Originally written and published by me for Spectrum Culture.
If you listen to any of Lennon Stella’s records, it might seem impossible to tell that her past is deeply rooted in country music. Having grown up on a farm in a small Canadian town with her sister Maisy and their parents, a country duo known as The Stellas, Stella received her breakthrough in 2012, when she was cast alongside her sister on the musical television drama Nashville. The sisters also found Internet fame when their inventive cover of Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” went viral on YouTube, and they briefly performed together as Lennon & Maisy during and after Nashville. But now, Lennon Stella is flooring the gas pedal away from country on her own with her debut studio album Three. Two. One., a glossy, confessional record that is dance-pop done right.
If it wasn’t already clear with the release of her debut EP Love, Me in 2018, along with her currently most-streamed song “La Di Da,” Stella has been pursuing pop music all the way. She cemented her descent into dance-oriented pop with the release of “Kissing Other People” last November, the lead single from her first full-length album which has seen success on her homeland’s Canadian Hot 100 chart. While “La Di Da” and “Kissing Other People” are certainly not revolutionary pop songs by any means, they stand out by making use of Stella’s vocal ability to combine acoustic melodies with dance-heavy production—crafting songs that sound like they belong on either Top 40 radio or a Spotify playlist for niche pop music. Unfortunately, hooks and strong production can only go so far without talent and personality. But luckily for Stella, she’s got both of those, along with some powerfully heartfelt songwriting abilities.
Three. Two. One. opens with a general theme of “too much”: feeling too much, asking too much, being too much. “Tell me that you’re staying / Tell me that I’m wrong / Maybe if we wait, then the more this will become / What if we’re just, just a little too late? / Just a little too little / I know we got a little much too much to lose,” she sings during the chorus of the album’s opener, “Much Too Much.” It sets the tone for an album with some confessional heartbreak, but also for the validity of our feelings and the power of dancing our troubles away, when possible. “Kissing Other People,” certainly lead single material and one of the album’s strongest tracks, homes in on this message over catchy lyrics and club-friendly production: “But how do you know? / How do you really know / That you’re not holding on anymore? / Kissing other people.”
The album doesn’t only get confessional about heartbreak: Three. Two. One. also explores the honest and raw themes of growing up and figuring out the world around you, in the vein of Alessia Cara. “I keep getting overwhelmed / When I talk about us out loud / ‘Cause I want you and only you / It’s as simple as you want me too,” Stella sings on “Golf on TV,” a ballad about a relationship but also about finding balance as the person you want to be. “Some people wanna switch it up / Like just one love could never be enough / But some people watch golf on TV / And neither of those things make sense to me.”
Stella explores a similar message on “Older Than I Am,” an old soul’s anthem for growing up too fast in the spotlight. “Sometimes I wish I could do something stupid / Be kind of reckless while I can, say I don’t give a damn / But I’m older than I am,” she sings accompanied by piano. “Why am I always the one making decisions? / How do I handle the pressure? / I do my best to fake it / But honestly, I hate it.” In an interview with Music Week, Stella commented that she didn’t have a conventional childhood having grown up on television, saying that she couldn’t just impulsively dye her hair pink if she wanted to. At once a ballad about a young person coming of age in the spotlight, “Older Than I Am” is also an ode to anyone who became an adult before they were finished being a kid.
Stella ties these tougher emotions together with some mid-tempo bops about anxiety and boy problems, such as “Fear of Being Alone” and “Bend Over Backwards,” which is the mark of good dance-pop and makes Three. Two. One. feel like a complete listening experience. The album’s only blaring weak spot would be its track lengths—some songs are the average three minutes for a modern pop track, whereas others are noticeably under two and a half minutes and sound way too short, such as “Games” or “Jealous.” Stella makes up for these fragments with her soothing voice and heartfelt lyrics but it still sounds a little awkward, especially her collaboration with sister Maisy, “Weakness.” The song, which runs for nearly eight minutes, proves that they both have lovely voices and a knack for melodies, but it sounds like four different songs mashed up into one. Maybe that was the point, and it’s certainly not up to the listener to police that kind of creativity, but it just feels hackneyed—perhaps even more so than Britney Spears’ collaboration with her sister Jamie Lynn from 2013 that we don’t talk about, “Chillin’ With You.”
The knack for youthful confessional lyrics like Alessia Cara or Kelsea Ballerini combined with the dance-pop sensibilities of Selena Gomez or Hailee Steinfeld is enough to make Lennon Stella both compelling and fun to listen to. She has certainly benefited from growing up in a musical household and on a musical television series, and her debut album does what a debut album should do best: draw us in, leave ample room for growth and anticipation for what’s to come.
Jeffrey’s favorites from Three. Two. One.: “Much Too Much,” “Kissing Other People,” “Fear of Being Alone,” “Golf on TV,” “Older Than I Am,” and “Bend Over Backwards”