At only twenty–three years old, British R&B artist Jorja Smith has already achieved the dreams of many independent artists fighting to break into the mainstream. Since her humble SoundCloud beginnings, Smith has become a Brit Award–winning and Grammy–nominated artist following the release of her critically and commercially successful debut album Lost & Found.
But her accomplishments don’t end there. Smith’s NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert is one of the most viewed Tiny Desk Concerts ever with over twenty–five million hits, while she's also taken a crack at hosting a radio show discussing music’s power as a tool for escape. As anticipation for Smith’s next full–length project mounts, her latest EP Be Right Back provides a nuanced exploration of some of the themes she tackled on her debut album—including the complexities of love and heartbreak.
The first half of the EP follows Smith’s initial painful reactions to sudden changes in her close network of family and friends. The opening track “Addicted” is reminiscent of the more experimental tracks on Lost & Found, opting for a percussion–based chorus that contrasts well with Smith’s smooth, warm voice. While analyzing a failed relationship, Smith expresses her exhaustion as investing any amount of energy into her partner earns her no affection in return. Even as she contemplates leaving, she believes that she is “too selfless to leave ... You should be addicted to me.” Smith’s struggle with reciprocity transforms into bewilderment as she wonders why she gravitates towards connections that constantly disappointment her, and her built–up frustration reaches a climax on the bridge as she sings, “I try to defend you," a line layered with multiple vocal harmonies.
Although Smith has said that the song is not based on her life, the powerful emotions she emits through her voice are a striking representation of the turmoil of interpersonal addiction.
On “Gone,” Smith reacts to the loss of someone she was once close with. Backed up by an electronic neo–soul production, she wishes she would have spent more time with this person as she questions “why now and not a little later?” Smith even feels that a part of herself has been lost following their disappearance: A delicate bassline accompanies Smith’s thoughts as she ponders how to keep her “world moving on.” Smith intentionally only leaves small and ambiguous details to describe this person, referring to them as “when the ones you love have gone missing.” Particularly after lockdowns due to the COVID–19 pandemic, “Gone” provides the listener the opportunity to connect their own experiences to the track, sharing the same feelings of mourning and isolation as Smith.
Starting with the track “Home,” Be Right Back calls attention to a more introspective Smith. The ballad builds on the theme of a lost relationship as discussed in “Gone,” but here we see Smith accept this loss by reminding herself that married life is not as glamorous as it is made out to be. She begins the track with simple guitar chords and describes a typical success story where she’d “be rich” and “have a family.” However, she begins to question if she would “really be content with my husband and his family.” In the chorus, she then says, she’ll "be right home,” but this home is not explicitly defined. Even she seems to be confused about it, saying she doesn’t “know why, but I made it home.”
Smith eventually realizes that her new home is the feeling of being free from commitment, ignoring any traditional standards that may be imposed on her. If this freedom is her ultimate goal, Smith still remains chained to the expectations, wondering “why can’t we leave it” and believing she “should’ve left it as just another chapter.”
Although it features upbeat guitar and piano chords, “Burn” is a deceptively pessimistic track focusing on the journey of a little girl whose dreams are crushed by excessive work. Ironically, Smith describes a fire that is “always there” which burns "like you never burn out,” but it’s possible to “still fall down” even if the heart is burning bright with determination. While beginning optimistically with the “little girl doin’ all she can,” the track turns dark once “you got to hold yourself now.” Smith sees herself in the girl and uses this analogy to show the lost promise of a once bright soul. “Burn” also references the previous track “Home” as Smith sings in the bridge “I hope your daughter comes home,” representing the exhaustion after living through a turbulent life.
Closing out the EP, “Weekend” highlights the nuances of Smith’s voice, which serves as an instrument in itself. Smith undergoes a roller coaster of emotions throughout the track, and her inflection and tone reflect the series of changes as she lives through a past relationship. Similar to other songs on the album, she describes moments of helplessness: “runnin’ with nowhere to go,” believing that she has “lost control,” and “ravin’ with the lights on.” Utilizing the upper register of her voice, Smith is able to add even more emotion to her already poignant tone as she recognizes the mistakes she once made—including naively assuming that her lover would return to her.
While Be Right Back's subject matter concentrates on love and grief, the EP's commentary extends beyond the most transparent parts of a relationship. Here, Smith focuses on the importance of appreciating past experiences. Be Right Back is a fitting title for the project, seeing as it chronicles Smith's quest to resolve the challenges she once faced.
Described as a sonic waiting room for her upcoming sophomore album, Be Right Back enhances Smith's reputation as a lyricist; it demonstrates her uncanny ability to traverse new sounds and stories. Hopefully, it won’t be long before she’ll "be right back" with another innovative project.