Jessie J plans U.S. assault with tomboy pop

English singer's strengths on display, as are weaknesses

By

Published:

 

LONDON — Jessie J is planning to conquer the U.S. with family-friendly tomboy pop and vacuous platitudes.

The English singer is set on replicating her success in Britain, where she is touring endlessly and was considered popular enough to sing with the band Queen at the closing ceremony of the London Olympic Games.

Jessie J's show highlights the reasons for her fame. It also reveals significant weaknesses.

At London's O2, she strides around with Amazonian composure. She now has short blond hair after shaving it for charity. Her adorned bikini costumes emphasize her legs while being carefully conservative.

She can certainly sing. Unafraid to indulge in breathy emoting or blast out seven shades of power-vibrato, she never lets her warbly tendencies obscure a tune.

The songs are astute, if not first-rate.

"Price Tag" is one of her signature hits. Its hook, once heard, is permanently stuck in your brain. For many, the experience is akin to mental gangrene. The preposterous pomp- rock of "Thunder" is as big as Bonnie Tyler's 1980s hair. As feel-good ballads and hip-hop beats tick the genre boxes, it all starts to sound derivative.

"Laser Light" would be a pop masterpiece if it didn't sound like a facsimile of Katy Perry's "Firework" with all the joy sucked out.

Rockier numbers are like Pink without the naughtiness.

Safe family pop choice

The biggest difficulty is Jessie J herself. This girl-next-door makes no secret that her life has been guided by her ambition to be a star. The result is a modern twist on the rock bands that release deeply felt whinges about the trappings of success. All she has to sing about is self-belief and ambition.

She doesn't just sing about it. Video segments allow Jessie to espouse a philosophy that makes New-Age guru Deepak Chopra seem like Soren Kierkegaard. (To be fair, repeated exposure to her mental exertions might lead to one to a Zen-like state of intellectual void.)

Even "Do It Like a Dude," her breakthrough track, is infected. Originally dealing with Jessie's bisexuality head-on, it is now reduced to sexless self-help guff.

All of which might have a point: The audience was notable for the number of children. Jessie J's lack of raunch, her down- to-earth demeanor and vague message of self empowerment make her a relatively safe family pop choice.

Safer than Rihanna, more normal than Lady Gaga and rockier than Beyonce, Jessie J has the potential to crack a U.S. market. With a little bit of real-life self-doubt and vulnerability, and some better songs, she might even become an artist.