If you remember when Canadian singer/songwriter Alessia Cara arrived on the scene in 2015 with her R&B-charged debut single, “Here”—a sleeper hit and introvert anthem about not fitting in at a party and disliking the behavior of all the cool kids—it was clear that this was a girl with a voice who not only could sing but had something to say, something that isn’t always remembered or valued in our fast-paced, unforgiving, and extroverted world. By the time her debut studio album Know-It-All arrived later that year followed by the empowering single “Scars to Your Beautiful”—which reached the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 in 2016—the question quickly shifted from “wow, I love this girl” to “wow, I can’t wait to see what she does next.” And on her second studio album The Pains of Growing, released last week, not only does Alessia deliver but shows that even if it was painful, she’s grown a lot since we last heard from her.
Still only 22, Cara has indeed grown up a lot since “Here” and “Wild Things”—both personally and musically—but in an immensely satisfying way. Singles we heard from the album ahead of its release, including “Growing Pains,” “Trust My Lonely,” and “Not Today,” set the tone for The Pains of Growing, and act as a sequel to the rebellious but tame songs about adolescence we heard on Know-It-All. Now in post-adolescent blues and pondering the direction one is supposed to take from there, Cara introduces some very mature acoustic guitar tunes that quickly replace the unique but still glitzy production from Know-It-All. She also assumed a much larger role in production on her second album, producing at least three tracks by herself and wrote every track herself. As a result, many of the songs continue to follow Cara’s journey in a linear fashion, that is, her lyrics, sound, and voice have grown and matured just as she has. She ponders the difficulty of being a star and life on the road on “Wherever I Live,” and learns to accept the ambiguity that adult life presents on “All We Know.” Not to mention the eloquent voyage she makes on “Growing Pains” about what it’s like to suddenly be an adult before you are physically or emotionally ready, as well as learning to let go of destructive thoughts or habits on “Trust My Lonely,” and the all-too-real expression of sadness and depression on “Not Today”—will I ever be over how much that song encapsulates just not being up to the challenge some days and that it’s okay to not be okay? Surely not today.
Cara never fails to showcase how much she’s grown up on The Pains of Growing, from her lyrics and her sound, to her voice and her guitar. If Know-It-All was lyrically impressive and unique but youthful in its own right, Alessia Cara has definitely matured towards music for adults with The Pains of Growing—I wouldn’t be surprised if she begins conquering the Adult Contemporary world from here. “Comfortable,” a Motown-style ballad and ironically the longest song on the album, reminds me so much of Amy Winehouse, not to mention deep love songs like “Nintendo Game” and “Out of Love” are so refreshingly unique yet distinctly Alessia Cara, warms me with the thought that she is here to stay. The album’s final three songs, “Girl Next Door,” “My Kind,” and “Easier Said,” are also lyrically reminiscent of songs from her debut album that just reinforce the idea that The Pains of Growing is like a sequel to Know-It-All, in all the ways you’d want it to be. Cara is still not here for anyone’s nonsense and she makes that abundantly clear on her second album just as she does on her first, but in such a refreshingly mature and grown-up way that continues to make me in awe of her artistry.
The overall theme of The Pains of Growing appears to be growing up and the realities one faces once they have, and there is not a single moment where this message does not shine through. Alessia Cara still sees herself as an outsider who doesn’t conform to anyone’s standards and that may be true, but as she sings that her kind of fun doesn’t make any sense and just as she hoped on Know-It-All that maybe we’ll learn when she’s gone that her song will carry on, she’s invented and innovated a style and artistry that’s all her own—in the best way possible.
Jeffrey’s favorites from The Pains of Growing: (All of it—but if I had to choose…) “Growing Pains,” “Not Today,” “Trust My Lonely,” “All We Know,” “A Little More,” “Out of Love,” “Girl Next Door,” “My Kind,” and “Easier Said”