Ella Mai - Self-Titled Album Review

Story posted October 17, 2018 in Arts & Entertainment, CommRadio by Rachel Wong

After breaking onto the music scene in 2014, Londoner Ella Mai Howell has released her self-titled debut album with fifteen total tracks and one digital bonus track, “Naked.” Mai released three total EPs from 2015 to 2017 and gained more audience exposure while touring with singer Kehlani during her “SweetSexySavage” tour. The entire album offers a nod to ‘90s R&B through nostalgic vocal arrangements and chill instrumentals. The 23-year-old R&B singer uses Ella Mai to officially introduce herself as an artist to listeners through emphasizing important self-defined themes of emotion, love, lust, assertiveness, mystery, awareness and inner self.

Ella Mai includes three featured artists: Chris Brown (“Whatchamacallit”), John Legend (“Everything”) and H.E.R. (“Gut Feeling”). Out of the three, her collaboration with John Legend is one of the standout songs on the album. Lyrically, it’s a bit simple, but the song carries a catchy tempo, and great vocal range from Mai and Legend help to elevate the song.

One of the most distinct choices in this work is Mai’s mentions of the letters of her name as themes of her and her album. The intro itself, “Emotion,” is her stating the definition of the word itself. The rest of the letters are spoken and defined at the end of seven other tracks on the album, including “Sauce,” “Shot Clock” and “Own It.” This ultimately led to a cheesier feel of the entire work, as the explanations did not really benefit the music itself. From Mai’s past releases, though, this is an artistic choice that she seems to lean towards; in her 2016 single “She Don’t,” she concludes the song with the casual speech as well. For her debut album, it’s an understandable move and a more literal take on an introduction of herself artistically.

The overall coherence of Ella Mai is moderate as the themes are generally centered on inner feelings in different relationship settings and the music leans more towards a vibe of nostalgia. However, the album just seems to be missing a deeper message beyond highly sung-about relationship topics such as cheating, possessiveness and the feelings of being in love. The lyrical compositions of each song are catchy and repetitive but could be more substantial. Her bonus track, “Naked,” points her in such a direction, as she truly defines herself throughout the song as someone who’s not picture perfect. The song is more bared, with far fewer instrumentals than the rest of the album and gives greater perspective on how Mai views herself. Rather than the name spelling she infuses in the album, less obvious and more meaningful composition of her lyrics would add to the work.

This debut album offers insight into how much Mai’s artistry and music can grow in the future. With Ella Mai, the audience has now been formally introduced to the singer, her values and her self-image. For later releases, it will be interesting to see how Mai develops her sound as she develops in her life, a perspective of herself and her music and if she will continue to include the ‘90s reminiscent beats and vocals that she cites as inspirations for her work. Thematically, seeing Mai go deeper with the messages of her songs would be a nice indication of her journey and maturation as an artist. Her debut album is a great milestone in her career and demonstrates potential for future compositions, which will be something to look out for when those times come.

Rating: 6/10


Rachel Wong is a sophomore majoring in telecommunications. To contact her, email at ruw82@psu.edu.