Madison Beer isn’t exactly what she seems. If you came across the stunning singer-songwriter via a viral tweet praising her beauty or by way of her saccharine singles “Baby” and “BOYSHIT,” you may have expected Life Support to be a cookie-cutter pop album. Cookie-cutter pop albums can be good, but the album that Life Support ended up being is much more interesting. Madison Beer is a student of the Tumblr Era. That era when late millennials and Gen Z would share dark mood boards, histrionic scenes from classic films, punk and grunge imagery, and music from the likes of Lana Del Rey, Marina and the Diamonds, Halsey, The 1975, Arctic Monkeys, and more. Across Life Support, Madison employs languid vocal delivery, hazy production, and lyrics that are aware of their drama in the face of romance and the tribulations that come with it. As a co-writer and co-producer on each of the album’s tracks, Madison has a clear vision for her sound and she’s still trying to figure out how to best bring that vision to fruition. Sometimes, she nails it, and other times, it feels derivative and boring. Regardless, the best moments on Life Support are when Madison is doing her own thing. It is painfully evident where her label interspersed her vision with a push in a different direction, and those are among the weaker moments on the record.
Madison’s voice is both familiar and unique. She clearly has vocal talent, but she interprets the songs she writes with a focus on expressive coos and delicate delivery as opposed to big belting moments and bridges jam-packed with riffs. That’s not to say that she doesn’t belt or riff on the album (she does), she just doesn’t make that the dominant trait of her music. Life Support opens up with a lyric-less intro titled “The Beginning.” Haunting harmonies drowned in reverb swell throughout the track. The sound is somewhere between Ariana Grande, Lana Del Rey, and Florence + the Machine and it works. At best, “The Beginning” gives some sort of hint as to what to expect from Life Support on a sonic level. At worst, the opening track purposely keeps the thematic content of the subsequent songs under lock and key. The first half of Life Support is superb. “Good In Goodbye” launches Madison into the left-of-center pop melodies that characterized the aforementioned Tumblr era. Like many of the tracks on the album, “Good In Goodbye” is explicitly interested in exploring the destruction of a toxic relationship. She croons “I would take a bullet for you just to prove my love/Only to find out you are the one holding the gun.” It’s a great, albeit admittedly melodramatic line, but that’s what Life Support gets right. Madison isn’t just interested in writing about love and romance, she’s particularly invested in exploring and reveling in the melodrama of it all. In the midst of romance, none of it feels like melodrama because the emotions are so intense and raw. Life Support seeks to exist in that pocket, and it thrives there. “Follow the White Rabbit” is another standout that balances a droning guitar line against a vocal melody that builds into a crescendo complete with pounding drums and slightly distorted vocals. Co-written by RAYE, “White Rabbit” is inspired by The Matrix and Alice in Wonderland, which funnily enough, were stalwarts on the average Tumblr dashboard a few years ago. Madison herself has noted how the lyrics are “kind of random,” but it works here. If anything, “Follow the White Rabbit” is a solid showcase for her penchant for rock and roll motifs. She plays on those motifs on tracks like “Blue,” “Stay Numb and Carry On,” and “Stained Glass.” The latter, in particular, sounds like Avril Lavigne-meets-Billie Eilish, and it’s a sound that Madison pulls off well.
Life Support is a mostly enjoyable record that does a good job at establishing Madison’s sound. The only occasions where the album starts to falter is when the lyrics get a bit too paint-by-the-numbers and when the music veers into a markedly different sonic lane that reads as a disruption of the album’s cohesiveness as opposed to experimentation. “Stay Numb and Carry On,” works sonically, but lyrics like “I’ve become emotionless/My heart can’t help but wonder where the feeling is” do a disservice to Madison’s songwriting elsewhere on the song. “Stay Numb” smartly flips the “Keep Calm and Carry On” slogan by emphasizing unhealthy coping mechanisms, but lazy lines like that threaten to undo all of that work. On one of the later pre-choruses, she sings, “the world is mad and they say I’m the crazy one.” It’s a line that skips right past melodrama; it’s just reductive. Two of the album’s pre-singles, “Baby” and “BOYSHIT” appear on the back half of the album. The former is by far the better of the two, but it does sound out of place in the context of the full album. “BOYSHIT,” on the other hand, has a very cheap and ugly drop that takes away from how good every other part of the song is. The two tracks are evidence that Madison can exist and excel in a more mainstream pop lane, but she sounds more comfortable and confident on the moodier songs. Take “Effortlessly,” for example. Madison dives headfirst into that languid murky alternative space of Lana Del Rey, but she trades jazzy chords for echoes of electronica and unpredictable melodic structures.
Life Support isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but it didn’t need to be. The album did the job that Madison’s brand and marketing failed to do: accurately showcase her vision and sound as an artist. The most important thing is that Madison has found her pocket. All she needs to do is to continue to develop and hone that sound regardless of whatever direction external voices are trying to push her into. There’s an incredible amount of potential here.
Key Tracks: “Follow The White Rabbit” | “Effortlessly” | “Blue” | “Stained Glass”