When I first heard Mya‘s 1998 self-titled debut, I hoped against hope that she would eclipse the princess of pop Satanism, Britney Spears. Granted, capping on Spears as a general symbol of corporate music corruption has become so commonplace, that it’s now far more fashionable to celebrate her as counterintuitively transgressive. Whatever gives your brain a work out, I guess. I wasn’t rooting for Mya out of any particular belief in her depth, but rather because the sort of pop clichés she personifies just seem like the kind of stuff I’d much rather have little girls listening to. Call it the Pink-Aguilera axis versus the Spears-T.A.T.U. model of treating young women like the sticky pages of a fuck mag. Take Mya’s first hit, “Movin’ On”, which advocated kicking Romeo to the curb if starts half-steppin’, versus Spear’s “I’m a Slave 4 U” which seems to wax rhapsodic about being a doormat with hard tits.
For the most part, Moodring sinks like a stone. The album is mixed to her disadvantage. On previous outings, with tighter pop sensibility intact, I never noticed how thin Mya’s voice sounds. But with an album constantly swishing in languid R&B balladry it sounds like a sugar wafer caught in a lawnmower blade. “You” drips like a snotty nose in fat cheesy slabs of lounge underreach, an R. Kelly jam for people with Barbie crotches. It’s supposed to be sexy and yearning, but it doesn’t rise to the sincerity of a soap opera. Far too much of the record stutters at this pace, which Mya can’t pull off because her voice simply doesn’t have the wandering range that an ambling booty jam requires.
Without the vocal acrobatics, the slower numbers serve only to highlight the squeaky fringe of her voice, the kind of hollow shower range that only Madonna can pull off by launching the red herrings of her extra-musical celebrity. I don’t want to be a huge asshole about this, but clearly her interests as an artist are not served in arrangements that make her sound naked in the woods, in Winter, with no food. You get the idea. I like what Mya does, but it’s hard to make it through several of these songs without having boredom quickly morph into hostility. The Coke commercial song, “Real Compared to What?” tacked on at the end grates at so many levels it’s hard to know where to most effectively aim the hate. It’s bad enough that Common eschewed his stance of representing some alternative to hip-hop materialism to lend his image to a multi-national sugar conglomerate, but even worse that the only song on the album that professes any kind of meaningful social commentary is inextricably tied to a soft drink. Common raps without irony: “The real can’t be bought or sold.” Next time, try not to hold the receipt for your soul in your hand when you say that. I’m not ripping on Mya here, but this song, a bad stitch of Santana and Shaft, makes me want to run to the store immediately for a Pepsi.
When she kicks it up, there are plenty of glimpses to what sort of chart conqueror she could easily be. “Late” struts forward on a giant stride of a beat, with Mya working her vocals in clipped, half-jazz cadence that conveys a sense of absolute control. What’s more, it has to be the only dance song ever about missing your period and thinking you’re pregnant. It’s flashy, strident and just the kind of originality that trumps her peers. Similarly, “Whatever Bitch” camps around on a breakneck club thunk that outpaces your body’s ability to follow. It’s destined to played at unspeakable volumes in your car stereo. Moodring single, “My Love Is Like Wo” shifts through on a lazier beat, but with all the back up harmonies and the instantly unforgettable chorus, it works just as well as some of the more outright speaker thumpers. On tracks like this, her voice is more effectively encased, tripped through an almost reggae beat with the rhythm zagging “Wo” singers weaving in and out throughout.
As far as pop personas go, Mya maintains an admirable pro self-esteem, no shit taking stance that rarely falls into maudlin self-pity and never celebrates masochism or helpless femininity. She’s taking care of her business and drawing lines in the sand for straying men folk and would be trifling women. This is exactly why I want her topping the 40 like I said way back in paragraph one. She actively resists the exploitation of her image and clearly tries to focus on female self-sufficiency and a sexuality that’s not defined by Bob Dole rifling for his gnads and popping his little blue saviors.
When I’m finished listening to the album’s high points, I’m tempted to believe that the ledger ends in her favor for the sheer joy of the singles scattered amongst the snoozers. But if Brandy can pull off a record like Full Moon with nary a missed mark, there’s no reason Mya couldn’t knock a record out where every single song gets drafted for your summer soundtrack, where your indulgence in ephemeral pop pleasure comes without the side of cringe. She could do it, but didn’t here.