Photo Credit: Carlos de la Reina
On her first – and, to date, only – Billboard Hot 100 hit, “Undrunk,” Cari Fletcher defined her brand of songwriting; slinky, melodic synth-pop that’s unabashedly explicit without being sensationalist or voyeuristic. On her debut LP, Girl Of My Dreams, Fletcher combines a more commercial than ever sound with more of her trademark confessional lyrics – which put her Queer identity front and center. It’s an admirable attempt by Fletcher to find a place for herself within pop music while expanding its confines.
For this reason, it’s particularly disappointing that Girl Of My Dreams never really sticks the landing. Labored over by a team of nearly a dozen producers and two dozen writers, the album sounds pristine but impersonal. Imposing beats and a generic R&B-pop soundscape undermine what should be a compelling introduction with “Sting.”
But what’s more confounding is Girl of My Dreams’ many lyrical shortcomings; at best these are mere awkward foibles, but at worst they make our narrator unlikeable and the song’s actively off-putting. “Becky’s So Hot” desperately wants to be a generational Lesbian anthem (a la Hayley Kiyoko’s “Girls Like Girls”), but instead is more accurately described as an anthem for stalkers – as Fletcher stalks an ex, eyes up her partner and imagines what sort of sex the two are having. She spends the rest of the song clumsily trying to appeal to her Gen-Z audience, deadpanning “she flame emoji, wow” in one of the album’s obvious low points.
A lot of Girls Of My Dreams is like this – less concerning and more just outrightly cringeworthy. Fletcher often falls back on sloganeering (“I’m my own anniversary // I’m the only girl of my dreams,” she declares on the self-helpy title track) and universality – condensing heartbreak to the most relatable experiences (see: “Conversations”). Elsewhere, she pens lyrics that almost sound like they were meant to be sung by other artists; “Guess We Lied” features some clever wordplay (“If you’re gonna lie // Do it in my bed”) but is sung without the knowing-wink required to make it a success. In the hands of Lily Allen, the song would be a slam dunk. In the hands of Fletcher, not so much.
Fletcher has already proven herself a compelling, even if not groundbreaking, songwriter through her early singles – “Undrunk” being the most obvious example. There are examples of this early potential shining through on Girl of My Dreams. The uneven “Sting” ends with the album’s most compelling couplet, as Fletcher croons, “But maybe I like the way it stings // It’s all I got left of you.” The title track’s chorus may solicit a few eye-rolls, but its verses – which dissect four failed relationships with tact and precision – won’t.
But the above paragraph should give you an idea about what is so frustrating about listening to Fletcher’s debut – for every strength, there’s some glaring weakness that overshadows it. The acoustic “Birthday Girl” is the most obvious testament to this phenomenon. “That’s special, we were special,” she sings emphatically, rushing her delivery as if what she has to say is truly revelatory. It’s a powerful moment that speaks to the heady reality of young love, but just one line earlier the song is mired in cliché, as she sings of the 385,000 people born every day, in a style reminiscent of Rent’s “Seasons of Love.” It speaks to a fundamental truth at Girl of My Dream’s core; when Fletcher looks inwards and delivers difficult self-reflection, the results are genuinely compelling, but when she expands her horizons outwards she stumbles more often than she succeeds.