On her sophomore album, The Pains of Growing, Alessia Cara, now aged 22, looks into the abyss of some of life’s scariest moments and sets them to upbeat songs.
On the album’s debut single, “Growing Pains,” Cara (this year’s Best New Artist Grammy winner) struggles ostensibly with growing up and all the attendant, anguished self-awareness (“I cry / more than I want to admit but I can't lie / to myself, to anyone / cause phoning it in isn’t any fun”). On “7 Days,” Cara offers an update to the infamous “What If God Were One of Us” examining the idea that God has turned his back on everyone, blaming Instagram fame and television for humanity’s undoing. Life on tour (and reruns of Friends) make up “Wherever I Live,” while disillusionment with an unclear cause is the focus of “All We Know.” And there is a breakup; the toxic relationship looms large over every other song on the album, including “Trust My Lonely.”
There’s a lot of pain to explore here, along with some growth for Cara, who wrote all the lyrics on this album herself. At times, this leads her to something extraordinary, like “Out of Love,” where Cara examines the push and pull in relationships with piano balladry reminiscent of Alicia Keys. Less successful is the silly pop fluff of “Nintendo Game,” where she contextualizes a relationship as a showdown. Overall, the album follows an upbeat pop sound that belies the bleak themes it explores.
This doesn’t always work. While Cara is brave to bare her soul with such rawness– and it feels like a genuine attempt to connect with listeners – she encounters some trouble communicating musically. The evolution is necessary for every artist, and Cara’s early teenaged success has granted her a measure of freedom to explore. Now that she’s ventured even further out emotionally, the next phase would seem to be stepping further out into the world of more experimental music production.