Teyana Taylor Improves on 'K.T.S.E.', But Are These Songs Right for the #MeToo Era?
The musical and vocal performances on K.T.S.E. are Teyana Taylor's strongest. But in terms of messaging, she still needs to get in formation.
GOOD Music / Def Jam
23 June 2018
"Can we get much higher?" Teyana Taylor asks in the grand cinematic intro of Kanye West's masterful My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. For Kanye, Dark Fantasy may indeed have been the highest peak of his artistic career, but for the newcomer Taylor, this captivating first impression offered promises of star potential to come. It was then four years before Taylor released her GOOD Music debut, VII, which failed to fulfill the promise of Taylor's first sparks. Working with standardized R&B themes and production, VII offered very little in terms of innovation and definitely was no contender with contemporaries like Beyoncé.
It would be another four years before Taylor's next LP K.T.S.E., the last of Kanye West's seven-song mini-album releases over the month of June. The month of releases was exciting to be sure. But K.T.S.E. finally revealed the shortcomings of the project and the troubles of doing a rush job. After Taylor and West's initial midnight listening party featured an unfinished version of the album, the GOOD Music team completely missed the release date, instead releasing a day later. Uncleared samples and interpolations led to finally releasing the album as-is with plans to update it later Life of Pablo style. But those plans were also ditched, leaving unsatisfied feelings and questions of what could have been.
But alas, an eight-track album was released, and even in its unfinished state, the performances and production are a refreshing improvement from Taylor's previous output. Despite the sample mishaps, samples are essential to the album. The interpolation of the Delfonics' "I Gave to You" (which also shows up on A.A.L's "You Are Gonna Love Me and Scream") on "Gonna Love Me" Is hooky and sensual, as Taylor and the chipmunked sample play off each other with charisma and sweetness. "Issues/Hold On" follows with a sample of Clint Black & the Eastside Band's "I Do Love You", which sets the laid-back vibe and allows Taylor to shine through with the strongest performance on the album as she portrays a rocky relationship with vulnerability and an Al Green-like hope to stay together.
From there, things get decidedly steamier as she collaborates with West on "Hurry", teasing, "Keep your eyes all on this fatty / If you like what you see take your hands and grab it." Tracks "3Way" and "WTP" are even more explicitly erotic and make one question whether these types of songs should be applauded in the #MeToo era. The tracks are not an expression of personal sexuality and enjoyment, but instead an obvious indulging of male fantasy. "Anything for my baby / I'd do some crazy things," begins "3Way" before explaining that she's willing to use "hoes we don't love" because she knows "it turns you on". This self-objectification can't be helpful to the current social climate attempting more and more to empower women and put things in the female perspective.
While this is not an indictment on Taylor's ability or growth as a performer, it does call into question the motives of such a project, featuring a cover photo of Taylor in a vulnerable position, sensually sprawled across a bed. It is absolutely true that the musical and vocal performances here are Taylor's strongest. But in terms of messaging, she still needs to get in formation.