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‘Heaven Knows’ review: PinkPantheress expands her sonic palate on debut album

By November 16, 2023No Comments5 min read

The term “manic pixie dream girl” is a bit misleading. Taking each word on its own, you’d think it’d describe some kind of energetic magical princess existing in a lesser-known anime in one of the later Toonami time slots. It’s such a quirky phrase wasted on tired movie character stereotypes. It could use a rebranding on something more fun, like a quirky 8-bit platforming game. Or maybe with a quick rebranding, how about “manic pixie dream pop?”

It would certainly help give some better clarity on PinkPantheress. The 22-year-old English singer-songwriter is a graduate of the ever-growing school of TikTok beat makers breaking into the music industry whether it’s ready for them or not.

While her classmates mainly follow the boring trends of trap rap and club bangers, PinkPantheress at least has the bouncy influences of UK garage, house, drum-and-bass to make brief rushes of energy in her songs. She balanced that with lyrics of heartbreak delivered in a high-pitch coo that was equal parts soulful poet and Strawberry Shortcake. Her music is wild, her voice is of a sprite, and her lyrics imagine romantic fantasy: Is PinkPantheress the first star of manic pixie dream pop?

Heaven Knows, her debut album, means to better define the sound of PinkPantheress. While meant as her first feature-length presentation, the album expands on the core of her 2021 mixtape, to hell with it: only 34 minutes in length with with only two of its 13 tracks passing the 3-minute mark. Don’t be spooked by the near-doubled runtime from the mixtape though, as most of the songs on Heaven Knows breeze by in flashes of bouncy electro-pop meant to soundtrack low-lit house parties and lovelorn midnights.

Lead single “Mosquito” is what could be called “classic” Pinkpantheress, with her sugary vocals and light guitar picks softening the looping dance drums and skittish energy. You’ll find that same hyperactive energy delivered with her digital sweetness on the likes of “True romance,” “Internet baby,” “Blue,” and the particularly lush “Ophelia.”

But it’s not just Pinkpantheress extending her speedy pop formula for a whole album. In fact, she brought in an A-Team of producers (Greg Kurstin, London on Da Track, Bnyx) to add sonic touches that flesh-out her sonic trademark. “The aisle,” for instance, has the drums and progression of a disco classic chopped-up like a Kraftwerk track.

“Feel complete” somehow manages to stay a sad song about finding out your boyfriend is an alcoholic while being propelled by skittering hi-hats and trap-trademark “hey, hey, hey” samples like an old Tyga track. It’s a testament to how effectively delicate Pinkpantheress’s voice is that “Ophelia” can be reminiscent of Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy is Mine” with its angelic harp strings plucking in the background while lyrics of her being murdered by someone play out in the song.

Not all of these sonic experiments work, or at least, don’t fit the vibe of its singer. “Capable of love” tries to be an epic goth pop ballad with overbearing synth lines and drums in the chorus, but it drowns out Pinkpantheress’s airy vocals. “Bury me” has a fine Weeknd-esque beat that she floats easily on, but the more-soulful guest spot from Kelela is a bit too cleanly mixed for the futuristic digital R&B Pink is going for. In fact, the other two guest spots from Central Cee (“Nice to meet you”) and Rema (“Another life”) don’t leave much of an impression, either by being buried in the speedy electronics (Rema) or by awkwardly clashing with the energy of the song itself (Cee). Even the Ice Spice feature on uber-hit “Boy’s a liar Pt. 2,” which is tacked-on as the album’s final track, is so jarring and unfit with the vibe of the song.

Maybe what makes Pinkpantheress’s sonic palate so special also makes it nearly impossible to be a featured artist with her: you either fade into the background of her euphoric rush or crash the party and bring the whole vibe down.

If pop is in the midst of its sad girl era with broken-hearted hits from Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish, and Taylor Swift (yes, still), Pinkpantheress could be seen as the most emo. Not in that she tries to be backed by a Fall Out Boy soundalike band, but her lyrics are the most fantastical and melodramatic like the singer in a mid-2000s Warped Tour mainstay. “True romance” details Pink hopelessly falling for her rockstar dreamboat (“I’m in the crowd, can you see my hand?/Bring me on tour, help me understand”), while “Mosquito” has the tried-and-true “I’d die without your love” obsession (“‘Cause I just had a dream I was dead/And I only cared ’cause I was taken from you”).

There’s actually a lot of quite literal “til death do us part” imagery on the record, from the album title to track names “Bury me” to lyrics themselves (“I pray that I’ll die before my baby/I’ll take a risk if anyone tries to touch my baby”). That grim imagery turns from romantic to self-reflective on the album’s back half, like the breakup post-mortem “Blue” (“And it aches and it pains, how I fear of missin’ out/I belong in your company, why’d you have those doubts?”).

It wraps up with “Capable of love” as Pink confronts a fear greater than death itself: vulnerability. It’s her first time experience genuine sadness from love (“Right now I think you’re the cause of my grief”), making her think about what might’ve been (“I always wondеred if we passed on a street/And I’d still nеver asked you yet to meet”) and being fearful of what the end will do to her (” I’m obsessed with the idea that one day it breaks up/’Cause after that, I know I’ll never be as capable of love”).

So sure, PinkPantheress is still writing overly-dramatic lyrics about love and lust in bite-sized pop packages. But Heaven Knows proves she’s not a one-trick pony, at least in terms of her music tastes. Pink can mix her energetic blasts of electro-pop with R&B, alternative, and even pop punk pretty well without losing what makes her unique amongst her peers.

In terms of the TikTok pop era, Pink might have the most promise for a lengthy career if she can continue to expand her sound and find more quality collaborators. Whatever she does next, her manic pixie dream pop is an exciting escapist prospect on its own.

  • PinkPantheress - "Heaven Knows" - 7/10
Jon Winkler

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