Ayra Starr’s ‘The Year I Turned 21’: Year of Remarkable Firsts

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Reaching the age of 21 is a significant milestone, marking the transition from the uncertainty of adolescence to the maturity of adulthood, with all its accompanying responsibilities and opportunities. Ayra Starr’s remarkable debut album, ’19 & Dangerous’, introduced a talented and fearless pop artist. Now, ‘The Year I Turned 21’ demonstrates her effortless transition to an international pop star, skillfully navigating the global spotlight.

Ayra Starr celebrated her 21st birthday in 2023, but the release of her sophomore album, “The Year I Turned 21,”  a year later, in her birthday month, is a thoughtful reflection on her journey. This age-themed album series sparked intense online debates, but it genuinely represents her personal experiences. While Ayra Starr’s music and artistic concerns may be unique, the universal theme of celebrating youth and independence resonates deeply.

For Ayra, 21 was a year of remarkable firsts: she released “Sability” in January 2023, featured on soundtracks for Creed 3 and Spider-Man (Across The Spider-Verse), collaborated on a posthumous Bob Marley album, embarked on her inaugural world tour, became a Grammy-nominated artist, and graced the O2 stage. The title “The Year I Turned 21” holds more depth than a simple sequel to her debut, “19 & Dangerous.” It signifies a milestone year of growth, exploration, and self-discovery.

While some Nigerian artists who have achieved international success are distancing themselves from the “Afrobeats” tag, AyraStarr boldly embraces her cultural identity, bringing the world to Afrobeats. She commences her album on a strong note with the Marvey and London-produced opener ‘Birds Sing of Money’. The track begins with a Fuji praise singer’s brief eulogy, followed by the soaring sound of Bridgerton-inspired violins and reggae undertones, which sets the tone for the album.

On ‘Goodbye (Warm Up)’, Ayra Starr confidently bids farewell to a toxic relationship, asserting her worth and independence over an infectious P2J instrumental. As she sheds the weight of an unworthy love, her liberation is amplified by Asake’s impressive verse.

The outstanding RnB track ‘Last Heartbreak Song’, featuring Giveon, showcases Ayra Starr’s empowering decision to end a toxic relationship. As she soulfully sings, “I’ll be better on my own,” it’s a triumphant declaration of self-worth, rather than a despairing acceptance of love gone cold. She rediscovers the joy of romantic love with the carefree enthusiasm of a 21-year-old on ‘Lagos Love Story’ and the innovative pre-released track ‘Rhythm & Blues’.

On the Ragee-produced track ‘Woman Commando’, Ayra Starr takes charge, rallying her squad of “sabi girls” alongside Coco Jones and Anitta. With its Amapiano beats and club-ready vibes, Ragee – the mastermind behind Davido’s hit single ‘Unavailable’ crafts an irresistible anthem.

Ayra Starr showcases her triumphant spirit in ‘Commas’, proudly celebrating her accomplishments, and simultaneously confronts her critics head-on in ‘Bad Vibes’ featuring Seyi Vibez, dismissing their negative energy with confidence and poise.

“Control” is a nostalgic throwback for Shakira fans from the early 2000s, as it skillfully interpolates the iconic melody from “Hips Don’t Lie”. This track is not the only one that showcases Ayra Starr’s creative use of interpolations.

In “Jazzy’s Song” produced by Pprime, Ayra Starr pays tribute to Don Jazzy, the founder of Mavin Records and veteran producer, byinterpolating Wande Coal’s “You Bad”, a song originally produced by Don Jazzy himself. In an interview, she revealed her long-standing desire to sample this song, citing her admiration for Don Jazzy’s production skills.

On ‘Orun’, Ayra Starr appeals to God for rain to wash away her pain and sins. Seamlessly blending English and Yoruba, she masterfully extends her vocal lines to convey the depth of her emotions. Collaborating once again with Louddaaa, the gospel-inspired song is embellished with vintage guitar sounds that evoke the nostalgic charm of Nigeria’s iconic Highlife era.

In the theme song ’21’, Ayra Starr candidly confesses her uncertainty about navigating her newfound adulthood, questioning what it truly means to be 21. As she reflects on her accomplishments, she masterfully crafts a portrait of a young woman grappling with the mysteries of her future, poised at the threshold of self-discovery.

At just 21, Ayra Starr has experienced her share of adversity, including loss, heartbreak, and backlash. These reflections inspire the deeply personal singles ‘1942’ and ‘The Kids Are Alright’. On ‘1942’, she showcases her captivating vocals, celebrating the fruits of her hard work and dedication, alongside her brother Milar, who has been a constant source of support. The album closes on an emotional note as she pays a heartfelt tribute to her late father, whose memory she honors with love and gratitude. As she honors her father’s legacy, Ayra Starr embraces the love of family and friends, basking in the joy and promise of her youth, just as her mother advised.

The bonus track, “Santa” featuring Rvssisn and Raew Alejandro, seems thematically disconnected from the rest of the album. Its inclusion appears to be a strategic move, as it is her biggest song this year. Nevertheless, Ayra Starr has emerged as the African artist with the most monthly listeners on Spotify, with a remarkable 31.5million monthly listeners on the platform.

With “The Year I Turned 21”, Ayra Starr takes listeners on a captivating journey through the ups and downs of being 21. With unbridled vulnerability, Ayra Starr is spearheading the rise of female stars in the African music industry, a role she enthusiastically embraces and skillfully embodies on her sophomore album.

written By Precious Emmanuel


Written By

Curious for Culture

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