Ayra Starr – The Year I Turned 21

A work of assurance and grace...

Turning 21 is a coming-of-age moment; it’s the threshold between the clumsiness of adolescence and the assurance of adulthood, with all the responsibilities and opportunities that come with it. If Ayra Starr’s epic debut album ’19 & Dangerous’ marked the emergence of a bold, fully-formed pop talent, then ‘The Year I Turned 21’ is a graduation ceremony, a song cycle marked by a voice in full flow, a songwriter operating in total confidence.

Laden with colour, light, and vitality, this song cycle finds the Nigerian queen speaking her truth. Constructed as a kind of long-form television series – think an HBO epic and you’d be close – each song moves into the next, the narrative closely controlled. Charming opener ‘Birds Sing Of Money’ glides into our world, an evocative introduction controlled by Ayra Starr’s magnificent vocal.

Fellow Nigerian multi-hyphenate Asake appears on early highlight ‘Goodbye (Warm Up)’, a song that feels like an instant anthem for fans. An album that refuses to move in a straight line, Ayra Starr can twist from club shakers to sombre moments of reflection, her voice guiding you to a place of hushed introspection.

‘Lagos Love Story’ has a cinematic feel to the lyrics, while the gorgeous ‘Rhythm & Blues’ perfectly displays the vivid control in her vocal abilities. GIVEON pops up on ‘Last Heartbreak Song’, part of a handful of features – Arya Starr is the main character here, and features are used sparing, with each guest having a purpose. That’s the rationale behind Seyi Vibes brushing up on ‘Bad Vibes’ – he’s perfect for the song, adding a different type of energy.

Painting in the finer details, ‘The Year I Turned 21’ broadens the scope of her precocious debut a little. ‘1942’ is all summer-soft guitar notes, the painterly production aspects aligning carefully with Ayra’s songwriting. The intimacy of ‘The Kids Are Alright’ benefits from that opening voice note, so pure and affecting.

Everything about Ayra Starr’s come-up has been expertly managed. From the first moment we heard her, there was something about this Nigerian artist that stood apart from her peers. ‘The Year I Turned 21’ displays this emphatically – broad, in-depth, and held together by her singular sense of purpose, it’s time the world cherished this blossoming star.

8/10

Words: Robin Murray

Related: From Pop Princess To Pop Queen – The Rise Of Ayra Starr

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