On “The Year I turned 21”, Ayra Starr defies the sophomore slump – Michael Kolawole

Ayra Starr’s sophomore album, The Year I Turned 21, is a stunning follow-up to her critically acclaimed debut, 19 & Dangerous. Where her first album established her as a formidable presence in the music industry, her second album cements her status as a versatile and emotionally resonant artist.

Throughout the album, Ayra explores the intricacies of love, heartbreak, and personal growth, transforming herself into a bona fide star while deftly avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump.

The album contains 14 songs that cover various styles and emotions, providing a colourful depiction of the life of a coming-of-age celebrity. From the lively, cheerful tracks perfect for livening up any gathering to the pulsating, deeply emotional slow songs, Arya Starr effectively conveys the diverse aspects of life and living with genuine candour.

The album begins with an Alt-R&B pop, “Birds Sing of Money”. After a Fuji vocalist eulogizes Ayra Starr, she boasts about her ability to do whatever she wants. “I run up shots, I run ’em myself/I run up blocks, I run ’em myself,” she sings, “I can make the rain come, I’ma take some.” She also brags about her unique vocals. “I don’t watch my tone ’cause I like how I sound, bitch,” she spits, reaffirming Rihanna’s comment about her distinct vocal’s ability and power to take over the males and females.

 Capturing the euphoria of a young romance in “Lagos Love Story” and “Rhythm and Blues”; Ayra’s lyrics ooze with passion as she sings about her deep connection with her boyfriend and their dreams of a future together despite their youth. But as the album progresses, the tone shifts from the sweetness of love to the bitterness of heartache. On the jazzy “Goodbye (Warm-up)” featuring Asake, she bids farewell to her ex and says hello to her next. Asake, playing the role of the ex-lover, couldn’t persuade her to stay with his slightly uninspired performance.

 But other inspired collaborations enhance the album’s emotional, mental, and introspective aura. “Woman Commando”, produced by Ragee, and featuring the Brazilian artist Anita and the American R&B act Jones is about dispelling bad energy just like “Bad Vibes” with Seyi Vibez, produced by Mystro Sugar. “Last Heartbreak Song”, a duet with GIVĒON, emphasizes the emotional turmoil of a relationship that has run its course, leaving us with a bittersweet sense of closure.

The infectious beats and joyful lyrics make the album a thrill, making it impossible not to move along to the rhythms. However, it is the moody and introspective songs that truly stand out, offering a deeper, more contemplative listening experience. With its shimmering and refined tone, Ayra Starr’s vocal performance on tracks like “21”, “Orun” and “The Kids Are All Alright” is particularly moving.

On the sentimental ballad “21”, inspired by her birthday last summer, Ayra sings in absolutes, yet skillfully fills in the nuances of her coming-of-age story, reflecting on her fame and wealth. In “Orun,” she subtly addresses her battle with depression despite her success. “I should be happy, you’ll agree,” she croons. “But no,” the person who wears the shoes knows where they pinch.

“The Kids Are Alright”; the emotional coda of the album, is a tribute to her late father, Caleb. It begins with a voice note from her mother, urging her to take time off and enjoy life, a poignant reminder of the transient nature of existence. The song’s lyrics reflect her hope that her father is at peace and proud of her accomplishments. The closing statement from her mother, “Rest in peace,the kids are doing alright,” provides a touching closure to the album, making it a deeply personal and impactful piece of work.

Despite the brilliance of some of the songs, they end sooner than expected, just as one begins to enjoy them. However, the seamless fusion of genres and concise song structures contribute to the album’s freshness and appeal, making it a standout in contemporary music.

 Ayra Starr’s unique vocal phrasing, combined with her joyful, introspective lyrics and a unique blend of sounds, sets her apart in the music industry. For this album, she defies expectations and delivers a powerful and evocative album that connects deeply with her fans worldwide. She has proven that she is not only capable of avoiding the sophomore slump but also of elevating her artistry to new heights.

The Year I Turned 21 solidifies Ayra Starr’s status as a rising star in the global music world.

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