Bea Miller’s debut album “Not an Apology” is a decidedly routine, mainstream affair. Devoid of overt quirks or alternative tendencies, it adheres to a rather straightforward, mainstream, innocuous blueprint that could have easily fit into the arsenal of a young Kelly Clarkson or Demi Lovato.
That is exactly why it represents the perfect showcase for a unique, unusual, immensely talented performer like Bea Miller.
Blessed with a captivating, throaty vocal tone and a refreshingly candid attitude, Miller easily could have taken shortcuts. She easily could have focused on low-key, “singer-songwriter” melodies that spotlighted her alluring tone without testing her vocal range or power. She easily could have focused on eccentric, jaded lyrical topics that superficially established her persona as darker and quirkier than that of the typical teen pop singer.
Instead, Miller unflinchingly confronts the world of mainstream pop. In doing so, she subjects herself to immense challenges.
The songs on “Not an Apology” are generally broad, familiar pop productions. In order to stand out while working to meet the demands of the soaring choruses and rigidly defined melodies, one needs to possess significant vocal power and an even greater degree of command.
The songs on “Not an Apology” generally address broad, familiar themes. In order to communicate one’s unique personality while navigating fairly generic topics, one needs to possess a fresh lyrical voice and an emotionally engaging literal one.
In essence, the greatest risk Miller takes on “Not an Apology” is singing songs that do not at all seem risky. Instead of operating from the safety of a niche, she is putting herself in direct competition with the incredibly talented, charismatic artists who also perform mainstream pop.
She passes the test.
With only a few exceptions, Miller’s debut album is a compelling, engaging introduction to a pop star who is as capable as she is atypical. The songs are greatly accessible, greatly listenable and greatly enjoyable.
Most importantly, they are greatly authentic, and that is the true beauty of the album.
From a technical or thematic standpoint, a song like album standout “I Dare You” is not fundamentally different from the countless power pop tracks that dominated radio in the 2000s. And yet thanks to Miller’s unique voice and unabashed emotional commitment, it sounds different. It sounds special.
It sounds like Bea Miller.
Vocally, she possesses a coveted combination of technical polish and soulful grit. Spiritually, she possesses a coveted combination of youthful exuberance and undeniable maturity. Not one to waste those gifts, Miller injects her multi-faceted abilities into every single moment of every single song. She is never coasting and instead always commanding.
As a result, Miller uses the entirety of the album to communicate her personality. Whether listeners love or hate Bea Miller, they will absolutely know her when they complete the album.
By possessing such a keen sense of self and of her craft, Miller is also able to inject personality and gravity into each track. When she comments on “Rich Kids,” you take notice. When she declares she’s not a “Paper Doll,” you wouldn’t dare debate her. When she announces “We’re Taking Over,” you’re going to sign up for her revolution.
Pivotal to the success is the fact that Miller’s approach, while frenetic and intense, is expertly targeted. On “Force of Nature,” her passionate commitment manifests as a riveting, yet delicately gorgeous vocal journey. On “This is Not an Apology,” her investment instead emerges as aggressive, unfiltered sass. By being so emotionally and vocally dynamic, Miller provides each song with a distinctly resonant meaning.
That ability is incredibly rare. That Miller already possesses it – and so powerfully showcases it on her very first album – simultaneously speaks to her existing talent and the greatness that will emerge as her career progresses.
It also precludes any potential criticism about “Not an Apology” being less eclectic than her “Young Blood” EP.
The notion is not technically untrue; EP songs “Young Blood,” “Fire N Gold,” “Enemy Fire” and “Dracula,” which also appear on “Not an Apology,” collectively demonstrate greater sonic diversity than the other, album-only tracks.
The notion is not, however, one of meaningful consequence. What the seven album-only tracks lack in sonic diversity is easily remedied by their abundance of emotional diversity. If the goal is to showcase Miller’s range and versatility, communicating different meaning is far more valuable than simply singing different kinds of songs.
A potentially more valid criticism concerns the album’s potential to spawn hits. While nearly every song is catchy and thus theoretically radio-friendly, none – beyond “Young Blood,” which itself was only a minor pop hit–is particularly disruptive. That the songs are of a particularly high quality makes no assurance radio will overlook their lack of marketplace diversity.
That is the true trade-off of “Not an Apology.” The album is supremely effective in showcasing Miller’s vocal talent, introducing her personality, broadcasting her emotion and demonstrating her ability to compete with the sea of superstars who occupy mainstream pop.
Perhaps ironic given its unabashed pop lean, it is not, however, an especially commercial album. Its focus is not to sell any individual song; it is to sell the overall Bea Miller experience.
And is that really a bad thing? Should an album that showcases Miller’s talent, provides sing-along anthems and forges meaningful connections with listeners be seen as anything other than a success?
Track By Track
1 – Young Blood (also on the EP) – Miller’s first single remains her best track. Anthemic without being schmaltzy and sonically powerful without being bombastic, it serves as a perfect introduction to the refreshingly honest –and incredibly talented – Bea Miller.
2 – Fire N Gold (also on the EP) – Miller’s current radio single perfectly illustrates her dynamic use of energy. Soft at times and loud at times, it is boring and detached at precisely zero times.
3 – I Dare You – Arguably the least original from a production perspective, “I Dare You” may ultimately be the album’s most effective track. While the composition would technically feel at home on Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway” or Demi Lovato’s “Here We Go Again,” the song itself never would: Miller’s performance is too unique and too sincere for this to be perceived as anything other than a fantastic Bea Miller song. If one wants to prove Bea Miller can compete in mainstream pop, he should turn to this song ten out of ten times.
4 – Paper Doll – A confident, frank attitude is central to Miller’s persona, and this song perfectly encapsulates that attitude. It also sounds really good.
5 – Perfect Picture – Its compositional progression is akin to that of “Fire N Gold,” but it definitely does not feel like a redundant effort. With its soaring chorus and a particularly alluring vocal performance, it is a definite winner.
6 – Enemy Fire (also on the EP) –Despite featuring the heaviest production, it also boasts Miller’s least commanding, assured and energetic performance. The result is an unfortunate class and a rare example of Miller not rising above the song.
7 – Force of Nature – It provides a stunning, vulnerable introduction to Miller’s vocal prowess. It provides vivid proof that the power pop angst expressed on tracks like “I Dare You,” “Paper Doll” and “Young Blood” is definitely not Miller’s only emotional gear. It is a fantastic song.
8 – This is Not an Apology – While the chorus soars melodically, it suffers due to a rare moment of Bea Miller vocal weakness. Her voice is usually confident and angsty, but this chorus delivery come across as far too innocent, childlike and powerless for the sassy and unapologetic tune. A compelling track from an attitude standpoint, “This is Not an Apology” is a disappointment from a vocal one.
9 – Dracula (also on the EP) – Unlike on “Enemy Fire,” Miller is able to match, if not exceed, the intense and punchy production. The result is a much stronger track.
10 – We’re Taking Over – Never deniable, the comparison between Miller and Demi Lovato is particularly evident on this track, which was co-written by the “Cool for the Summer” singer. The similarity does not, however, neuter the track’s efficacy. Miller’s performance is commanding and authentic, and the result is a song that will surely serve as a fan favorite at her concerts.
11 – Rich Kids – For fans in their twenties and thirties, “Rich Kids” presents a superficial comparison to Good Charlotte’s “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous.” The Madden Brothers, unsurprisingly, wrote this one. Like she does on “We’re Taking Over,” Miller nonetheless makes this one her own and sincerely communicates her attitude. It may not warrant the closing spot on the album, but it definitely deserves a spot on your playlist.
“Not an Apology” arrives on July 24.