The music industry did not actively search for a bass-playing, soulful and big-haired musician, but H.E.R. stole the show the minute she stepped back onto the music scene. The 22-year-old revived rhythm and blues with her repertoire of EPs and hit singles. “I Used to Know Her” is her latest work, released less than two weeks ago.
The now full album is a compilation of her two EPs, “I Used to Know Her: The Prelude” and “I Used to Know Her: Part 2.” While fans have heard most of the songs before, H.E.R. sealed the finished project with new songs and continuations of a couple interludes.
If you know H.E.R., then you must know she is anything but predictable.
If you do not know H.E.R., now is the time to get acquainted. The child prodigy initially debuted as Gabriella Wilson, who appeared to the world as a young star on the rise. She followed in the footsteps of her musically-inclined father and picked up her first instrument at a very young age.
The “Focus” star pursued her dreams tirelessly between performances at the Apollo and becoming Disney’s “Next Big Thing” in 2009.
Then she disappeared.
Gabriella Wilson left in 2016, and H.E.R. came in her stead. She sparked the public’s attention with “H.E.R. Volume 1,” and, arguably, the singer’s anonymity garnered even more attention.
“You have easy access to what everybody’s doing 24/7 and the mystery was kinda my way of getting away from that,” she told Billboard. “I want people to feel they could relate to the music without having to look at me. I just want them to realize that I’m like them.”
The novelty has not worn off. Fans certainly relate to the lyrics, and, furthermore, they want to know more about the woman behind them because of her coyness. With the finalization of her project, fans and critics get the substantial taste they crave.
“I Used to Know Her” represents a fraction of H.E.R. The cover art of the album clearly depicts H.E.R. teaching the younger version of herself how to play the guitar, the image having been blurred substantially on both preexisting EPs.
The five new songs on the album are a tribute to a young girl experiencing the ups and downs of coming into her own and falling in love.
“Something Keeps Pulling Me Back”
H.E.R. took inspiration from the early 2000s with this new track. Chingy and Tyrese’s “Pullin’ Me Back” is the framework of the record, but H.E.R. makes the song her own with the play on tempo.
The slow yet rhythmic pace of a typical R&B jam permeates the song. Another constant is the underlying arrangement of what sounds like a sample of something you would hear in “Sonic Mania.”
The melodic blend of tempos reflects the flip-flop nature of the H.E.R. represented in this song, who is conflicted about leaving or staying in a relationship. The melancholic tone is a continuation of this highly relatable inner battle.
The lyrics challenge those tender emotions and vividly depicts this emotional war. H.E.R.’s voice is warm honey as she sings the opening, “I know what’s wrong / I know what’s right / I see the truth / but I stay blind.”
But hey, that’s love, right?
This track has to be one of the most special on the album, especially for H.E.R. The idea for the song came to the star after accomplishing many milestones in both her career and in her personal life.
In this year alone, the “Could’ve Been” singer was nominated for five Grammy awards and won two. She also won several other awards and performed at Coachella after only a few years of returning to the music industry.
The R&B singer expressed how the song embodied her feeling of excitement and fulfillment of her 21st year. “I wrote this song when I turned 21,” H.E.R. said. “It was one of the best years of my life! I’m experiencing all the things I prayed for as a kid and more. The scary part is, it’s just the beginning.”
She balances out the romance of the guitar with an introduction to her rapping skills, an edgy and new addition. The smooth delivery is similar to the spoken word on the R&B-turned-gospel “Lord Is Coming” hit.
This is notably the most insight fans have into the singer’s life, which is currently full of “after-show after parties” and “8 a.m. meditation” apparently.
H.E.R. teams back up with YBN Cordae in this deep-seated commentary on love and the lack of such a privilege in the presence of money. While the song is far from her best work, the message is thought provoking.
The crude layout of the melody and rhythm is difficult to listen to between the constant changes, but the lyrics rescue the song from being completely vexing. There is just too much going on for me.
“It’s hard to trust the things that we lust,” H.E.R. sings. “No falling in love, we so outta touch.”
It’s tempting to agree on the basis of currency being a prime value in a partner, but then what does that mean for the hopeless romantics?
“Good to Me”
If you are looking for an Erykah Badu-ish type of song in the modern R&B world, then this is it. H.E.R.’s voice is raspy and raw in this track. What is most interesting, however, is how the song bleeds into an actual moment of the singer’s studio process. The six-minute track is three minutes of heartbreak set to acoustics and another three minutes of working through the lyrics.
“Some people really aren’t bad people, but they feel like they have to be. I think some men are raised a certain way, but they get around other kinds of men and get insecure,” she thinks aloud.
There is always an obligation to be the best version of yourself in a relationship for yourself and your partner. H.E.R. laments this idea in this track and goes even further to question the reasoning for such a thing.
I wonder what the process of making this song was. I can imagine H.E.R. explicitly saying, “Let’s do a symphony, but make it R&B.”
The composition is nothing short of the sweetness of various strings played throughout a live performance. With such an atmosphere, H.E.R. sets listeners in the same dimly lit room of the studio in London, where the “Apple Music’s Next Up” series was recorded.
She harmonizes in the chorus: “You don’t pay me attention anymore / Baby, you promised / it would only be you and me tonight / But now, you got me feeling uninvited.”
The vocal breakdown at the end of the song is soothing yet intensely rich.
Then again, the same could be argued for the entirety of this album. “I Used to Know Her” receives at least four stars in my book.