When I was 17, I – much like newish pop star Alessia Cara – had a penchant for creating silly, more or less content-less YouTube videos. The videos showcase my room, a trip to Target, a dramatic retelling of a dog bite with sock puppets. If you watch the audio for “Seventeen” on her Vevo, you’ll experience the same innocence and childishness.
In fact, if you look at the audio tracks for all of the songs she’s thrown up on her YouTube channel, you’ll see the same thing. A fishbowl lens here, a selfie stick there. She’s all big eyes and moustaches and Quirky with a capital Q. And then! If you travel, as I did, into the depths of her original YouTube channel, you’ll see a vlogger girl who just wants to be famous, doing impressions of her favorite popstars, covering The Neighborhood. And her videos and mine are of the same stock! This is no Tyler Oakley: suddenly, the relatively polished style of “Seventeen” means more than a two-year age difference.
Because Alessia isn’t just a 19-year-old reflecting on the good old days of 17, of course. She’s reflecting on the age-old transition of unknown to blown-up, signed by Def Jam – not overnight, but for all intents and purposes, overnight. But “Seventeen” is bubblegum, and so is its video. A cheeky way of saying that she knows change continues to be in store as she grows in age and in popularity, Though the seasons change so quickly/Keep them buried in my heart/And never fought. It’s the age-old adage of the pop star, you know. Which brings us to “Here”, the critically-acclaimed “anti-social party-goer anthem.” But “Here” too, is once again about transitions.
So experience, obviously, is all about perception, and mine comes from being a university student on a dry campus, where frats controlled the alcohol intake of the freshmen population. And, despite my extroverted qualities, I’ve been “Here.” And so have my friends, and (probably) so have you. If “Here” is for the anti-social, we’re all the anti-social. Because even the most magical party loses some magic when you realize that you’re no longer 17 in your best friend’s bedroom, eating popcorn and watching Gossip Girl at 2 a.m. You’re underage at a party in a room covered in sticky beer, where you know five out of 50 people. And maybe in time you’ll reminisce about the wild nights, and keep pretending that you weren’t scared, existentially-speaking, of what you were doing there, but just for a moment.
Existential crisis never truly over, Alessia’s fear of the future duels with her ambition, both past and present. She steps back from wishing for the days of 17 and the fear of the college party and turns to dreams of unending childhood, dreams that still persist.
Apparently, her walls were actually pink, but she painted over them! (Literally. According to Genius.) And she misses them now, not even to her surprise. The ephemeral choice, Went from ‘when boredom strikes’ to ‘Miss Star on the rise,’ and God, does she know it. She misses the walls, her pink walls, symbol of girlhood and girlishness. Now, those walls are shiny and alien. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, here. With remarkable clarity and self-knowledge that maybe really isn’t so remarkable, Alessia starts out in love with a fantasy of a room beyond her four pink walls. It’s the allegory of the cave, but in a pop song! And then there’s the tension of being out of the cave, she’s in the unreality of the clouds – all with a punchy beat and a shimmering joy in the chorus.
“Scars to Your Beautiful” is that Mary Lambert song (all those Mary Lambert songs), set to an R&B beat and backed by the angry, youthful optimism of the rest of the album. It’s certainly more polished in tone, but its lyrics are raw. This isn’t poetry, people. But the uniqueness of “Scars to Your Beautiful” doesn’t come from a uniquely beautiful nature, somehow. Or even of a uniquely feminist, body-positive perspective.
Still, the subject of the anthem, for this ambitious dreamer of a young pop star, is unique. Not an element of shame taints this song. She’s singing to the models and to you, the consumer of this album, telling you to let me be your mirror, help you see a little bit clearer/The light that shines within. And that’s it! That’s the climax of the album, where it was heading to. All this talk of time passing, of feeling uncomfortable and anxious, has led to a sweet, simple self-love anthem. This is where a 19-year-old girl wanted her album to go.
All that heavy praise aside, I felt so sad when I finished this album. Because, frankly, it sucks. It sucks that a 19-year-old had to write this album about needing to grow up, about having the maturity and foresight to cherish her “long-gone” youth. That she had to be the one to tell other young girls to love themselves, because the world doesn’t love them back. This responsibility falls on the back of a 19-year-old girl who wishes she could go back to 17, and she handles it beautifully. She handles it with a determined, deliberate naiveté; a refusal to grow up, truly. Embracing her youth passionately. And we could all learn a thing or two from Alessia Cara, but we could also, as always, learn from her “Wild Things”.
Carson is a 23-year-old who discovered the joys of the Backstreet Boys two years ago, when she fell down a pink fur-lined rabbit hole into the world of pop. She has since taken it upon herself to make an exodus into the underbelly of the glitter-covered beast. You can find her Spotify account here and you can also find her on Tumblr.