Island Records / Republic Records
Release Date: July 14th 2023
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Never Been In Love
- Love Is An Overstatement
- Fingers Crossed
- Fantasy (feat. GAYLE & Em Beihold)
- Bigger Person
- Best Friend Breakup
- Too Hurt To Fall In Love
- That Part
- Do It All Again
Throughout the history of this site, I have tried to expand my musical palate beyond which I guess I previously would consider to be music I would never listen to. I mean it wasn’t our intention to review only Christian content… but for the better part of 5 years (2014-2019), that’s what we did. It wasn’t because all other genres were ‘bad’; it’s just that Jon and I weren’t familiar with them. In the past, I previously thought I would never listen to country music, let along review any songs from that genre… but look at us now. Many reviews from albums that have released this year have been country music albums! Same with pop artists like Little Mix, Selena Gomez, Dua Lipa, Sabrina Carpenter, Shawn Mendes, Hailee Steinfeld and Demi Lovato to name a few. I previously thought mainstream pop was a genre where nothing good can come from it, but now I don’t believe that for a second- there are some good pop artists, and you need to know where to look. Artists like Carly Rae Jepsen, Rachel Platten, Delta Goodrem and even Justin Bieber have their worth and place in society- even Gen Z angsty artists like Olivia Rodrigo, Tate McRae and McKenna Grace. In 2021, we took a risk in reviewing SOUR by Olivia, and last year I used to think I could fly by Tate- simply because the hype was too high for us not to voice our opinion, regardless of if it was different to the general consensus or not. Even though both projects weren’t in my ‘preferred’ genre; I still found that even in that God spoke and provided inspiration and encouragement. And so… I reckon it’s that time again. To dive back into the realms of pop… and briefly touch upon… possibly ‘the next Olivia Rodrigo’. Yep, it’s time to check out Lauren Spencer Smith’s debut album Mirror, which released this past month.
People kept telling us that they were playing [current single] “That Part” in their weddings or at their vow renewals or in any other situation that represents love – whether it’s prom, a proposal or a wedding – so we decided to involve real people. We just wanted to include all types of love. We put something on my Instagram story that pretty much just said, ‘Reach out if you are doing any of these four things in the next month; we would love to include you in the video’, and a bunch of people sent in submissions.
When it comes to music, I’ve always believed that I’m able to succeed at the exact same time that somebody else is able to succeed and that what makes people different is what makes them who they are. There’s always going to be someone better. My mom has always told me that my entire life – that I’m never going to be the best, and there’s always going to be somebody better who wants it more and is going to work harder – but my mentality is that you can always improve and get better.
Growing up in a small town, I was never around other singers or other musicians, so it was really cool and eye-opening to be around other people who were extremely talented. I feel like being able to see what other people excelled at – things that I had to work on in order to improve – was really important in my trajectory. There were so many amazing songwriters on the show, and I knew I couldn’t write a song at that point to save my life. There were also certain areas – things like falsetto and runs – that I didn’t realise I wasn’t as strong at until I was able to witness other people’s talent and see where my flaws and my strengths were, and I think it was really important for my growth as an artist and a person.
And so, the question lingers over and over? Is reviewing Lauren’s debut album necessary? When probably this site is the only ‘Christian’ site reviewing the project- which doesn’t really have much edifying nor inspirational lyrics at the end of the day when you examine it? I’ll rephrase this question from last year where I posed it in my review of Sour: why oh why, am I diving deep into this artist where other Christian websites aren’t? Is it necessary? And thus… here’s my reply: After hearing Lauren’s songs many times (7 of the 15 songs were released as standalone singles or pre-order tracks prior to the album’s release!), inclusive of her powerful singles “Fantasy”, “Fingers Crossed” and “That Part”- and seeing just how similar she is to both Olivia and Tate- both in sound and lyrics… well let me just say that I just knew in my heart of hearts at that moment of hearing “Fingers Crossed” the other month, that I would review Lauren’s debut album when it released. Because don’t we all need a different perspective from time to time- and don’t I owe it to all of the young Christians reading Christian websites yet still being exposed to mainstream media, to write down my thoughts on one of the most popular artists this generation has seen? And so, if you want to keep on reading, then you can. But if not, then that’s fine also.
