H.E.R. performing at the Staples Center during the BET Experience at LA Live in Los Angeles on June 23, 2017. This night was the best glimpse that the world has gotten of the mysterious R&B singer so far.
Released on June 16, 2017, H.E.R. Volume 2 is the second studio album from anonymous R&B singer H.E.R.
H.E.R. is an acronym that stands for Having Everything Revealed. This name is ironic considering that the singer goes to great lengths to keep her identity secret. However, on a deeper level, Having Everything Revealed is a nod to the singer’s desire to express her true self and her bare emotions through her music. She remains anonymous because she doesn’t want people to form opinions about her based on her appearance or style. She wants her music to be the sole focus of her identity.
Understandably, H.E.R.’s anonymity generated a lot of media and online buzz back when the singer released her debut studio album, H.E.R. Volume 1, in September 2016.
For what it is, H.E.R. Volume 1 is entertaining enough. The twenty-two-minute collection of seven easy-listening R&B tracks achieves exactly what it seems to want to achieve. It gets people intrigued about who H.E.R. is because all they know about the singer is her sound, so by the end of the album, they want more. Although songs such as “Facts” and “Pigment” feel unfinished, they don’t hurt the record as much as I expected they would. It seems that H.E.R. means for H.E.R. Volume 1 to spark interest for just long enough for the singer to come out with a complete project.
The highlight of H.E.R. Volume 1 is easily the song “U,” an emotive track about H.E.R.’s stress and confusion about the reality that she cares too much for a guy who only thinks about himself. The candid and emotional lyrics, throbbing bass beat, and H.E.R.’s expressive vocals make this song feel like a complete song on the record. I hoped to hear more songs like this one on H.E.R. Volume 2.
H.E.R. Volume 2 is an improvement on everything that H.E.R. Volume 1 was, from H.E.R.’s vocal style to her choice of instrumentation to her songwriting ability. The singer’s lyrical strengths are just as prominent, but she has figured out how to make the other elements of each song more well-rounded and finished. Thus, H.E.R. Volume 2 feels complete and draws a clear picture of who H.E.R. is as an artist: less style, more substance, and candid emotion in spades.
H.E.R. has implied in interviews that she self-produced H.E.R. Volume 1, but this time around, she’s chosen to work with a slew of professional producers. This creative choice may account for the complete feel of H.E.R. Volume 2. The singer credits dance/electronic songwriter Soundzfire and two-time Grammy nominee songwriter Darhyl “DJ” Camper as the producers of most of the tracks. The others listed are Tyler “Scout” Acord, Chris McClenney, Swagg R’Celious, and Scribz. Whether they have experience in producing or songwriting, all of them have hip hop and R&B backgrounds, so it’s easy to see why H.E.R. chose to work with them.
In addition to producers, H.E.R. has also recruited some songwriters to further flesh out H.E.R. Volume 2. Talay Riley, whose songwriting credits include tracks for Iggy Azalea, Usher, Nick Jonas, and Jason Derulo, is one of the more well-known collaborators on the record. His previous work should give you a good feel for what H.E.R. wants to achieve on H.E.R. Volume 2.
The first single off of the album, “Say It Again,” is a seductive and sensual song with a low-key feel to it. Throughout the track, H.E.R. is pretty explicit about wanting to take her relationship with her romantic interest to the next level. Lines such as “You had a lot to say / No more talking / You can use that mouth in other ways” and “Time to turn / What you’ve been asking / Into actions” really hit this point home—they are not subtle in the slightest. The production is slick, and the instrumentation contains a variety of electronic beats and synthesizers that demonstrate the welcomed expansion of H.E.R.’s musical palette.
The second single off of the album, “Every Kind of Way,” has similar lyrical themes with a more upbeat instrumental feel. H.E.R. stays in her upper register throughout the song and harmonizes her vocals in the rich and silky chorus. Meanwhile, deep bass beats and softly strummed guitar give the instrumentation some seriously chill vibes. Lyrics such as “I want you off my mind / And on me” and “I wanna love you in every kind of way / I wanna please you, no matter how long it takes” are clear about what H.E.R. wants in this relationship. They represent the frank approach to her emotions that she tries to take in creating her music.
However, physical lust isn’t the only lyrical theme that H.E.R. explores on H.E.R. Volume 2. The song “Avenue” discusses dysfunction in a relationship over a subtle bassline and gentle piano chords that create a darker mood.
In the lyrics, H.E.R. bitterly tells the story of her romantic interest’s argumentative behavior. He always asks her why she has to be right, tells her that she doesn’t communicate, calls her spoiled, and tells her that she’s the one that needs to take a break. Worst of all, he says she has an attitude when he’s the one that’s acting rude (cleverly rhymed in the chorus). Plus, he doesn’t act like he cares about the relationship. Lines such as “You won’t listen you’re too busy playin’ 2K” and “But you’re the one who came home late / And I ain’t loyal” express H.E.R.’s resentful feelings about this behavior.
Despite all of this relationship dysfunction, H.E.R. continues to see this person: “I just turned just turned down your avenue / I had to but I’m mad at you.” She has to keep seeing him, maybe out of some sense of obligation to their relationship, but on the inside she’s angry with him. These lyrical themes and H.E.R.’s frankness about her emotions in this situation make “Avenue” a relatable song, which is what the singer means to achieve with her music.
H.E.R. also explores the lyrical theme of disinterest in a potential romantic relationship on the song “I Won’t.” The track features a more prominent piano, more thunderous bass beats, and some interesting but subtle gospel-like male vocals in the second half.
In this song, H.E.R. expresses her confusion and irritation with a guy who keeps trying to hit her up when she’s not into him at all. “You can’t make me love you if I don’t / You can’t make me love you if I won’t / You can’t change my heart, you’re tryin’ too hard / You can’t make me love you no I won’t, I won’t” is a forceful chorus that sums up H.E.R.’s feelings about this situation pretty succinctly. Cold but somewhat amusing lines such as “If I’m not into you / Don’t hit me with the interview” and frustration-laden questions like “What gave you the impression that I would be down?” further outline H.E.R.’s exasperation with this person.
Everyone knows how it feels to be annoyed with someone who keeps trying to get with you even after you clearly express your disinterest. H.E.R. capably captures the essence of such emotions in “I Won’t.”
Other lyrical themes present on H.E.R. Volume 2 include anxiety about putting effort into a potential relationship (“Still Down”) and being ready to transition into a more exclusively labeled relationship despite current dysfunctions and immaturities (“Changes”). However, I won’t fully discuss these tracks to preserve the intrigue that I hope you have for H.E.R. Volume 2 at this point.
Overall, H.E.R. Volume 2 is a solid sophomore effort from H.E.R. With the help of several producers and songwriters, the singer has managed to craft a more fully realized R&B record that retains her emotional integrity and trademark anonymity, both of which play into each other really well. I’m impressed with the expansion and development of her sound, and I’m curious to see where she’s going to head next on her musical journey. Considering all of the intrigues that she and her music have created in today’s music scene, I’m sure that she has a lot more in store for us.
If you’re looking for a musically polished but emotionally candid R&B album to make you feel all types of ways, be sure to check out H.E.R. Volume 2 on Spotify and on YouTube.