Jessie Ware redefines genre in ‘Devotion’


There has been a discernable influx, in recent years, of female British balladeers who captivate audiences and garner devoted American followings. Jessie Ware, the newest iteration of this trend, is somewhat of an anomaly. Combining stellar vocals with more electronic and eclectic sounds, Ware represents a different manifestation of the similar talents of singers like Jessie J and Robyn. Where these singers opted for more commercial tracks, Ware has established herself among the likes of Sade and India.Arie — singers who adopt the pop genre and transform it just slightly to fit their unique voices. This album, Ware’s debut, is aptly named “Devotion.” Tracks range from sensual slow jams to exciting, dance-y singles, but all relay feelings of desire, loss and, ultimately, love.

Unlike her contemporaries, Ware seems to have a real reverence for the female singers of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Incorporating the production styles of singers like Toni Braxton and Whitney Houston, Ware ventures into vintage territory without becoming gimmicky or exploitative. Furthermore, Ware seems poised to carry the baton even further for British pop singers. Currently dominated by power acts like Adele, this genre is quickly evolving. With help from up-and-comers like Ware and Laura Mvula, female British solo acts are quickly becoming renowned for their experimental and progressive sound. Ware, who seems aware of the current climate and intent on changing the musical landscape, has made a definitive statement with her debut, fearlessly forging a spot for herself at the forefront of experimental pop music. Furthermore, unlike her contemporaries, Ware seems truly invested in the production of her sound and the creation of her image. Sensual and stoic, Ware is certainly branding herself as the hip alternative to more mainstream and pop-minded singers.

This debut album, which was released in the United States just last Tuesday, has been floating around the UK for months now, gaining much critical acclaim and engendering excited speculation. Ware, however, was certainly not an overnight sensation. Ware has been known in Great Britain because of her many high-profile collaborators. Appearing as a featured artist on the debut album of SBTRKT, the critically acclaimed and undeniably British dub-step champion, allowed Ware to gain quiet notoriety. This collaboration proved fateful as Ware moved forward and began forging her own sound. Ware crafted her debut album with strong electronic and dubstep allusions throughout, strong holdovers from her interaction with members of SBTRKT.

For any artists releasing their first album, their debut sound is critically important in terms of defining genre, fan-base and relevance. For Ware, it seems that her sound is dynamic enough to make a splash in terms of her contemporaries but also tame enough to serve as a solid base for more growth moving forward. The album, 14 tracks long, is one that stands alone. As would be expected from an artist with electronic roots, however, the tracks seem poised for remixing and sampling. Indeed, A$AP Rocky, easily the most exciting rapper on the scene today, remixed Ware’s most popular song “Wildest Moments.” This collaboration, which speaks to the prominence of Ware’s new sound, is potentially the most exciting track on the album. Other notable tracks include “Running,” a smooth-jazz sort of track that seamlessly incorporates shiny synth, and “Imagine It Was Us,” which weaves the story of a love marked by deep yearning and rejection. Ware’s album has the elements of personal confession that many solo acts thrive on; however, it does seem like a more abstract manifestation of feelings of love and loss than, say, Adele’s debut, “19” (2008).

This is where Ware struggles most apparently. Without venturing into commercial territory, Ware needs to find a way to connect with her audience more viscerally. But with “Devotion” as her first album, Ware has plenty of time to forge that relationship. What’s important now, however, is how successful Ware is in establishing herself with her debut. And, truly, Ware’s debut is everything that a debut ought to be: unique, exciting and full of amazing songs and huge talent.