Lolo Zouaï’s music very much rides along the latest trends in contemporary pop music, but the 24-year-old singer’s debut album is a promising display of unique talent and refreshing personality. Right out of the bat, it’s hard not to point out how much the songs here sound just like Ariana Grande, especially on tracks like ‘High Highs to Low Lows’ or ‘Out the Bottle’. But like Grande’s latest output, Zouaï perfectly blends infectiously fun hooks with equally vulnerable lyrics, as the title of the album would suggest, evoking the highs and lows of life. And alongside producer Stelios Phili, Zouaï manages to inject subtle stylistic flourishes into her sound that makes it truly her own.
Zouaï doesn’t need much more than the bare bones structure of a good beat and a few sparse synth pads to build an engaging track. But really, it’s her voice that carries most of the songs here, and opener ‘High Highs to Lows Lows’ proves just that – the background vocals mesmerize you as entrancing harmonies envelop the tune and give it a deeper, recognizable tone. Meanwhile, the lyrics subvert the conventional type of flexing that usually dominates such a track by pointing out the banality that hides behind the surface of a seemingly luxurious life: “Fake gold on my hoops, real rips on my pants/ They think it’s all gucci, but it’s 99 cents.” Songs like ‘Out the Bottle’ and ‘Chevy Impala’ also play with that concept, but most of all, they’re just well-produced bops.
After the high point the opening song reaches, you’d expect the rest of the record to pale in comparison. But the following track ‘Moi’ is even more infectious in its own way. “Hit ’em with the bilingual,” Zouaï sings as she alternates between English and French – as the child of French-Armenian immigrants, she sings in both languages and uses her bilinguality to maximum effect on the record. The experimentation with Zouaï’s vocals on the track’s memorable chorus gives the track a refreshingly charismatic electro-pop vibe. On ‘Caffeine’, Phili’s production, with its dark tones and vocal manipulation, heavily recalls another huge pop star at the moment: Billie Eilish. But rather than complementing that tone, Zouaï’s lighter vocals on the verse provide an interesting contrast. The Billie Eilish similarities become even more profound on ‘Ride’, a fun banger filled with sexual energy without coming off as forced or distasteful.
There are also a few slow-burners in the tracklisting that find Zouaï at her most candid and personal. “Summers in Vegas were boring/ My lucky days were when you would take me/ To your pizza place in the morning,” she sings on the wonderfully melodic ‘Summers in Vegas’. But really the highlight here is ‘Desert Rose’, a truly impressive and captivating ballad that reaches great emotional heights and features one of Zouaï’s best vocal performances. By comparison, ‘Here to Stay’, while not a bad song by any means, is sort of an uninteresting lull. This isn’t the case with closer ‘Beaucoup’ (sung entirely in French), where the singer goes on a completely different direction, more akin to a traditional French folk song than anything on the radio right now. It just goes to show that there’s definitely a lot of personality beneath the familiar surface of her music, and it’s exciting to see where she goes next.