Alessia Cara’s first album, “Know-It-All,” released Nov. 13, perfectly stresses the interplay between the optimism and pessimism of adolescence. Cara, a 19-year-old hailing from a suburb of Toronto, boldly gives a rebellious voice to a generation constantly characterized as conforming to socially constructed norms. Since the launch of Cara’s debut single, “Here,” her defiant message has been loud and clear.
Released in April as part of her “Four Pink Walls” EP, “Here” has consistently remained on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and features as the second track on “Know-It-All.” The song is an honest anthem for wallflowers, sympathizing with the antisocial individual who would rather stay away from the party scene as she sings, “But honestly I’d rather be somewhere with my people / We can kick it and just listen to some music with a message.” Cara cleverly pokes at and makes us question teenage conformity. Fearlessly denying this trend, Cara’s fresh song gives power to challenge convention.
“Know-It-All” opens with the upbeat first track “Seventeen.” With a melancholy tone but a positive melody, Cara sings, “Now I wish I could freeze the time at 17 / I been goin on, I been growin’ up / I’m a know-it-all, I don’t know enough.” Immediately, Cara signals how the album title can be interpreted, leaving some ambiguity in the minds of her audience. Although not an original, almost dismal theme of fleeting time, the tone itself is not sorrowful, which sets her apart from the thousands of whining artists who tragically lament the brevity of a lifetime. She confidently approaches this terrifying fact of life in a hopeful, unapologetic manner, setting an example for how we should regard the daunting reality.
The third track, “Outlaws,” assumes a lively resonance reminiscent of Motown chords. She calls on her desire for adventure in a partner, crooning, “We’ll be outlaws / Partners in crime / We’d take on the world together.” Her longing to seek thrill in a partnership relates to hesitancies about relationships and apprehension that they – again emphasizing this universal concern – grow old and become boring.
The most mainstream, pop-influenced track on the album, “I’m Yours,” is not a typical love song. Cara at first reveals her skepticism in trusting a partner, but over the course of the ballad, resolves to accept her feelings and open up to the relationship. Unapologetically justifying her behavior, she sings, “And I promised I would never let me hurt anymore / But I tore down my walls / And opened my doors / And made room for one.” She happily critiques the apprehensiveness that is all too common in beginning to trust each other.
Her humble beginnings can be discerned through the retro rythm-and-blues “Four Pink Walls,” as these “four pink walls” represent Cara’s childhood bedroom, where she spent most of her time recording videos of herself playing music. The perceptible polarity of her past and present sheds light on her journey to success, and she soulfully attributes it to her diligence and dedication to maintaining high aspirations.
“Wild Things” sets a fast-paced, energetic mood and works as an answer to the dispirited “Here.” Cara’s refreshing nonconformist attitude drives the message of this song as she sings, “I lose my balance on these eggshells you tell me to tread / I’d rather be a wild one instead / Don’t wanna hang around the in crowd.” Redefining “cool” as what is socially constructed as “uncool,” Cara embraces rebellion against a conformist system and emphasizes individuality.
Collaborating with Sebastian Kole on her seventh track, “Stone,” Cara varies the pace of the album with this distinctly slow addition. “Stars,” the ninth track, also succeeds in regulating the tempo of the album.
Cara concludes on a positive note, with a critique of society’s flawed beauty standard in “Scars To Your Beautiful.” The R&B-tinged lyrics affirm, “You should know you’re beautiful just the way you are / And you don’t have to change a thing / The world could change its heart.” She disassembles the obligation to conform to public perception and rightfully places blame on society for giving girls these “scars.”
A pop-R&B fusion, “Know-It-All” celebrates Cara’s dreams, anxieties and pursuit to find meaning. Her album is unprecedented and succeeds at setting her apart from the pop princesses we have grown so tired of. Cara balances skepticism and buoyancy to capture the sometimes unpleasant, constraining, but also anticipated experience of adolescence. Her first album awaits positive results and should be a promising kick-start for Cara’s professional music career. Given that she has already been invited by Jay-Z to headline at the 2015 Tidal Concert at the Barclays Center, she’s well on her way.
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