Kristinia DeBarge, ‘Young & Restless’ (Album Review)


In the span of approximately six months in 2009, Kristinia DeBarge bubbled up, exploded and fizzled out.

She didn’t burst out of thin air, though: Kristinia initially made her debut over a decade ago on FOX’s iconic 2003 experimentation in Idol for tweens, American Juniors (which also spawned Pretty Little Liars starlet and future country-pop Hollywood Records superstar, Lucy Hale). Plus, her dad’s James DeBarge…you know, of DeBarge.

Several years after her brief Juniors stint, Kristinia inked a deal with Island Def Jam, releasing her first (and, as of now, only) Top 20 hit, “Goodbye,” in April of 2009. The stomping pop kiss-off anthem, which borrows from Steam‘s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” (otherwise known as that obnoxious chant at every sport ever), managed to climb to #15 on the Billboard Hot 100, blasting the singer to teenybopper stardom instantly—even earning her a slot as the opening act on Britney‘s Circus Tour.

And then, just as quickly as “Goodbye” charted, nothing happened: Her second single “Sabotage” went completely MIA on the charts, her debut LP—the all-too-ironically titled Exposed—flopped at #23, and her third single “Future Love,” even with a Pitbull verse, tapped out at #125. She was done.

Four years have now passed, and Kristinia’s not ready to call it quits: After recording for over two years, a departure from Island Def Jam and a distribution deal with Manhattan Records, she’s finally releasing a follow-up to her 2009 debut—exclusively to Japan—called Young & Restless.

Prior to the album’s iTunes release on April 24 (the album’s also available on Soundcloud, which Kristinia herself curiously promotes), the songstress dropped two singles—which are fine, if not somewhat uninspired: “Cry Wolf” is a decent, breezy midtempo with a pretty hook (“Wo-o-o-o-olf!“), while “Ignite” sparkles as a string-laden pop anthem—sort of like a B-grade version of “Call Me Maybe,” except instead of flirty lyrics, the song relies on the endless trend of YOLO lyricism: “Take the trip that you wanted to take, drop the job that you really hate…all you need is a little bit of faith!” she encourages. And really, who better to take employment advice from than Kristinia DeBarge? Sorry, this tea is scalding.

But the lead singles are misleading—there’s a lot more fun to be had deeper into the album.

Young & Restless breezes through a few genres, but its strongest moments, by far, are the dance-pop offerings, including “Flashbacks,” “Find Me” and “Ten Billion Years.” They’re all sparkly, upbeat and unpretentious, like an eager younger sister to Carly Rae Jepsen‘s Kiss.

There’s also plenty of midtempo R&B, which is more of a mixed bag: Kristinia’s got a smooth, melodic voice that suits the genre perfectly, but the songs are nearly identical in structure, and almost impressively frozen in time, including “Not Afraid Of Ghosts,” “Waited Too Long” and “Call U My Own,” all of which might as well be album tracks from JoJo‘s 2004 debut, or really good Jordin Sparks B-sides. That’s not even necessarily a criticism—they’re great! They’re just dated and occasionally bland, as with the plodding “Hold On.”

There’s also a brief foray into something more urban: “Nights In The City,” the most bizarre moment on the album by far, as the squeaky-clean songstress gets it poppin’ in da clurb: “Errybody in the club, let’s get loud! Let’s get wild!” she cries out, with all the edginess of Jessica Mauboy. It’s a Disney-esque attempt at getting crunk, conjuring images of Kermit The Frog popping bottles of Cristal and making it rain on Miss Piggy.

It’s probably for the best that Young & Restless is dropping exclusively in Japan (for now), as the bubbly dance fluff and R&B-pop retreads wouldn’t last a second in the American market of testosterone-driven EDM and hip-hop. And let’s not get carried away: There’s nothing revolutionary on this record. It’s all very breezy, and mostly an exercise in trend-hopping. (Then again, no one was really looking to Kristinia DeBarge to advance the sound of pop music.)

But for fellow pop lovers—true lovers of music, as Legendtina might say—Young & Restless is, more often than not, a fun little pop excursion.

To make the exploration easier, here’s the 5 Young & Restless tracks that you probably should have in your life.

“Flashbacks” – The highlight of the album on first play and, still the standout: Consider it the off-brand version Katy Perry‘s immaculate “Teenage Dream,” as Kristinia’s night is saved by a call from Prince Charming. That propulsive beat is something fierce, and the euphoria of it all is briefly intoxicating: “You hit me like a flashback, flashback!” It’s so glittery and electronic, it could be a—obscure reference alert!—pico-pop production (a subgenre of the J-Pop electro scene.) How perfect, then, that the album’s being released in Japan! As far as lovey-dovey dance-pop anthems go, this one’s on par with anything Lady Jepsen serves up on Kiss.

“Ten Billion Years” – Another sparkly electro-pop stomper, “Ten Billion Years” is oddly intimate in the lyric department (“Your lips, candy-coated wine/So tasteful each time you place them inside of mine.”) Err, okay! Also, what’s candy-coated wine? Still, it’s all very charming, girlish and sing-along ready: “Heaven, can a girl get, like, ten billion years?” pleads on top of a surging, four-to-the-floor pulse. You can’t blame a girl for dreaming.

“Higher” – A frothy, flirty, and slightly Latin-tinged electro-pop uptempo devoted to dancing the night away and having some liquor-fueled fun: “It’s my party and I love it/Shots of Bacardi having fun, yeah.” It’s fun. It’s fine. It’s also somewhat reminiscent of Wynter Gordon‘s “Rumba.” Just dance—it’s gonna be okay.

“Find Me” – A straightforward dance-pop thumper—and one of the best songs on the record: “I want to find me, want you to find me, want you to find what I have lost!” she begs above a surging beat and a heartbreak piano melody, not unlike a Sophie Ellis-Bextor-lite disco anthem—or perhaps a Selena Gomez sparkler. There’s also a fashionable dubstep breakdown thrown into the mix, which awkwardly ages the track: It was trendy in 2011, tired by 2012 and mostly embarrassing by 2013. Still, the song slays.

“Dreamcatcher” – Long touted as the missing jewel of the DeBarge oeuvre, “Dreamcatcher” originally appeared on Kristinia’s official website as a snippet, and fans took to the track immediately. In finished form, the song resembles a slow-striding Ryan Tedder classic, especially Kelly Clarkson‘s “Already Gone”: That soaring earworm of a chorus, that slow-striding beat—it’s an obvious pop smash by any standard.

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Young & Restless was released on April 24. (iTunes Japan)

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