Monday, September 30th, 2019

Kelsea Ballerini – Homecoming Queen?

The Homecoming Incident?


Katherine St Asaph: She’s so lucky, she’s a star, but she cry-cry-cries in her lonely heart. But the difference between “Lucky” and “Homecoming Queen?” is that while “Lucky” is presented as true — not first-person but might as well be — “Homecoming Queen?” is all projection and questions directed at someone who, in the lyric, may or may not be secretly troubled. The song is meant as an inspirational salve, to gently smooth away a lie, but it too conceals a lie. Even if we accept that the titular homecoming queen is as saintly as portrayed, doesn’t have a perfectly blessed inner life, and isn’t herself “mean” — a stretch, already — plenty of people feel sorry for the homecoming queens of the world. There is no lack of empathy for the powerful and popular. The sky won’t fall if they lose their composure (unless it will; ask Britney), because the homecoming queen is protected by her status (ask the people for whom “losing their composure” takes place, say, in school detention, or near a shitty partner or boss, or in the eyesight of a cop.) The lyric is carefully written but yet another hug up, not down; the songwriters may claim that “we’re all this person,” but I wonder who “we” and “all” doesn’t cover. As usual, glurge in words receives banality in accompaniment: in this case basically Colbie Caillat’s “Bubbly.”

Alfred Soto: A pretty way of saying “I hope the Russians love their children too.” 

Joshua Lu: The central themes are hardly revelatory, and Brandy Clark did much more with a similar title some years ago. But Kelsea Ballerini delivers these platitudes genuinely enough to stir sentiments of nostalgia and regret, and the song thus feels essential despite probably not being so.

Michael Hong: Kelsea Ballerini’s music tends to touch on nostalgia, often painting her country-pop in sepia tones and “Homecoming Queen?” is no different. Here, she returns with the same mindset, but instead of dwelling on her high school crush, Ballerini struggles with the concept of the closed-off popular girl, playing out like a sketch of the latest Netflix teen rom-com. There’s vulnerability in Ballerini’s lower registered backed only by the acoustic guitar, but as the instrumentation gets more complex, the track feels intensely crowded. Ballerini gives a fine performance, but that overproduction makes “Homecoming Queen?” feel completely performative, and it loses its personal touch.

Jonathan Bradley: Probably I’m conflating the titular title with prom queens and pageant winners and such other stock personages of small town Americana, but I thought crying was something the homecoming queen was supposed to do: her emotional extravagance in symmetry with the spectacle for which she forms the focal point. “Even the homecoming queen cries,” as a hook feels less a revelation, then, than a misreading of milieu: a muffed dramatic sting. That’s unusual from Kelsea Ballerini, who, now 26 years old, draws adeptly from American high school as a site of myth and tradition, finding unexpectedly compelling drama in its familiar lines. (Think of “High School,” which is Springsteen’s “Glory Days” without the bonhomie, or “Underage,” which shivers with the excitement of youth yet aches like it’s over already.) However, even with an unfocused lyric — is this homecoming queen’s tough daddy and reticent mother more stereotype, or has she by the second verse become a half-finished sketch of a particular person? — Ballerini is able to rely on one of her great strengths as a performer: she sounds like she cares about the people she sings about. For her, they’re not characters, but intimately real and worthy of empathy. With a picked acoustic guitar line that circles like a slow dance and a soft shimmering arrangement that sparkles like stars over a bonfire, you could get swept up in the beauty of it all.

Kylo Nocom: Last week I actually missed out on homecoming to go to a very good friend of mine’s debut! Looks like I’ll sit this one out, too; “Homecoming Queen?” (stylized in lowercase for God knows why) has such little dynamic that it’d be too turgid to even soundtrack a little slideshow.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The problem with “Homecoming Queen?” is that it isn’t maudlin enough. A song with this conceit and sonic palette needs some sort of climax, a place for the character study to come into focus and really hit you. I was ready for it– the details about mom and dad, the entreaties to the titular homecoming queen — but then the song just ends! There’s not even a bridge, just an overly long second pre-chorus! There’s no resolution at all, and in the end it leaves “Homecoming Queen?” feeling all too timid in its high school melodrama.

Vikram Joseph: This is basically an extremely sentimental rendering of the “popular girl who’s actually – no, honestly! — got a troubled home life and deep-seated insecurities” subplot of every teen-oriented noughties TV show, but it’s so wholesome and twinkly that it’s hard to dislike.

Edward Okulicz: The opening guitar doesn’t bode well, reminding me of Jewel’s grievous “You Were Meant for Me.” And it doesn’t really get a lot better from there, Ballerini giving a reading of the song like she’s boredly talking to a former self more than giving a hug to someone who needs it. Her second album was smart and wise and gorgeously crafted, so this sounds like a real step backward to me.

Thomas Inskeep: I like and respect the intent of this — “you don’t have to be perfect” basically sums it up — but wish it weren’t swathed in production that’s simultaneously thin and overblown. Ballerini sounds fine; with a voice as strong as hers, that’s never gonna be the problem. But with this, no one in her camp is doing her any favors.

Reader average: [4] (3 votes)

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One Response to “Kelsea Ballerini – Homecoming Queen?”

  1. Review Jenny Hval’s “Ashes to Ashes”; it’s a solid 8.

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