In her sophomore studio album It Was Good Until It Wasn’t, Kehlani is reflective on the love that was. After short-but-intense relationships with her baby daddy, Javaughn Young-White (comedian Jaboukie Young-White’s younger brother) and rapper YG, she is clearly considering her problematic relationship habits through song. Indeed, the song “Serial Lover” seems to address her hopeless romantic side head-on. But when she is going deeper into her simple relationship behaviors, she is exploring what is thematically most interesting about this album: her insistence on over-caring for her partners to the detriment of her sense of self.
A noted Taurus sun, Kehlani sings in various songs throughout the album about her desire (even desperation) to feed her lovers spiritually so they can abandon the dangerous lives they lead. At heart, Kehlani is a fixer. She finds herself hypnotized by the swagger and charm of Bay Area men (“Don Julio made me a fool for you”), and at the same time foolishly believes that she can take them away from the streets with her love alone (“Let me change your life […] Baby I can make you right.”).
Tracks like “Bad News” and “Change Your Life” are the strongest examples of Kehlani’s urge to fix, and as such they stand out as two of the most vulnerable songs on the album. Indeed, “Bad News” shows off Kehlani’s vocal range in an intentional way. When the singer’s voice is often hidden behind trap-hop beats or utilized in half-singing, half-rapping compositions, it was soothing to hear Kehlani simply sing. When she slows down the pace to carry notes and runs, she finds a place of abundance for listeners to revel in with her on this record.
Even if the content of IWGUIW was somber and pleading on the whole, the production throughout still manages to be playful. My favorite songs on the album are probably “Toxic,” “F&MU,” “Water,” and “Open (Passionate)” for their sped-up cadence and fun melodies. Notably (and perhaps ironically on my part) all of these songs address the lust that causes some to become confused when it comes to relationships. In this way, the artist proves that she has depth in songwriting content; when R&B can too frequently lean in one or the other direction, Kehlani addresses the in-between that many people find themselves in bad relationships or post-breakup. This is evident in songs like “Can I” featuring Tory Lanez and “Hate the Club” featuring Masego, wherein the singer fantasizes about having one last rendezvous with a waning flame.
There’s no true “bad” song on IWGUIW, although the album lacks any standout hits save for “Change Your Life,” her soft anthemic collaboration with Jhene Aiko. However, that is purely a matter of taste for me; I am a pop traditionalist, and I am naturally drawn to heavy bass lines, wailing instrumentals, and punchy lyrics. Kehlani is decidedly the opposite — she seems more interested in creating entire cohesive works of music that tell a holistic story of who she was when she wrote it. If you are looking to this album to deliver tongue-in-cheek radio breakup songs, seek elsewhere. This is an album to press play on, and leave it alone. Let it ride.
To close the record, Kehlani recounts her experiences in an open relationship in “Open (Passionate)”. Any follower of Kehlani knows that she is a free-spirited soul, so that she has dabbled in polyamory is not surprising. What it seems she is pondering throughout the album is whether her open heart and mind have doubly opened her up to deeper heartache. When a woman is used to “Showing [her] whole hands/Laying [her] cards out flat,” over time her energy becomes drained. She becomes exhausted trying to heal her lovers’ traumas (as an act of love) to the point that the repeated behavior becomes a trauma unto itself. The singer is trapped in a cycle of worrying, crying, hating, and fucking — and is questioning how sustainable that cycle is at this point in her life. Is loving worth the potential for loss, or is she simply chasing the wrong people?
And yet, the term is “hopeless romantic” for a reason. Even though Kehlani is now over-the-moon in love with her daughter, Adeya, I think the singer and her fans know that her heart is too full to ever quit romantic love for good. Maybe she’s a fool for love. And maybe, that’s her point.