After spending quite a while in music limbo, it looked as if will.i.am’s fourth studio album would never see a release date. And after almost 2 years of perpetual delay, a title transformation, and a plethora of creative changes, #willpower has finally hit the airwaves, much to the chagrin of you commercial pop haters.
If you take a moment to look at it intellectually, the hash tagged title almost mirrors the technological era and digital space that has enabled our self-absorption and instilled in us this sense of false omnipotence. Raise your hand if you think will.i.am considered this. The answer is probably not. The album unwittingly serves as an overstated representation of the futuristic and digital manifested into a musical compilation that will.i.am almost transparently assumes he knows what people will like because…. he’s will.i.am. And although it’s probably not the best thing to look for depth in a pop album, but this project almost reeks of conceit and will.i.am’s attempt to bank on his reputation (and on others’) alone.
#willpower is a pretty decent model for the dance club and very adequately fits the framework expected of a major pop artist. Ironically, after failing to garner commercial success to date (selling a dismal 29,000 units in the first week), most of its 18 tracks have the potential to chart. What gnaws at you is that with this album, will.i.am was clearly looking for hits and not art. The most obvious example is the oblique choice of features— because, really, besides the fact that they’re all relatively trending topics (pun intended), what do Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Juicy J., and Chris Brown seriously have in common? Unfortunately, this kind of inauthentic approach to relevance will hardly put this album on the radar.
I think we know by now that will.i.am’s signature auto-tuned vocals aren’t going away anytime soon. Each track is laden with at least a touch of the electro-bass and synth-pop sound, with the occasional boom-bat. “#thatPOWER” may be one of the album’s biggest hits, but the album includes a few hidden gems that sound so much better, most notably, the first track “Good Morning.” It has beautiful instrumentation and feels airy and pleasant in contrast to the others. It’s surprisingly introspective, though after this, the album quite abruptly takes a turn from the deep to the superficial. The production is fun and the high energy is expected. But the painfully repetitive lyrics and song arrangements will give you an anxiety attack if you attempt to listen to any one song straight through.
Somehow #willpower still sounds like a cohesive body of work, but there are absolutely no layers behind the flowery idea of digitization and revolutionized pop. Furthermore, this work isn’t any more progressive than what Afrojack or Swedish House Mafia has done within the last couple of years. It’s fun, but easily forgettable. But we’re still here for “Scream and Shout” whenever we hear “It’s Britney, bitch.”