Rising two the top: Five Sophomore Albums that Nailed it and Failed it
Words by Haydn Hickson
You may think that an artist’s debut is probably the most important record of their career. They get to set up their sound, present their image to the world, and finally put out a coherent body of work they’ve spent their entire lives creating. Well, you’d be wrong. In the pop industry, it doesn’t matter how much you impress us with your debut single. You could have written the catchiest song of all time, but unless you top that, you’ve booked yourself a one-way ticket to the bottom of the charts.
Below are 5 examples of artists that nailed and failed their sophomore effort, and as a result has a career shift accordingly.
5 THAT NAILED:
Lady Gaga – The Fame Monster
When Lady Gaga dropped The Fame, the sound of pop music shifted. 2008 marked the year of the electropop boom with the Black Eyed Peas’ I Gotta Feeling and Boom Boom Powbattling Just Dance and Poker Face for your mp3 download. Even though the Black Eyed Peas had successful albums before this time, there was something undeniably magical about the sound that Lady Gaga brought to pop music. For this reason, there was a lot of pressure on the pop star to deliver for her sophomore. But boy, did she deliver. The Fame Monster is widely considered to be one of the best pop albums of recent history. Taking risks and boldly going where no pop star has gone before, the New York singer pumped out an eight-track LP that was pop perfection. Channelling Freddie Mercury, Britney, Madonna and Elton John, Lady Gaga proved she was a legend.
Destiny’s Child – The Writings on the Wall
Destiny’s Child are a fun example of the sophomore album because nobody really listened to their debut. Their self-titled first album had the infectious No No No (Part 2), and that’s about it. So, with the stakes not that high, the girl-group had free reign to take their sound wherever they wanted. Alas, they decided to collaborate with Timbaland, and upcoming producer at the time. Boy, was that a clever idea. The Writings on the Wall pumped out some of the biggest-selling singles by a girl-group including Jumpin Jumpin, Bills Bills Bills and the Grammy award-winning Say My Name.
Britney Spears – Oops… I Did It Again
With her debut single, …Baby One More Time, it almost seemed impossible that Britney would top it. And to an extent, she didn’t really. Although her first LP contained what some critics call the best pop song of all time (me), the album itself wasn’t great. In hindsight Baby One More Time feels very flat; so flat that one of the four singles needed a dance-able remix before it was sent to radio stations to give it an extra punch. This, very much worked in Britney’s favour. By the time the new millennium rolled around Britney Spears was ready to tackle the charts again with Oops… I Did It Again. Sounding more diverse and more mature, the follow-up was a success. It was refreshing to see the pop princess taking risks, whether they paid off (see: the creative use of dialogue in the bridges of the title track and Lucky) or not (see: the cover of Satisfaction).
Justin Timberlake – Future Sex / Love Sounds
I remember when this album came out. It turned me gay. That’s a joke. But I remember being very impressed at the new sound that Justin Timberlake was able to produce and master. It was a very long wait after the commercially successful-Justified. With hits like Rock Your Body, Seniorita and Like I Love You, eyes were well on JT as a contender for the new king of pop. In a very clever move, he partnered with Cry Me A River collaborator, Timbaland, for the production of this album. With both artists growing with their sound, their chemistry was a match made in heaven. This album is probably the reason why we keep giving Justin Timberlake the time of day when it comes to experimental releases, whether they are good (The 20/20 Experience) or bad (Man of the Woods).
Ariana Grande – My Everything
It’s always interesting when you have pop stars who come out of Disney Channel or Nickelodeon because record labels always want to push their already-present fan-bases. And when Ariana’s debut single The Way skyrocketed to number 9 on the Hot 100, it was evidently that her fan base was grossly underestimated. So, for the sophomore, they decided to go for gold. My Everything is an incredibly impressive collection of timeless pop tracks that cemented Ariana Grande’s placement in the industry. The slick horns in Problem, the pulsating synths of Break Free and the catchiness of Love Me Harder have made it a battle of other pop princesses to come for Ariana’s throne.
5 THAT FAILED:
Meghan Trainor – THANK YOU
I feel quite bad for Meghan Trainor, mainly because it’s not quite clear why she flopped. We’ve established already that it’s important to change your sound in order to successfully stay a relevant pop star, and she did that. Evolving from the doo-wop sounds of Title to the R&B-influenced sophomore, THANK YOU should have secured her place as a pop-star to watch. The album is objectively better in terms of its diverse production, collaborations from other genres and general aesthetic. So, what happened? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s likely to be a combination of an underestimation of her core fan base (who were probably too young for sexy Meghan) and her appropriation of black culture on NO (see: the line “but if you stop me derrrrr”). Regardless of what happened, I guarantee Meghan Trainor will never see the success that she once had with All About That Bass.
Disclosure – Caracal
Disclosure are the prime example that the concept “if it aint broke, don’t fix it” doesn’t apply to the music industry. The duo’s first project Settle was universally acclaimed and shot the DJ’s into the worldwide spotlight as listeners were eager for their follow up. Inspired by Calvin Harris and David Guetta, Disclosure decided not to change their very distinct sound, instead merely to place already established pop artists on it. The result? Meh. While it was nice to hear Lorde on a dance track, the highly anticipated song featuring The Weeknd was nowhere near the peak of either of their careers and the rest of the album fell flat. Since then, well… I’m not actually sure what they’re doing…
HAIM – Something to Tell You
HAIM are undeniably one of the best girl bands of recent pop history. Their first album Days Are Gone was so good the band basically toured for three years off of it. Taking a lot of time off to write and produce their sophomore, Something to Tell You simply fell into the trap of not living up to the hype. The lead single Want You Back felt like a bonus track of the first album, and with a four-year break, fans ultimately expected more. The album itself isn’t bad; the group dips into new territory, experimenting with danceable synths, but it just fell flat when you compare it to the first one. Hard-core fans will definitely give the band the time of day for any future releases, but the prospect of world domination seems to be lost for this trio.
Fergie – Double Dutches II
At one point in time Fergie seemed unstoppable. With an incredible singing voice, ability to belt and rap skills like no other pop princess, Fergie was destined to do great things. Did that happen? Of course not. However, you’d be surprised to know that it wasn’t actually the iconic national anthem performance that ruined her career. It also really wasn’t the album either. It was the decade-long wait that fans endured for a follow-up that was merely fine. I understand that the album was good, but it wasn’t decade-long wait good. No artist can pull that off. None.
KE$HA – Cannibal
Ke$ha’s follow up to Animal was a short, banger-only collection of synth-heavy pop that as overall good quality. However, with the precedent that was placed upon her post- the success of Tik Tok, she was almost destined to fail. Tik Tok was a defining moment of 2009 and will probably play at all of our future weddings, but unfortunately the bar was set too high and for poor Ke$ha, she will never recover.