In one of K. Michelle’s earliest songs, “Fakin’ It”, the R&B singer bragged about her ability to pump up male egos: “I be frontin’, makin’ him think he’s somethin’ / Knowin’ I be lyin’ when I’m up, up on ’em covers.” She loves this guy, so she pretends she loves the sex, but the only thing giving her pleasure is the knowledge that she can play him easily — “I’m so good, I should become an actress.” With an aggressive verse from Missy Elliott, circles of piano, and a driving beat, Michelle showed power and humor, the ability to thrive in a tough situation.
But what happens if you stay in the relationship for a long time and you’re still fakin’ it? At some point, you’ve got to tell the guy things aren’t working out. “Fakin’ It” came out in 2009; Michelle’s new (and debut) album, Rebellious Soul, arrives in 2013. Many of the songs still find Michelle stuck in failing relationships. Her ability to act and poke fun at the self-absorbed guys is funny, but acting forever isn’t a good long-term strategy.
Rebellious Soul alternates between feelings of helplessness and surprisingly, emphasizing the importance of providing her man with whatever he desires. In “Can’t Raise a Man”, Michelle sings “you can’t raise a man, he’s already grown, what you gonna do?” And when Michelle’s lover leaves her for another woman, Michelle notes that “love can be so cold” she “can’t even hate” her rival. Sounds like Michelle needs someone to treat her right! But she’s not asking for that. When she describes a dream lover in “When I Get a Man”, “he’s gonna love me” yes, but she’s also going to “cater, serve ya, give you what you deserve.”
Most of Rebellious Soul works along the same platform as “Fakin’ It” but with a lot less heft. Michelle still relies heavily on piano but show’s little interest in thump and velocity — she’s hesitant, melancholy. She sometimes heists sounds from Mariah Carey or Kelly Rowland (“Can’t Raise a Man” evokes Rowland’s contribution to Nelly’s “Dilemma”), looking backwards instead of forwards. The music doesn’t channel the rebellion alluded to the in the album’s title.
The most troubling thing is that Michelle seems to be internalizing her problems. The forthright “I Don’t Like Me”, starts with her in bed, wishing her relationship was more than just sex. She’s in a catch-22, damned if she sleeps with the guy and damned if she doesn’t, since both increase her self-disgust. She declares that she “need[s] some help.”
But Michelle is forgetting her former ways. Back in 2009, she used to manipulate men like puppets. She should take the advice she gives to others in “Can’t Raise a Man”: head for the hills. Follow the path of Kelly Rowland — who finally overcame personal demons on her recent album by singing “let’s do this dirty laundry” — and walk away. Then write a song about how there’re plenty of fish in the sea.