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Tayla Parx - We Need to Talk Music Album Reviews

A songwriter best known for her work penning hits for Ariana Grande, Khalid, and Panic! At the Disco claims the spotlight for herself, but she struggles to define what makes her unique.

Of all the female songwriters who have helped pen chart-topping hits, only a handful have picked up the microphone in the 21st century—Julia Michaels, Bebe Rexha, and, perhaps most famously, Sia. But a host of others have been trying to launch their own recording careers for years: Emily Warren (best known for her work with the Chainsmokers), Bibi Bourelly (Rihanna), and Diana Gordon (Beyoncé). Now, it’s Tayla Parx who steps up to bat, attempting to crack the seemingly impenetrable barrier between being behind the scenes and in the limelight.

The 25-year-old songwriter born Taylor Parks is used to lighting up the U.S. top-songs chart, having co-written plenty of hits for pop titans like Mariah Carey, Fifth Harmony, Chris Brown… the list goes on and on. But last November, Parx landed a milestone by co-writing three simultaneous top 10 singles: Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next,” Khalid and Normani’s “Love Lies,” and Panic! At the Disco’s “High Hopes.” (Ebro Darden incorrectly dubbed her the first female songwriter to make the achievement, but Ashanti was the first to do it, back in 2001.) On Parx’s We Need to Talk, the follow-up to 2017’s Tayla Made, her songwriting prowess is evident, falling in line with today’s catchy country-pop and R&B. But without compelling star power and a coherent message, Tayla encounters the same pitfalls that have held back many songwriters who attempt to break through as performers.

The best parts of We Need to Talk arrive in the moments when Tayla Parx’s charisma starts to shine through. The Joey Badass-featuring “Rebound” sounds like an update of Ciara and Bow Wow’s classic 2005 R&B duet “Like You,” except Tayla is scorned instead of smitten. Riffing on a cheeky extended sports metaphor, she flashes a glimmer of sassiness when she sings, “Now I’m Dikembe with the block,” referencing the now retired basketball hall-of-famer. On the album’s title track, Tayla belts melodramatic house-diva runs over a drum’n’bass-inspired shuffle; it’s the song where she sounds like she’s finally doing her own thing.

But these moments where Tayla reveals her own personality are few and far between. The majority of We Need to Talk attempts to replicate the magic of other great pop stars. “Tomboys Have Feelings Too” features the country-pop twang of Kacey Musgraves; the soaring ballad “Easy” sounds like Julia Michaels’ breakout solo single “Issues”; and “What Do You Know” could almost be a vowel-bending SZA banger, if only it had a couple more self-deprecating zingers. Though Tayla’s chameleonic abilities are an advantage when she’s flitting between songwriting sessions for Christina Aguilera and Quavo, that flexibility undermines the cohesiveness of her own album. These songs are all also conspicuously labeled as “interludes,” even though they could be promising, full-fledged singles if they were fleshed out a little more. Instead, they come across as unfinished bits of songs, maybe even rejected pitches that were initially meant for other artists, adding to We Need to Talk’s lack of consistency.

Ahead of the album’s release, Parx hinted in an interview that We Need to Talk would also broach themes of gender and sexuality. “The coolest thing about starting my own album is really getting across my ideas of feminism, my ideas of gender-reversal… Breaking out of all those boxes,” she said, citing “Slow Dancing” as an example of a song in which she blows apart long-established gender roles. But a line like, “I like diamonds, I like pearls/Guess I'm a typical girl/Making love around the world,” isn’t doing much to subvert conventional notions of femininity. Even the music video seems like an apolitical, watered-down version of Janelle Monáe’s “PYNK,” which Tayla co-wrote. Elsewhere, songs with names like “Homiesexual” and “Tomboys Have Feelings Too” hint that Parx might play with ideas of non-heteronormativity, but she never really ends up going deep on her ideas.

Before she wanted to be a solo artist or songwriter, Parx was an actress, starring as Little Inez in the 2007 Hairspray film and going on to appear in Nickelodeon shows like “Victorious” and “True Jackson VP.” In a recent interview, she recalled the difficult transition from acting to songwriting, “I went through this journey of saying, ‘Because I became more successful as an actress first people will see me as an actress who is trying to do music.’” To overcome the “actress” tag, Parx said that she “stuck it out and became a student of my craft.” Now, she has to learn to do the hardest thing an artist can do: discover her own point of view.

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