The honest truth about Keke Palmer‘s Lauren EP is that it really needed the two singles she released earlier this year. The supposed buzz singles”Enemiez” and “I Don’t Belong To You” are better than most of what consists of Lauren. It’s only at the tolerable third track “Jealous” that some kind of identity is formed on Palmer’s first musical outing since her self-titled debut EP in 2012. (Lauren is her birthright first name, and Keke is short for her middle name Keyana).
It’s not to say that Lauren is bad. It is unremarkable. Both the EP, that is available for streaming, and its visual counterpart are meant to take you inside the vision of a 23-year-old, who’s also a seasoned singer and actress since the ages of nine and twelve.
After the 2013 TLC biopic CrazySexyCool in which she portrayed Chilli, Palmer’s been on a not all quieted mission to show that she is growing up and eager to explore every possible avenue of life and art as a young woman.
On Instagram, her outfits and selfies are often shameless. Whether she’s doing a spread eagle in shorts or wearing an outfit that has 1992 New York City Club Kid thrown up all over it and still needs James St. James approval. She’s admirably unapologetic about her transition and this was officially reflected in her song “I Don’t Belong To You.” An elusive take on relationships and sexuality. The video played with sexual identification in particular, and Palmer stated to PEOPLE magazine: “The video was to represent the young woman today – it’s not the traditional woman anymore – and not the specifics of ‘Am I gay? Am I straight? Am I bi?’”
Gay for pay is still an option in art and she soon moved to the impressively adult and feisty “Enemiez.” The brazen chorus is the soundtrack to a reckless relationship, ripe for viewership: “This ain’t enough for me. Gotta be honest, I want you to lust for me. And if we’re just friends I’d rather be your enemy. So we can do all the things you’re holding back from me. So let’s be enemies, yeah
I know you keep your friends close
I know you keep your enemies closer, yeah.”
In September, she randomly released “Reverse Psychology.” A cry it all out PSA on if the tables were turned and the guy, her boyfriend, had to hear bullshit excuses of “It didn’t mean anything” in regards to infidelity. The track is actually great, and another buzz that Lauren could’ve used. But the video was a lesser version of Ciara‘s “Like A Boy” and Beyonce‘s “If I Was a Boy” and this would this end up being a recurring problem, visually, for Lauren.
The four out of the five music videos for Lauren try too hard to be effective. If the first clip for “Doubtful” was a student project at a university, it could’ve been reviewed as slightly provocative. But for Palmer, it’s a knock off of scenes from Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” and inelegant.
“Got Me F**ked Up” is the ratchet cut and has Palmer as purposely indecisive as Jhene Aiko in “Spotless Mind.” It’s a bit of a bubbly relief after the pseudo-agitated “Doubtful” but still a filler.
In “Jealous” she’s suddenly another girl from the ‘hood who warns “Bitch don’t let this TV make you think that you know me.” That lyric is true. It may seem that we’ve allowed Keke Palmer’s stardom on the Disney Channel and family-friendly, feel-good fare like Joyful Noise to pre-determine whether she can also be scrappy. But that’s not the issue or “problem” here. We want to see scrappy Keke. It is the introduction or presentation to this facet of her that’s tired, and for the third time, on Lauren. The video is a cheaper production of a Southern rapper or artist keepin’ it real in their backyard. The direction of Beyonce’s “Angel” much more expertly exemplified country, Southern, or around the way vibes that made you take it seriously or, more desperately needed here, convincingly.
“Pressure” is the first real good song on this EP. It’s refreshingly simple and in the video, you think you’re about to see some steamy scenes. Null in presence, it’s just Palmer in a recording studio singing a smooth if anxious narrative. It feels real and connected to her current zone as an artist and person.
The last track “Hands Free” is hands down the best song. Irrefutably infectious, tropical, and confident. The super playful underside of Toni Braxton’s sensual “Hands Tied.” It’s fantastic. Palmer can also carry a little Caribbean accent well. Begging to be released as an official single, unfortunately, the video needed work. The choreography is stiff and the set looks sponsored by Party City. An African homage always deserves better than this.
Lauren aims to celebrate Keke’s individuality but her individuality remains in competition to stand out amongst her peers. She can obviously sing and is capable of better songs than most of what’s here. It’s not a walk down the wrong path for Keke Palmer. She’s just growing and learning and her art will surely reflect that every single, EP, and album along the way. The best is on the way for her.