The evolution of Hey Violet’s sound has been drastic to say the least. Even with their start of hard rock in Cherri Bomb before shifting to pop-rock upon their name change, barely a remnant of that original incarnation remains today. Last year’s Brand New Moves EP hinted at a smoother, tighter indie-pop sound that spawned its genuinely excellent title track, but following it up was Guys My Age, a severe drop that represented yet another leap, this time to saturated, slightly harder pop characteristic of an act who would argue themselves to be “alternative” with no evidence to back it up.
And lo and behold, that’s exactly how From The Outside turns out. Hey Violet are clearly looking to break away from the norm on this album and expunge the difficulties of being a modern teenager, only for those intentions to bottom out almost immediately. Instead, From The Outside feels as basic as it gets, resting on constructed drama and “relatable” platitudes virtually guaranteed to get scores of reblogs, and crossing its fingers to hope that it’ll stick as some kind of impressive effort. It doesn’t, not by a long shot.
For one, it’s a complete mess instrumentally. To give Hey Violet credit, they’ve actually tried to incorporate pieces of pop-rock guitar work into their own zeitgeist-y Tumblr-pop, only to have the crushed into a thin paste behind the clumsy synthetic work. At least Brand New Moves has some tightness in its wiry strut, and Hoodie and Where Have You Been (All My Night) could almost be CHVRCHES songs if you squint at them; beyond that, this is just disastrous. The slabs of bass that smash through Guys My Age offer literally nothing positive to the equation, and All We Ever Wanted‘s attempt at a bratty, Charli XCX-style collision of hip-hop and EDM honestly couldn’t be more obnoxious if it tried and borders on unlistenable at points. Anything else worthwhile to say about the instrumentation here just boils down to the fact that Hey Violet are clearly riding trends here, adopting drained, boring beats and pretending to be more interesting than it can convincingly muster.
But really, Hey Violet’s main fault comes in the form of vocalist Rena Lovelis and the character she tries to portray. For as much flak as Halsey gets for putting an edgy persona before any stable construction (which, to be perfectly honest, is kind of unjustified), Lovelis fully co-opts it for herself, and it’s utterly insufferable from start to finish. Between the horrid baby voice that’s atrociously mismanaged and the dead-eyed delivery that gives the impression that caring is not on the agenda, as well as throwing in typical ‘edgy teen’ clichés of having dyed hair and wearing all black to scramble together some sort of justification, there’s nothing of substance here. Perhaps if there was actually some tangible detail here it could actually work, rather than Lovelis stereotyping herself to put populism before personality. This isn’t edgy or transgressive in any way, more a teenager going through a “rebellious” phase for no adequate reason and thinking it’s justified by listening to nothing but The 1975 and Twenty One Pilots.
And really, the frankly cancerous reputation that those bands’ fanbases have earned themselves suits the mood of this album perfectly, as it frequently feels as though Lovelis has no idea about how a real, functioning human works. It’s fitting how closely How Lovers Do represents the Pretty Little Liars theme, as From The Outside is peak high school melodrama at its most broadly sketched. The archetypal scenarios of “drama” and “turmoil” are all accounted for – attempts to justify and legitimise cheating (Unholy); a laughably overwrought attempt at writing sex (My Consequence); and of course, plenty of bitchiness, whether it’s gratingly obnoxious like on This Is Me Breaking Up With You, or infuriatingly bereft of even an iota of self-awareness like Fuqboi, a song where Lovelis calls out the boys who only want sex or pictures from her, only on the second verse to trawl through a guy’s Instagram and deem him a fuckboy because of what he looks like and how he captions his pictures. If a man had written this song, it would’ve rightly been turned into a laughing stock, and the fact that it’s here in the first place just solidifies the notion that Hey Violet have no clue how to write a convincing scene with human characteristics that could exist outside their perennial high school headcanon.
The version of adolescence that’s shown on this album might be the one that Hey Violet – and no doubt, much of their younger fanbase – may have been exposed to, but with a complete lack of development in virtually any area and pinning all hopes of positive reactions on unfounded clichés, there’s precious little to be found here on any level. With all that factored together, From The Outside might just be the musical equivalent of 13 Reasons Why – the sort of stereotypically-driven melodrama that does more harm than good, yet presents a smokescreen of having something worthwhile to say. Coupled with edge-pop of the lowest common denominator to back a lyrical sentiment that has about as much forethought as an average child’s diary entry, there is absolutely no reason to listen to From The Outside in any situation. You’ve either outgrown this sort of thing, or seen all of these scenarios enough times to know how they play out.
For fans of: Halsey, Against The Current, Twenty One Pilots
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘From The Outside’ by Hey Violet is out now on Hi Or Hey Records.