GRAE's 'Whiplash' Reveals Great Potential

BY Michael Di GennaroPublished Apr 13, 2022

Half of GRAE's life has led up to Whiplash. Writing music since she was ten years old, the Toronto singer-songwriter debuted with 2019 EP New Girl. Improving as a writer and performer seems to have always been GRAE's top priority, evidenced by foregoing a university education to focus on music full-time. The results of that dedication are songwriting skills at a level far beyond most artists in their early twenties, and a rapidly rising career that has positioned GRAE to be one of indie's next it-girls.

While her musical prowess is years ahead of schedule, GRAE is still a young adult dealing with all of the highs and lows that come with that period of life. Much of Whiplash's subject matter feels diaristic, with GRAE spending the majority of the record chronicling the awkward nature of her first intimate relationships. Tales of first love wouldn't be complete without dedication to the head-over-heels intensity of the honeymoon phase, and songs like single "Spinning" and "Out of this World" find GRAE living out the emotional peaks of connecting with someone new.

Unfortunately, just as the honeymoon phase always comes to an end, the clunkiness of these relationships are revealed as the record goes on. She struggles to forget what went wrong with a previous partner on "Grenade," sings about realizing she was dating someone who just wasn't that into her on "No Lovey Dovey," and the album's closer is bluntly titled "I Don't Know How to Girlfriend." Whiplash's greatest strength is GRAE's willingness to be vulnerable. The album feels grounded, realistic, and will resonate with fans going through the same emotions in real time, and those who have already experienced these parts of growing up.
Though the lyrical content of Whiplash is very much written from a Gen Z perspective, the music on the album draws from styles that are decades old. GRAE has publicly confessed her love for the '70s and '80s music her father played around the house, and has been particularly vocal about her Cure worship. The instrumentation of Whiplash clearly reflects her taste: the guitars and drums on "Spinning" sound straight off Disintegration, complete with icy synths and a sticky, anthemic hook. "Room in the Desert" is a lovely '70s psych number, and many of the songs in the album's middle section feature the quirky guitar licks and synth punches of new wave's heyday.

GRAE is able to harness these influences without ever using them as a crutch, mostly because of the unique way her voice interacts with them. GRAE's vocals are soft, soothing, and decidedly twee. As a result, the tone of the record comes off as a pure singer-songwriter LP, but the instrumentation harkens back to indie rock of decades past. By going half in, half out on both sides of the alternative music spectrum, Whiplash becomes something distinctive, laying the foundation for GRAE's signature sound.
While the album does feel like the beginning of GRAE branching off from her influences and into something wholly original, Whiplash's biggest flaw is one of many artists' first efforts; it can drown in its influences at times. That doesn't hold it back from being an impressive, addicting record, but it does keep it from becoming one of those landmark debuts that immediately pushes its creator to the top of their field.

As a result, Whiplash feels a lot like the first season of a television show that ends up in the pantheon of prestige television: there is room for improvement, but the potential for greatness is obvious. It's an album made by a talented young writer and performer who isn't afraid to bare her soul so that her audience doesn't have to. All signs point to GRAE having a special career, and Whiplash will only help her gain momentum on her journey to stardom.

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