H.E.R. (also known as Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson) is a skyrocketing R&B singer-songwriter-activist from Vallejo, California. She’s been making tidal waves in the music scene, while also being a vocal advocate for social justice throughout the world, all at the impressive age of 23. Already holding more than a few Grammy Awards for her work, she’s only going up from here. Her music breathes life into contemporary R&B ballads and is often described as “post break-up material,” providing a cathartic experience for many listeners – just as intended. As explained by the artist herself, “I am a voice for women who feel alone in these situations… raw emotion and support for women.” 

Her 2020 Grammy-winning song “I Can’t Breathe” has become a pinnacle anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement. Throughout the track she uses her platform to express her heavy disheartenment with the crushing climate of senseless racism, violence, and injustice toward historically disenfranchised communities – specifically women and people of color, being a proud Black/Filipina woman herself. Her lyrics deliberately embody the movement against hate and the pain that she feels toward the challenges that the world faces today. Vulnerably, she asks, “Will anyone fight for me?”

On Friday, the performer released her third full length studio album, Back of My Mind, which she describes as a “peek into her mind.” Right away, I knew this was an album that I’d play on repeat. The album opener “We Made It” smoothly transitions from lo-fi vibes with glittering high register vocal humming, to spitting verses about her accomplishments and how far she’s come as an artist and person (having already earned 15 Grammy nominations) while crediting the people she holds dear and helped her make this happen. “We Made It” is exactly what you think it’s about and proved to be an exceptional album opener.

The album’s title track, “Back of My Mind,” is another in which she recognizes her talent, but does so through painfully expressing that she’s stuck on someone who doesn’t appreciate her. She expresses regret about this relationship, the time and energy she’s spent on it, and how it may have been wasted effort. Though she can’t seem to get this person out of her head, she has the self awareness to hold herself up. “I’m still the greatest of all time, in the back of my mind… acting like I’ll be alright.”

“Trauma” is an exceptional, full-sounding breakup song that discusses the toll a toxic relationship has taken on her mental health. It’s backed with a consistent beat and bass line. She’s questioning whether this relationship is worth the drama and the emotional roller coaster ride. To listeners, this feels like a call to wake up to warning signs. She asserts that if someone puts you through hell instead of lifting you up, though it may be difficult, it’s time to drop them.

The following track, “Damage,” has that same lo-fi sound that seems to be consistent throughout the album, but also opens briefly with some jazzy sax. The star is asking this person to take care in how they treat her, because she’s made herself vulnerable to them. She ponders whether this person takes pleasure in letting her down and taking her for granted. “Damage” is a cry for a person she cares deeply about to treat her right, because they have the capability to make it or break it. She doesn’t want to let go, but she will if she has to.

In “Find a Way,” H.E.R. is blatantly addressing her haters, the positives and negatives in how money has affected her life, and how she won’t let either of these things change her or make her forget where she came from – and how far she’s come since. 

“Bloody Waters” combines her personal life with social justice and takes a deep dive into her frustration with the current climate of hate and greed. She addresses how often racism gets brushed aside, and, in the same breath, calls upon listeners to take action in their own way. She expresses the pain and suffering that she shares with these oppressed communities whose struggles often fall on deaf ears. She finishes the song with the soulful vocals that are present throughout the album.

“Closer To Me” is a melodic break-up-make-up song. The singer-songwriter seems to struggle with a fickle partner again, wanting to repair things that have broken, and hopefully mend the relationship. She addresses that the burden of making the relationship work is not all on the partner, however, they aren’t making it easy to work things out. There is a running theme that she seems to be putting in more effort than her counterpart, and this takes a toll on her emotional state.

The popular single “Come Through” features Chris Brown in a smooth, fun R&B track that is backed with some soft acoustic guitar, which makes for a buttery radio hit. Though not as deep or complex as the previous tracks, it makes for easy-listening and stands as a good introduction for listeners unfamiliar with her work. The following, “My Own,” makes a play on words referencing the previous track: “know it’s okay if you can’t come through,” tying the two songs together quite nicely. With more sensual lyrics, she expresses her emotional independence, as well as her deep affection for this person who knows her so well.

