H.E.R - VOL2

In the time of oversharing and overbranding, mystery markets itself. For singer-songwriter H.E.R.—the irony, of course, is the letters stand for Having Everything Revealed—obscurity is about more than strategy or privacy. By rendering herself faceless, she’s looking to create a space for her listeners to fill in the blanks and take what they need, as the chilly blues of H.E.R. Vol. 1 thaw into sultry warmth on H.E.R. Vol. 2.

Speaking to the L.A. Times last year, she said her goal was for “women to really feel how honest and vulnerable I am and to understand that they are not alone and that these are all human emotions.” Vol. 2 adds to that palette in its search for both indulgence and clarity. The EP opens into confident seduction rather than the ambivalence of its predecessor. “Every Kind of Way” and “Say It Again” find H.E.R. owning her sexuality, first in affectionate lovemaking—her voice delicate and airy—then in fiery red demands. She achieves all the ambiance of grown-and-sexy throwback R&B and modernizes it with the help of her mainstay producer DJ Camper (Mary J. Blige, Tamar Braxton, Jay-Z).

While the many shades of love and heartbreak exist here, there’s also agency and self-empowerment. The slow-burning “I Won’t” stares down the notion that love has to be reciprocated simply because it’s being offered—a pressure women bear and find reinforced with “good guy” narratives. She offers no explanations because she doesn’t have to, and the bluntness of her lyrics further drives the point. On “Changes,” she balances vulnerability with assertiveness. When she sings, “Everybody got somebody that they mess with on the low/But I just want you to save me,” it’s as if she’s acknowledging her autonomy while simultaneously letting her lover decide. With songs rarely topping the three-and-a-half-minute mark (on either Vol. 1 or Vol. 2), the music of H.E.R. to date encapsulates a complete spectrum of experiences with remarkable concision.

Vol. 2 toys with common insecurities and ultimately resolves to own them. It’s about questions, not assumptions, like on “Still Down,” when she sing-raps, “When I ain’t there and you get the urge/Who you hitting up first? Is it me or it’s her?” The possibility of other women shows up often, but she never gives in to bitterness despite the trials depicted in her lyrics. At her most melancholic, she sounds like a person who still loves love—naive, perhaps, but always willing to give it a chance. Even “Gone Away,” which captures that moment of feeling intangibly separated from a lover, is rooted in nostalgia and acceptance accented by Chris McClenney’s elegant piano. H.E.R. uses her music to process in the open rather than quietly stew, and in doing so she writes in familiar but unspoken languages.

There have been theories that H.E.R. is Gabi Wilson, a singer who saw her first big break at the age of 10, but at the end of the day, does it matter? The preoccupation reveals a need to assign faces to narratives in hopes they match expectations, but this music can stand up on its own. H.E.R.’s private-public musings become all the more universal as her anonymity allows women to picture their own faces on the silhouette.