To be fair, Lauren is just starting out, and she isn’t nearly as popular as Tate McRae nor Olivia Rodrigo. I mean you can view Olivia’s Wikipedia page here (and her discography page here!) and Tate’s here. Then you can see Lauren’s page here; and then you can see that Lauren has a while to go to catch up to Tate, let alone Olivia. And I know, Wikipedia isn’t the best barometer when measuring someone’s present and future success. But Lauren nonetheless seems to be on her way to becoming a star. Lauren’s songs aren’t instantly recognisable to the average joe on the street (probably recognisable to her fans!), and she’s only 19; but the way things are going, she is bound to be famous and inspiring to young women. And so, like the other two aforementioned albums and reviews, isn’t it my duty to check out Mirror to see if there’s even a shred of inspiring material lyrically here? Shouldn’t I be the first to say ‘yes, this is good to consume, or no this isn’t?’
In your younger years, when you say you want to be a singer, every teacher is supportive and on board because that’s what they’re supposed to do. When you get to high school, that switches a little bit because everyone thinks that creative industries are impossible to get into. That was when I started having disagreements with teachers about what my life plan was going to be because it did not involve school. There really was no other path – there was no other thing that I was good at my entire life other than doing music.
I actually bumped into one of my least favourite teachers in my hometown the other day. He used to tell me every day that my goal was not realistic and I should be doing something else instead, but this time when he saw me, he said, ‘I feel like I owe you a really big apology because I didn’t realise that you were already miles above the rest of the class. You had everything that you were going to do figured out in your head, and I tried to make you into something that you weren’t’.
Coming into this album after listening to the pre-order tracks for so long, I still had to shed my preconceptions of angsty pop music. Of pop music concerning relationships and revenge. I mean, even though I listened to and reviewed both Olivia and Tate’s albums; I didn’t really love the genre and had no inkling of reviewing another angsty-pop album in that vein any time soon. Olivia Rodrigo challenged my notion and viewpoint of pop music, but even in 2022, I reverted to reviewing what I knew. Yet there’s something honest and relatable with Lauren’s music, and Mirror, though still not in my own ‘preferred genre’ (leave it to CCM and country, and also fun pop like Carly Rae Jepsen, to be genres I instantly gravitate to!), nonetheless is honest, vulnerable, authentic, and somewhat inspiring? Could I make more of an effort to review mainstream pop released following listening to and reviewing this album? Maybe, maybe.
On this album there are 15 tracks. Virtually all of these tracks (ok, maybe not all, but the essence and theme of the entire album and what the fundamental basis of the album was about) speak about a boyfriend who wronged Lauren, and Lauren delves deep into different traits about him, and speaks about different facets of the doomed relationship. Lauren right now is in a secure relationship, and so that ex is firmly in the past now; but with me being older and wiser and having listened to SOUR and I used to think I could fly… it seems to me that this album… sadly doesn’t tread any new ground when compared to SOUR and I used to think I could fly. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad album though. On the contrary- Mirror still is pretty good for what it is. However, those aforementioned two albums were groundbreaking and revolutionary in the sense that there was nothing like that in the mainstream when both of those albums released. But with Mirror… well, let the mixed reviews here and here speak for itself.
Let it be known right now that I am not a teenage girl nor am I in the gen Z age bracket. Sonically and lyrically and thematically this album hits all of the right notes. But with the album bloated at 15 songs long and almost all, save for a few, being about or inspired by Lauren’s ex; there does seem to be a lot of… bitterness and resentment here towards the ex? Am I right in feeling that or am I crazy? I thought about giving you all a track by track analysis of the album like I have with other reviews. But then I stopped myself. I’m not the target audience of Mirror. And so, it would be a disservice to the album if I did voice my thoughts on every single song. The target demographic is not me, it’s a generation below me. Sure, I have incredible respect for Lauren for putting her heart out there, and she deserves all the praise because she has a crazily awesome voice that is distinct and engaging and compelling. The lyrics on “Fantasy”, “Flowers”, “Narcissist” and “Bigger Person” in particular are powerful and profoundly deep for a debut album; while the remaining hard-hitting self-wallowing tracks “Never Been In Love”, “Love Is An Overstatement”, “Aftermath”, “28”, “Too Hurt To Fall In Love” and “Flowers” are all emotional and gut-wrenching in isolation. Lauren has been put through the ringer so many times that it’s hard not to feel sorry for her plight. In that sense, yes, this album is therapeutic to listen to, because it reminds us that people go through issues and that we all have our stuff we need to deal with, and so when we have our hurt and pain, we can lean on each other because chances are the next person may have a similar pain even if it’s not the same. People can hurt together and heal together.
