Taylor's latest stands up as an assertion of her sexuality in a world that often desexualizes mothers.

By Briana Younger
June 19, 2020 at 09:30 AM EDT
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Daniel Sannwald

The first voice on The Album isn’t of Teyana Taylor but of her husband, Iman Shumpert, asking her to get married. The proposal is followed by the 911 call he placed when Taylor gave birth to their daughter, on the floor of the couple’s bathroom, in 2015. The audio feels intensely personal, almost voyeuristic, despite the fact it was leaked and subsequently shared by Taylor herself. Its inclusion establishes two fundamental truths about the singer’s life in this moment: she is a wife and she is a mother.

Marriage and motherhood are milestones that have traditionally been sold as accomplishments — markers of gender performance used to grant women premium value by nature of their proximity to some idea of pureness and their utility to men. By thrusting listeners into these precious moments, Taylor creates a framework that seeks to undo constricting notions of both. The Album, her third studio effort, stands up as an assertion of her sexuality in a world that often desexualizes mothers and as a display of relationship turmoils that aren’t suddenly escapable (or less a part of her existence) now that she's a wife. 

The tracklist is divided into sections or “studios,” each one corresponding to a letter of the word “album” and a particular lyrical mood. "A" is good ole fashioned romance while "L" is carnality explored with wide eyes — a space Taylor navigates with remarkable aplomb. Songs like “1-800-One-Night” and “69” are pearl-clutchers that revel in innuendo; “Morning,” with its orchestral stabs and slinky pacing, dials up the sexual tension in dramatic fashion. The second half highlights the push-pull of vulnerability and the need to protect yourself from potential hurt in an almost narrative structure, with the emphatic self-assurance of “Wrong Bitch” slightly softening into "Shoot It Up" before turning inward on “Bare Wit Me.”

Taylor’s voice is nimble, capable of simmering, deep-toned seduction, flirtatious wisps, and soaring balladry in turns; the latter quality shines brightest in studio "U." The conciliatory “Lose Each Other” displays Taylor's pure vocal chops and is one of the project’s brightest moments. Over a stripped production of piano chords, she relies on her voice to do the heavy lifting in a gorgeous display of range and control — perfectly imperfect in its emotionality, which occasionally slips into a scratch at its peak. “Concrete,” a slow-burning vent about trying to be heard, and “Still,” an impassioned plea for love, pull off a similar trick to reveal the contours of her timbre. 

True to style, The Album brims with ‘90s references — Guy, Blaque, Mase, Aaliyah and Musiq among them — shaping it into more than just Taylor's musings but a playful homage and an exercise in imagination. “Lowkey,” which nods to Erykah Badu’s “Next Lifetime” (and features a rare verse from Badu herself), comes off like a sensual sequel. Elsewhere, Juvenile's iconic “Back That Azz Up” cadence is repurposed as the hook of uplifting bounce anthem “Made It.” Each one incorporates pieces of its inspiration like a puzzle piece rather than relying on the DNA of an old hit to automatically yield a new one. Similarly, she uses her collaborators in unexpected ways: Quavo goes full duet on “Let’s Build” as the two create harmonies out of love letters, and Missy Elliott forgoes a rap contribution on “Boomin’” in favor of her own vocal abilities. Taylor’s features and callbacks work to highlight the way she wears her influences on her sleeve without collapsing them into her sonic identity — an aesthetic crutch, perhaps, but rarely a musical one. 

The current generation of R&B has largely come to be defined by its nostalgia but also its grey areas. But there’s a subtle optimism to Taylor’s approach — not just a desire for resolution but an unwavering belief that resolution is possible (captured most explicitly in the final studio, "M"). Even kiss-offs like “Wrong Bitch” and “Shoot It Up” ultimately sound more like demands for accountability rather than a resolve to settle into the mess that so often seems inevitable to her peers. It’s possible that’s the result of the one-two punch of marriage and motherhood, or maybe it’s wisdom, or some combination thereof. Regardless, coming off 2018’s K.T.S.E. and its clumsy handling, this release offers a more complete picture of Taylor. The result is less experimental but feels more illuminating, erring on the side of verbosity in contrast to the concision of its predecessor. By stretching out various emotional modes, she suggests the multitude of ways to show up in the world as a woman — and as a wife and a mother.

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