s racked up millions of streams in just a year; her first EP ‘u and me, but mostly me’ dropped in July, and ‘Can You Hear Me Now’ followed on Friday. Her aesthetic and sound is decidedly millennial pop, preceding in a manner that treads – at times – dangerously close to the works of Halsey, Lennon Stella, and the 1975. And while she doesn’t necessarily have to break the mold to be a worthwhile artist, it seems that she’s not yet the best version of herself at this point either.
The uptempo lead single “Jackie Onassis” plays to Elio’s strengths, with its smooth electropop production and escapist lyricism pairing well with her indifferent vocal. That indifference amplifies the carefree nature of her lyrics here, making lines like “I’ll keep taking antidepressants” and “fuck the environment, baby” pop with dramaticism in a way that wouldn’t with more emotive phrasing. That same icy tone plays well on “charger,” which boasts clever rhymes and wordplay from start to finish.
But her emotionally distanced approach to singing can’t carry the entire EP. “@elio.irl” exemplifies the critical issue of the project: as her heart breaks on the track, the lyrics feel more self-serving than anything else. Elio doesn’t seem to have much of an audience in mind beyond herself, which, while somewhat endearing, represents a lack of polish. As she proclaims, “And I miss you so much, I wanna die,” she sounds nothing more than blithe.
The majority of the EP is completely unidentifiable, with “hurts 2 hate somebody” by far being the worst offender. “come round” is only useful for texturing the album’s core sound and is completely useless for listeners otherwise. Though the closing acoustic guitar track “Fabric” relies only on four (4) chords for its instrumentation, her songwriting wit stills cuts through as she looks forward to what’s to come instead of wallowing in complete self-pity.
What’s both obvious and frustrating about ‘hear me’ is that it sounds like she’s still figuring herself out. Even the EP’s title ‘can u hear me now?’ communicates that tepidity and uncertainty. The decision to reprise ‘hurts 2 hate somebody’ at the tail end of the tracklist clarifies that Elio had ideas on a narrative for the record. Still, it feels like she was pressured to get her music out into the world without refining it to her fullest potential. Elio’s greatest achievement here is that she provides an excellent case study on how the pop industry forces artists to be youthful to succeed at the expense of their art.