Rita Ora has a new album out. A sentence like that would understandably instil the grandest indifference in anyone who has even a passing interest in mainstream pop, but hear me out; it’s not bad. Ora emerged in 2012 clearly hoping to fill the undisputed role of off-brand Rihanna, becoming somewhat of a thing because of precisely three songs. These were, in order, the Rihanna-aping “How We Do (Party)”, the nauseatingly of its time “R.I.P.”, and “I Will Never Let You Down”, an undeniable bop that her ex Calvin Harris stopped her performing (don’t write songs with your partners, kids. Write songs about them and profit off the gossip-generating novelty appeal like a normal pop star).
After her debut slammed into shops to ecstatic shrugs, the music happily moved over in favour of what it felt at the time had been Ora’s intention all along; becoming a household name however she could. Here’s a brief list of what she’s been doing since Ora; been a judge on both X Factor and the Voice; appeared on a new version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”; promised that she’d release her new single if she got 100k retweets and then said she’d been hacked when she got less than 2,000; taken over America’s Next Top Model from Tyra Banks for just one season. She’s been thoroughly and hilariously invested in doing it all except making music, the only career move she’s managed to do before Rihanna.
“She’s been doing it all except making music, the only career move she’s managed to do before Rihanna”
After breaking free of Def Jam in 2017, she began her questionable rebirth. “Your Song” was an entirely on-trend minimalist bop written with Ed Sheeran, and she’s released five more singles since then, all of which appear on Phoenix. You’d think the album would be an overly-familiar slog because of this, chock full of anonymous bangers, but the singles actually make more sense in context. “Anywhere” kicks off the album because it’s just too good to place anywhere else, with its breezy yet blustery melancholy, as well as its tastefully dirty drop. “Lonely Together” was included as a tribute to Avicii, and is like a Selena Gomez song from an alternate universe where she can sing. “For You” is still kind of epic, despite the inclusion of sentient Nando’s Black Card Liam Payne. “Girls” is a questionable bop that would be so much better with less reductively male gaze-y lyrics, “Let You Love Me” is an anthem for the emotionally unavailable, and they all stretch their legs and relax into the affected sound within the low-slung, well-crafted (or curated) atmosphere of the album.
“It sounds like she genuinely loves this chart-oriented blend of tropical house and that chilly, blustery electro sound, and it works for her”
These are just the singles. Album tracks like “New Look” and “First Time High” pepper the album with fresh cuts which only expand on what she’s already released and make it flow remarkably well. It sounds like she genuinely loves this chart-oriented blend of tropical house and that chilly, blustery electro sound, and it works for her. Like, it actually works, and it’s enjoyable.
Inevitably there are some lifeless flops. “Summer Love” is Rudimental by numbers with a tossed-off drum ’n’ bass drop, while “Keep Talkin’” with Julia Michaels is the only song that’s outright boring. The deluxe version songs are a grab bag, and you can’t help but wonder why Ora relegated the soulful “Velvet Rope” and the melancholy trumpet bop “Falling to Pieces” to the deluxe at all. Despite this, Ora has somehow made something that completely clings to trends but still feels fresh and cohesive, living in them instead of on the surface of them, like all she wanted to do all along was be a personality void who releases premium bops. To inhabit the essence of every UCD student we say honestly, fair.