“Lucky” is easily my favorite on the record. Full of self empowerment, H.E.R. knows her self worth and she wants everyone to know. She expresses that she is grateful for the relationship she is now in and how easy it comes to them, so she wants them to know just how “lucky” they are for what they share. The interlude leading into the third verse builds up gradually, then explodes into a beautiful, uplifting melody. “Lucky… feeling like a honeymoon… so lucky, don’t ever forget.” 

Light cymbals and acoustics open up “Cheat Code” and follow their way through into catchy bass lines throughout the rest of the track. Clever wordplay in this song leads listeners straight to the point – this person is a player, cheater, liar… and she knows exactly what is up. This tongue-in-cheek song is sure to please. Following is a slower song, “Mean It,” calling out infidelities and reflecting on her relationship with someone who throws the word “love” around with empty meaning. These two tracks are fitting to follow one another on the album, and, lyrically, the former leads into the latter flawlessly.

“Paradise” has a meaty bass that catches your ear right away. Short and to the point, H.E.R. and her collaborator Yung Bleu tell a story of two lovers who have an unstable but passionate relationship, almost seeming star-crossed. 

Another breakup track, “Process” runs through the frustrating experience of quarreling with a partner, pressing each other’s buttons, and sometimes taking words too far. She’s reaching a breaking point in this story. This is a catchy, straight-up R&B love song. 

“Hold On” is a more interesting ballad with yet another great bass line and sprinklings of sweet, high-pitched guitar riffs over the poignant lyrics found in the chorus. This track is about codependency and H.E.R.’s personal distaste for it; making her uncomfortable. She sings of wanting to be free of the shackles of this unstable relationship as she’s only hurting herself. This track is smooth and soulful. It’s a second favorite.

Jazzy and slow rock, “Don’t” has a full-band sound with a stand out moment on the drum kit. The star really showcases her range on this track, and much like “Lucky,” has explosive punches of her unique rock sound, including some saxophone and a horn section. This track was very impressive musically, as well as lyrically. She cries, “Don’t count on me babe…don’t wait on me babe, it’s late, these days.”

“Exhausted” is a deeply personal piece about not feeling appreciated, feeling accustomed to being taken advantage of, and the need for a break from being romantically involved with someone. H.E.R. is fed up looking for something that she feels she’ll never find. 

Acoustic with dreamy instrumental backdrop, this one stands out from the others. “Hard to Love” is an apology to a partner for placing her issues on them. She implies that she knows she’s “hard to love,” and that she doesn’t expect them to fix her. Trust issues, feeling unable to change, and being difficult to be involved with are the main themes of this song. She’s self-deprecating and up-close-and-personal honest in this track. 

“For Anyone” is simply about missing someone and wishing that they hadn’t broken things off. She expresses deep heartbreak, reminiscing on old times. Being painfully honest, she says “I don’t wanna be with somebody else, new / Honestly I wish I never met you / Cause you left me broken / Now my heart won’t open for anyone.” 

For a change of pace after some fairly heavy tracks, “I Can Have It All” is a poppy collaboration with Bryson Tiller and DJ Khaled. This one’s fast paced and bass heavy, ready to blast from your stereo. H.E.R. proclaims that she won’t let heartbreak or her haters slow her down – she can do it all, she can have it all, and she will. The finale of the album is called “Slide” and it’s a perfect album closer after touching on a wide variety of topics such as heartbreak, social injustice, and her personal life. This one’s about moving fast, having fun, and living life to the fullest. 

Overall, this album has a lot of exciting layers to it and it’s a pleasure to listen to on repeat. Though H.E.R. is mainly R&B, there’s definitely something for everyone here, and a lot to take away from a single listen. She showcases her talents with great variety in sound and lyricism while creating a work of art that anyone will enjoy.


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