The albums I least expected to talk about this year were, and still are, that of anyone famous on TikTok. While the app boasts a surprisingly impressive algorithm (one that has suckered me in for a number of hours I hope to never be repeated back to me), the popular creators of the platform often come off as overly vapid and increasingly forgettable. If you asked me what was bubbling in the E! News rip-off tabloids regarding members of the Hype House, the D’Amelio family, or any of the other millionaires cropping up on the platform I couldn’t give you an informed answer (socialist TikTok, on the other hand, I would love to discuss). Madison Beer is certainly one of those above examples (in one way shape or form), but however one may feel about the creator and her actions (of which I have no frame of reference), it is undeniably exciting that any of them were able to produce a professional release like Life Support.
While I won’t besmirch anyone’s particular music taste or ability, most of the music that has blown up from the app (and I want to make the distinction between existing artists using the platform for promotion or inspiration, see Megan Thee Stallion, and individuals who have used their clout and connections to stir up drama with mediocre, underproduced music, see REDACTED), most of the music that comes out of TikTok leaves much to be desired. Be it over-produced and uninspired jibber jabber, or talentless repetitive hoo-hah, I thought it would be a cold day in Hell when I would claim I liked one of these tracks. Guess Hell had a record-high average temperature of 26°F this past month, because here I am, discussing Life Support.
While Beer‘s show business career is nothing to scoff at, her popularity found its peak around this time last year (also notably at the beginning of the US national quarantine). With her teen-pop talent, conventionally good looks, and industry connections, her rocket to stardom has culminated itself into her proper debut. Yet, I will not sugarcoat my initial emotions; a few large groans led to me researching community reception of the release, only to show stern disbelief to generally positive reviews. After again popping up in my daily life, I decided it was time. And I have quite a few different thoughts several listens later. With the soulful stylings of Lizzo, vocal chops reminiscent of Ariana Grande, and aural aesthetic of Billie Eilish, Beer‘s palate is pulled from bold and otherwise talented modern female artists, which is a great style to be in. Bouncing between singer/songwriter balladry and bad bitch trap queen, the cuts on Life Support remain mostly fresh throughout the 46-minute runtime, with a few exceptions (It will be easier to talk about some of this album’s faults first, as putting it in perspective with other popular music will help my analysis).
I hate intro and outro tracks. “The Beginning” and “Channel Surfing/The End” are perhaps my least favorite cuts on here, merely because they contribute nothing to the release other than the loose structure of a ‘story.’ This self-seriousness that the album demands you to adhere to is certainly a tried and true way to get more streams on platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, but also somewhat emblematic of the record as a whole. Because the female artists listed above have had major positive impacts on the industry as a whole, the mimicry of that energy here is exhausting, and this bleeds into many of the songs on account of the sub-par lyricism and copy-cat performances.
But this harsh attitude is only because there is a lot of great stuff on here. “Follow The White Rabbit” is a heavy, psychedelic soul track that while a little derivative, unequivocally bangs with its sinister symphonics and thunderous low end. The instrumentation here (similar to a number of songs) completely takes control, with Beer‘s vocal acting as a secondary coaxing call of instruction to follow Alice on her journey (Jefferson Starship should be proud). “Effortlessly” and “Blue” are the next few standout efforts, the first of which uses a somber guitar-driven trap beat to mellow us out of the previous track. Using a vocoder or some sort of vocal modification tool, the warble and reverb-laden effects placed on the singer’s voice fits the vibe she is trying to create well. “Blue” is a Lorde x Florence + The Machine ballad with a wonderful analog synthesizer lead that continues to surprise me with its harsh sawtooth waving its way through the mix and leading us into the larger than life, but still somewhat predictable, chorus.
What surprised me the most about Life Support, however, is the potential of the interlude cuts “Default” and “Interlude.” Both have a very Billie Eilish air about them, and would wonderfully translate into longer tracks, should some have been provided for them. Each has an engaging vocal lead from Beer, and a promising instrumental build to follow, yet each is lost in their shortened length. Hell, I even prefer these to some of the real songs on the record, like “Stay Numb And Carry On,” which has a lazy and unappealing beat, uninspiring chord progression, and one too many Beatles references, “Homesick,” which makes me want to listen to Folklore and Evermore by Taylor Swift simultaneously for a more original performance (and to erase the Rick and Morty ‘Mircroverse Battery’ sample from my brain), and “Selfish,” whose impressive vocal performance can’t save the monotony harnessed by just a singer and their guitar/piano. This cut even has a super interesting electric guitar lick within the last thirty seconds of the song that would have made an amazing tone for an epic climax. But this, like pretty much all of the tracks here, doesn’t go anywhere. They break from their stasis as they should, but never reach a meaningful peak. Surely this is just my distaste for modern pop songwriting, but it is certainly a hurdle to get over when listening to Life Support with untrained ears towards this style. Regardless, those interlude tracks actually fit well into the record, and hold their own among some of the other songs.
But Beer stocked the back of the refrigerator too, as some of the songs in the latter half of this record are my favorites. “Sour Times” is a bouncy and serene jazz-hop banger whose beauty comes from Beer‘s pleasing alto vocal melodies and interesting percussion. Arguably the most groovy track on Life Support, this cut’s dynamic versatility, and impressive construction make it stick on every listen. Single, “BOYSHIT” follows this and expertly holds the momentum set before it. With an aggressive and addictive beat, brilliant synth leads, and yet another accurate Grande impression, the chorus solidifies the queen energy that she is trying to reach on this song. More bangers come in the form of “Baby,” a well-crafted Positions rip-off, and “Stained Glass,” a well-positioned hybrid of modern female pop styles, which lead the album towards its close. The record rounds out with “Emotional Bruises” and “Everything Happens For A Reason,” two tracks that mellow the listener out with interesting aural palates while showcasing Beer‘s vocal ability, but fail to really impress, as some of the other songs have before them.
This album is a very interesting and intriguing pop album. Carried by impressive performances and occasionally extremely bold choices, this was not the debut I had expected. But this project does unfortunately struggle with having its own identity. Too often does the 21-year old take the styles of her youthful, and far more successful, contemporaries, which leaves Life Support feeling somewhat unoriginal in a lot of aspects. Overall, however, this record has a substantial number of strong tracks that have successfully translated Madison Beer into an emerging name in pop music. I’m excited to see what the young artist does moving forward, and I really hope that is somewhere in the vein of leaning into those heavy moments sprinkled throughout this record.
Final Rating: Stale Cheeto dust is still Cheeto dust
Favorite Tracks: “Follow The White Rabbit,” “Sour Times,” “Effortlessly”
FFO: Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, Sabrina Carpenter