Unbreakable Smile Album Review
Released June 23, 2015
Genre: Pop, Soul-pop
Who is Tori Kelly and why is she on the radio? Well Tori Kelly, based in L.A, started off in YouTube in 2007 at a very young age by posting covers of songs. She started to gain popularity that eventually led her to 1,000,000+ subscribers. Because of her popularity, she was able to do collaborations with other YouTube giants such as AJ Rafael, Todrick Hall, Jeremy Passion, and many others. Furthermore, she auditioned for American Idol in 2010 getting to Hollywood, but could not get into the “Top 24.” After her elimination, Tori began focusing on songwriting while putting out covers every once and a while on YouTube.
In 2012, Tori released her first EP called Handmade Songs By Tori Kelly containing fan favorites “All In My Head” and “Confetti.” What is significant about this EP was that it was all recorded and produced by herself, inside her own bedroom. It also served as a stepping stone for Tori in which she gained confidence in her song writing. Her EP gained popularity worldwide eventually making it into the 10 Pop Albums on ITunes. It certainly gained the attention of manager, Scooter Braun, who later introduced her to the heads of Capitol Records.
After performing in many venues across the United States and signed to Capitol Records, Tori released her second EP in 2013 called Forward. This EP was a 5-song setlist that contained a touch of soul-pop. Forward, presented more fan favorites such as the EP’s first single, “Dear No One,” and the heartbreaking and innocent “Paper Hearts.” The EP sold about 17,000 copies worldwide and was placed in the top 20 on Billboard. Moreover, Tori Kelly wrote and recorded songs that were later put on movie soundtracks such as The Giver. Along with all the hustle and bustle of writing songs and recording them, Tori was able to be supporting acts for music’s biggest icons, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith. She even played in Madison Square Garden as Ed Sheeran’s sole supporting act!
All throughout 2014, Tori worked on bits and pieces of her debut album releasing singles like “Nobody Love” in early 2015. She recently even performed this song on national television at the Billboard Music Awards two months ago. Finally under Capitol Records, on June 23, Tori Kelly releases her debut album, Unbreakable Smile, in collaboration with her manager, Scooter, Ed Sheeran, and many others.
Unbreakable Smile starts off with “Where I Belong – Intro” in which it gives listeners a story of who she is, where she started, and where she is now. It only contains an acoustic guitar and her vocals giving homage to her beginnings in which it was only those two instruments that she had at her disposal. Next, is the title track; first of all, the transition from the simplicity of “Where I Belong” to the production of “Unbreakable Smile” is flawless. It continues to tell this story of her journey from obscurity to fame in which it gives her thought on still being independent and not conforming to critics and popularity like many stars do (aka Justin Bieber). Next is the album’s first single, “Nobody Love.” This song received so much popularity that radio stations began playing it. The up-beat tempo along with the catchy chorus provides a nice summer tune for people to listen to.
Unfortunately, Unbreakable Smile does have its pitfalls, one being the track “Expensive”. Although it has the upbeat catchy tune that radios love to play, it does have similarities to the pop song “Problem” by Ariana Grande due to the neverending use of horns that also kind of drowns Tori’s vocals in the mix. You can also say that the track was a bit overproduced due to so much going on. The album’s second single, “Should’ve Been Us” feels like another pitfall for Unbreakable Smile. It teeters between Tori’s vocals being the highlight to it being drowned out again in the chorus. It also gets a bit annoying with the lyrics containing the words “Should’ve been…” for a good part of the song like Maroon 5’s “Sugar.” Also, for some reason, the beginning of “City Dove” sort of feels as if a boy band is about to perform. Although a ballad which is great for someone like Tori Kelly’s vocals to take on, this track does not really have the firepower to keep the momentum going that was started from the beginning of her album.
Now the next two tracks mostly gives a nod to how she started: acoustic guitar and vocals. “First Heartbreak” contains the same emotion that can be found in “Paper Hearts.” It’s simple, it’s nice, and it displays great emotion from Tori Kelly. Furthermore, “I Was Made For Loving You” is also a simple yet amazing duet between Tori Kelly and pop-sensation Ed Sheeran. The production is fantastic with the harmonies on point. It sort of gives long time fans a throwback to the Jeremy Passion and Tori Kelly duets. Honestly, any song that mostly contains an acoustic guitar and her vocals is already going to be great due to her inherent talent of shining when her tools are bare to begin with. “Funny” is also another great song. It gives insight to the change that fame and fortune take on people. It also lets people know that Tori Kelly is in control and is in control of the music she writes and produces.
“Talk” immediately catches listeners attention once the bass riff starts. Whether or not Tori played the bass riff, it is a very nice and simple hook that will have heads nodding in approval. Overall the track has a smooth melody that also gives a throwback to her earlier work. “Talk” also highlights Tori’s falsetto-ish vocals along with her R&B style to it as well. It is also a song one would probably hear at a clothing department like H&M and Forever 21. Some can say the track stands out the most in the album. “Art of Letting You Go” sort of has this R&B feeling to it infused with pop. “California Lovers” is a great track to give ode to her California roots and friends; however, LL Cool J’s verse seems way out of place and sort of takes away from the song. It also has a resemblance to Traphik’s “Magnetic” in which Tori Kelly was featured in as well.
The beginning of “Falling Slowly” sounds like K-Ci and JoJo’s track “All My Life.” Overall it is a good song offering Tori Kelly’s take on 2000’s R&B. Finally, the last track of the album, “Anyway,” closes out Unbreakable Smile in fashion. The song brings back the type of music that Tori Kelly had displayed in the beginning of the album: upbeat, not a lot of production, and a sense of authority. It also presents the ending of the story that started with “Where I Belong” which is that Tori is going to continue to have complete control of the music she records and produces.
Overall, for a debut album, it is a pretty stellar one. There are a few songs, however, that is either overproduced or just does not fit into the style longtime fans of hers have known since her YouTube days. Speaking of that, it is extremely satisfying and amazing to see a YouTube artist like Tori Kelly blow up the charts. She is not the first Youtuber to be recognized by record labels, however. There are many who were before her and there will be many that follow her (a la Justin Bieber). Many people are excited in what will happen to her as she gains more popularity. Will she end up like Justin Beiber? Will she keep her individuality and exert control in what she produces? All we can do is wait and see, but enjoy and appreciate what she has accomplished in her career (so far).
PRETTY NEAT MUSIC
FAV TRACKS: Where I Belong, Unbreakable Smile, Nobody Love, First Heartbreak, I Was Made For Loving You, Talk, Funny, California Lovers, Falling Slow, Anyway
LEAST FAV TRACKS: Expensive, Should’ve Been Us, City Dove