For Teni, one gets the sense that her brand strategy has always been ” More is More “. From monster sized singles like “Billionaire” and “Uyo Meyo” to her big and boisterous personality, Teni has proved impossible to miss— until 2020 that is.
Nigeria’s gradual shift toward slow “vibey” songs in a pandemic year had no place for Teni’s style.
To be sure, she tried to combat this proactively with The Quarantine Playlist, a collaborative project with DJ Neptune, (see our review here), but none of the songs were strong enough to be hits and the project was quickly drowned out by the enduring buzz of projects like Boo of the Booless and the breakout success of projects like Get Layd.
Her lead single from Wondaland, released later that year, the joyous “Jo” seemed a little too celebratory for a year with very little to celebrate. The graduations and weddings that carried songs like “Billionaire” to hit status were non-existent and so “Jo” stumbled.
Like Joeboy a few weeks later, the release of celebratory songs, weeks after a massacre and a depressing year felt quite tone deaf.
These missteps slowed down Teni’s incredible run in superstardom since 2018.
In 2021 however, Teni doubled back and played a good game— “For You” hit all the right spots. It was slow enough to fit into the current soundscape, beautiful enough to be released just in time for Valentine’s and had the most bankable feature artiste in Nigeria, to take it to No.1. “For You” has already topped the Turntable 50 charts for a record 5 weeks, in a row, becoming the biggest hit released by any artiste in 2021. On the heels of this, Teni released her debut studio album, Wondaland.
It’s important to say off the jump that Wondaland seems like a very intentional record. There is a lightness in it’s production that gives it a cohesion in line with it’s theme of wonder. The art direction also works, seeing as in a time of increasingly dark and detached branding, Teni’s bold aesthetics are refreshing to behold. Execution however, becomes the problem and Teni’s intent is a tall order to be honest.
“…Wondaland is too long,“
One gets the feeling that at its best, this album would be akin to Dua Lipa’s pop masterpiece Future Nostalgia, a magical 10 track collection that makes you want to get up and dance. However, with this template, lies the first problem— Wondaland is too long. At 17 tracks, there at least 5 tracks, this album could’ve done without. “100 metres” is a good go at highlife, but definitely not good enough to have made the album. Range is an amazing quality to show but ONLY when it has been perfected.
“Toxic” is the token track for emotional unavailability that seems to pervade every project now. The problem is that Teni’s take on the subject feels generic and the song independently makes the topic seem overdone. The second verse of “ON” is melodic excellence but the song as a whole is perfectly forgettable. The same could be said for “Okocha”. Teni’s exploration of sexual themes on the album is intriguing on “Game Over”, but by “Okocha” it just seems tired and lazy. There is also the general sense that many of the songs were freestyled. This isn’t a problem as Teni is acclaimed in this regard, but it is too apparent on many songs on this album. The engineering on this project could’ve also used a little more work. “Dad’s Song” which was obviously supposed to be a big personal moment on the album was marred irreparably by excessive autotune, particularly at the key change towards the end of the track.
““XXXL” will prove to be one of the most important songs in Teni’s discography showing previously unheard insights into her thoughts on society’s definition of beauty and self love.“
The album however, isn’t without it’s stellar moments. “Moslado” is an Afro-house jam that could rival some of the best work of her sister Niniola, the Queen of Afro-House. “Game Over” is sexual innuendo at it’s best. “FBI” is a perfectly serviceable song with smooth dancehall and reggae influences. “XXXL” will prove to be one of the most important songs in Teni’s discography showing previously unheard insights into her thoughts on society’s definition of beauty and self love. “Injure Me” is quintessential Teni— An afro pop banger that represents what this album could’ve been— a constant invitation to get up, dance and forget all your troubles. On songs like these, Teni seems close to capturing the magic she’s going for. This level of excellence was hinted on “Litty Lit”, off Cuppy’s album released late last year.
Despite the impressiveness of “Injure Me” however, the best song on this album is undoubtedly “Hustle. A stunning turn of introspection, it shows that while Teni is a reliable hitmaker, she is at her artistic peak when she simply speaking her truth. It is undoubtedly her best work since the similarly introspective, “Uyo Meyo”. It is this album’s masterpiece.
In all, Teni does the best she can. The cohesion, art direction and sheer enjoyability of many of the songs hint that. Magic just proves too elusive a concept to capture on the first try.