Wednesday, June 5th, 2024

Tems – Love Me JeJe

We’re on her wave right now…

Tems - Love Me JeJe

Alfred Soto: Seyi Sodimu’s 1997 “Love Me JeJe” serves as the foundation for this delightful thing, a popiano groover which like many of its best songs doesn’t insist on itself but has a way of insinuating itself. 

Aaron Bergstrom: Last year, in a conversation for Interview, Kendrick Lamar asked Tems how she avoided being pigeonholed as an artist. In a surprisingly combative response, she took great pains to distance herself from Afrobeats specifically, Nigerian music generally, and everyone telling her that audiences would only accept her if she presented herself and her music in a certain way. (“It’s not that your music is bad, it’s just that it doesn’t fit in Nigeria. Nigerians don’t like this.”) While she tried to spin it as me-against-the-world motivation, I came away from the interview exhausted on her behalf, overwhelmed by the idea that she would always be locked in a battle against forces that would seek to flatten her into a stereotype just because of the place she was born. With all of that as prologue, “Love Me JeJe” is a miracle in its weightlessness. Here is Tems at peace, unquestionably an individual but also unquestionably the product of her environment. Here is Tems effortlessly breathing new life into a familiar Nigerian hit that was originally released when she was two years old. Here is Tems gliding through the streets of Lagos as if floating, as if she came out the other side of her fight for individuality with the confidence that she won’t lose herself. 

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Every Tems single this decade has been a little masterpiece; this is no different. But it is different — this is the most comfortable she’s sounded on record, her performance filled with the little grace notes and playful asides that only come when a singer is in their element. “Damages” and the other singles off For Broken Ears were beautiful showcases for Tems’ voice, but she largely stuck to grand gestures, melodies that spread across the sonic canvas like she was singing arias, gorgeous and lonely. “Love Me JeJe” feels tender in a way that her music never has, a warm and lovely party of a song — nostalgic not just in its invocation of Seyi Sodimu but in its whole feel, those call-and-response vocals and that “Heartbeats”-esque guitar riff invoking an endless succession of warm summer nights. Every note feels like an invitation to the sublime; even just in the way she subtly adjusts the emphasis the last time she calls to her lover, turning a note of devotion into something more flirtatious. The best pop songs we write about here are the ones that are worlds in themselves, self-sustaining systems of sound that seem to unfold further and reveal more to love about them with every listen. “Love Me JeJe” is one of those worlds.

Julian Axelrod: Until this year, Tems’ voice felt like a rare and incredibly valuable natural resource, meted out over a few sparse EPs and occasionally used to apply a lacquer of prestige to a Marvel soundtrack or an air of gravity to a Future beat. It’s been hard to know the singer through the songs, but “Love Me JeJe” feels like the fullest picture of Tems we’ve heard so far. She sounds looser and freer than ever, but her voice has never sounded richer, whether soaring or scatting or talking shit in the studio. The song is presented as not just a reinterpretation of the Seyi Sodimu song of the same name, but as an homage. And whether this is an act of earnest homage or an attempt to avoid a lawsuit, it’s incredibly charming to hear Tems sing its refrain almost to herself, like it’s been stuck in her head for years. It feels like an act of adaptation that tells you as much about the singer as the song.

Nortey Dowuona: The way Tems sings speaks to me. It’s a modal tone, so comfortable and gentle; her voice floats comfortably in her chest register and feels as if she is talking to you, explaining something very difficult. Tems may arc into little peals and soft whole notes, but she stays in her range, tantalizing and lively, showing the loyalty and tenderness she sings about. On the tail end, she simply jokes: “Why won’t you just open your mouth and say something?” It’s such a gentle rhetorical question, a taunt a lover would say to you as their friend rightfully points out your fraidy-cat tendencies. It’s a simple moment of in-studio banter, and it fits the actual lyrics so smoothly, cresting as soon as it reaches its end, ebbing into the sea.

Jonathan Bradley: Tems is too chill here for me to call her shuffling West Africans rhythms upbeat, but she lets her words (“I need and I need and I need and I need you more) cascade over one another with a lovely liveliness. “I’m on your wave right now,” she confides, and little flourishes of highlife guitar endorse the intimacy. The convivial call-and-response — “love me tender” — enhances the coziness; “Love Me JeJe” relaxes into the comfort of familiar company.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “I’m on your wave right now” is such a beautiful declaration. Tems sings it with an assurance of what it implies, of an unshakable bond with a future and past. She makes that known with the call-and-response interpolations; it is quietly pleasurable in the way that all in-jokes are when worked into everyday conversation. Those who don’t know the Seyi Sodimu original can still feel its familiarity: it’s the sound of a love that has stood the test of time, that has always felt eternal, that is capable of endless shared memories.

Ian Mathers: Some love songs are overtly intense (wonderfully or horribly so), but this one succeeds by seeming, if not casual, at least laid back. A low-key ode to sharing a wavelength with someone, with that playful little guitar lick pealing away in the background over rim taps, there’s a confidence and joy practically embedded in the music here that’s infectious.

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Infinite and intimate, tender and timeless, warm and unwavering. Tems’ voice sounds like golden rays of sunshine, and if this summer fulfills its full romantic potential, I’ll come back and change this to a [10].

Katherine St. Asaph: “Relaxed” and “breezy” are not mutually exclusive with “mid.”

Will Adams: Simply gorgeous.

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