Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

Jazmine Sullivan – Mascara

The (reality) show must go on…


Brad Shoup: An absolute masterclass in getting the interior and exterior down, “Mascara” spends plenty of time touching up the results but doesn’t skimp on the tug of time. “He said he’d keep it coming if I keep my body tight,” she notes, letting the conditional linger in the breeze. “I gotta keep up,” she adds, “’cause there’s new chicks poppin’ up every day/And they want the same thing.” The part in the chorus about never knowing who’s watching you is hope and threat both. The remainder of the track (which clicks like heels walking briskly across marble) is devoted to Sullivan puffing her chest. But the outro shifts to third person, as if she’s quietly noting someone new coming up. Don’t be mistaken: there’s no self-pity or implied comeuppance. This is the life the narrator chose, and she’s going to ride it as long as possible. The track is astoundingly subdued, just drum skitter and synthpads, trailing the singer like expertly-applied perfume.

Ashley Ellerson: “Mascara” not only speaks to the industry woman, but also your everyday lady navigating throughout this world. There’s something so casual about Sullivan’s voice throughout, revealing the lackluster reality behind a glamorous life. Had this song been more upbeat, the satire might pass as actually living the good life.

Micha Cavaseno: Remember when Jazmine Sullivan was a promising young songwriter who displayed versatility and potential? That shouldn’t feel like so long ago when you hear this run through the motions.

Alfred Soto: She wakes up and puts on her makeup except it isn’t to conceal pain, necessarily: she likes looking good and attracting attention. Sullivan’s long lines and key shifts testify to an impressive self-confidence: it’s one of her best vocals, lavished on one of the sharpest songs of her career. To choose a song that mixes the brash and the rueful is some trick.

Cédric Le Merrer: Falls on the wrong side of the line between elegantly minimalist beat and cheap synth preset. And the performance feels like a PowerPoint explaining the wonders of Jazmine Sullivan’s vocal range. I can’t really figure if she has more contempt or compassion for the narrator of “Mascara,” probably because I don’t care.

Josh Langhoff: The lush chords and instrumentation, the vocal harmonies springing out of nowhere, make me wish I enjoyed this more. It’s as impeccable as Sullivan’s makeup on her trips to the market. But “Mascara” screams “Character Study!” as loudly as some dull Drive-By Truckers ballad. Laying out her character’s interior life so carefully, especially with a telltale switch to third person at the end, Sullivan gives our imaginations nothing to do but admire.

Katherine St Asaph: As a recovering theater person and a not-quite-recovering writer, I love these songs-as-monologues. It’s tricky, getting the balance right: a track understated enough that the lyrics are the focus yet compelling as an instrumental; a throughline that’s neither too cautionary nor too simplistic; maybe some autobiographical hinting (optional); maybe some answer-song frisson (optional; here it might be “She Knows”); a persona that’s brash yet naive, like someone who’s put the puzzle pieces together on the cardboard side and is now showing off her very own beigescape. You can do this accidentally (the Rachel Stevens end of the spectrum) or deliberately, like Sullivan’s track. “Mascara” is replete with detail: the priorities check of how her narrator’s first salvo to the haters is “it ain’t attractive when you’re looking at me like that,” how “you never know who’s watching you” sounds both like possibility and a panopticon, the flickering-out vocal processing on “gotta stay on,” how Sullivan catches her voice on make-up on after a disarmingly glossy lead-up. Whether her narrator is “working smart” is (intentionally) debatable, but the song undeniably is.

Anthony Easton: How she sings “mascara” has the weight of gendered and negotiated class. The song and album are both about that: about the male gaze, about the power of a well-turned figure (“my tits give me trips to places I can’t pronounce right”), about the failures of capital (“don’t I deserve to be privileged, don’t I deserve to be the very best?”), about how soft power is hard work (“people think I’m shallow/because I’m always dressed like I’m going out to the club/but I gotta keep up/because there’s new chicks popping up every day” or that line about working hard or working smart), about all of this complicated mess of things. But the mascara, how it floats through those signifiers, how her voices shifts and changes around those fluid vowels and impeding consonants in how she sings maaaSCaaraH or maKEUp — that’s a smart move.

Thomas Inskeep: What a song, tough and sad, the kind of thing I’d love to hear Marsha Ambrosius or K. Michelle sing (though the former wouldn’t). There’s so much pain when Sullivan sings “so I gotta stay on”: you know she’s trying to present a tough-as-nails front, but she’s barely holding it together, and that kills me. Produced sparely and cleanly in service to the song, and Sullivan wringing every bit of emotion out of its lyrics: this is the real deal, folks.

Reader average: [7.28] (7 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

Comments are closed.