But… is this project really an angst pop album all about a guy? A deeper look through the order of the songs is telling, as the songs tell a story from Lauren feeling hate towards her ex to being grateful that he broke up with her so that she could finally settle down with a guy that loves and appreciates her for who she is. Yet on a bigger, macro scale- this album originated because a guy broke Lauren’s heart. And while that’s obviously a sad thing- shouldn’t albums be about much more… deeper things in life than relationships. Sure, we need these albums so that we can cry and air our all of our feelings and be lonely and sad as a community. But wouldn’t we feel more energised listening to something from U2 or Andrew Peterson or Ronan Keating or Guy Sebastian or Switchfoot. Something more edifying or at least something that is bigger than ourselves? I dunno, maybe I’m over teenage angsty pop- at least for a while. But save for a few songs, this album doesn’t seem to be needed, not when Olivia Rodrigo is now regaining traction due to the forthcoming release of GUTS. I mean- “Fantasy” is good, simply for its engaging collaboration! “Best Friend Breakup”- because it’s not about a guy at all. “That Part”- because it’s a simply beautiful love song and something different to most of the songs on the album. And “Do It All Again”- because it’s a letter to her ex about Lauren expressing gratitude and thankfulness to everything that has happened in her life. Apart from that- do we need another angsty pop album about love or the lack of it?
I’m a big manifester of the big things. I’m very unapologetically manifesting, like, 30 Grammys, selling out the Rogers Arena at my hometown show in Vancouver, having a number one song on Billboard and a number one radio song… I always think, shoot for the stars or don’t shoot – but honestly, I would really just love to tour the world and just have my music be heard by as many people as possible.
I was obsessed with Adele – I would try to sound like her, to enunciate things the same way that she did – so I think she’s had a very big impact on my sound. I always loved singing her music and her songwriting, and she was a very big inspiration from day one. I want to do ballads and big, belty sad songs.
With Lauren Spencer Smith being an artist who has so far written and sung by and large about romantic relationships; Mirror seems to be an album that might resonates with all of us, or even if it doesn’t, it probably will resonate with all of us at some point in our lives. On some level, I firmly believe that it is a testament to Lauren’s songwriting ability, because though this album doesn’t resonate with me at all at this point; we are still met with a popular, talented, young woman, trying to find her way in the music industry in the age of digital content being available at a click of a finger. For all of the rest of you, you may not connect with Lauren’s debut album, and that’s ok. But let me say that this is one of the most heartfelt and thought-provoking albums of the year. It’s not my favourite and the constant singing about her ex makes this album maybe too specific a niche topic; but Lauren sure has delivered a powerful and high-quality debut album, as she is showing us maturity beyond her 19 years. Sure, there are some songs that sound like Lauren may be overreacting to some situations, and others where you feel incredibly sorry for her and how this other person wronged her beyond description. But nonetheless, this is still a release not to be missed. Maybe you don’t listen to these songs all in one sitting…. Because they are a handful. Yet nonetheless, one listen to this album should be enough to form your own opinion, am I right? And what do all of you reckon? Who thinks I should review more and more pop songs and pop albums in general and talk deeply about them? Well done Lauren, I can’t wait to hear what is next! Maybe more inspirational and encouraging songs and not just revenge/angst tracks?
4 songs to listen to: Fantasy, Best Friend Break Up, That Part, Do It All Again
RIYL: Olivia Rodrigo, Tate McRae, McKenna Grace, Demi Lovato, Anne-Marie, Rita Ora, Tori Kelly