Listening to Star, the debut album of Oakland-based pop star Star Amerasu — professionally known as Ah Mer Ah Su — is like reading an open diary. Most of the tracks are meant for putting your hair down and dancing around the room, but the album’s theme of self-love in the face of oppression resonates as deeply personal, even when set to an upbeat synth-pop backdrop.
At its core, Star is a story — and it is intended to be consumed as such. Inspired by Solange’s A Seat at the Table, Amerasu split the album into three sections. Each part is marked by an interlude in which a different friend of the singer discusses a topic that ties into the overall theme of learning to love oneself.
The first theme is introduced by Davia Spain in a lo-fi recording titled “Exercise in Self Compassion.” What appears to be an instrumental version of the next track, “On,” plays quietly in the background as Spain reflects on how she learned to make time for self-love amid negative situations. Self-compassion gets one more song — “Be Free” — and then it’s onto the next theme: “Expectations.”
Once again followed by two tracks, the second section is introduced by Maya Monés and includes “Perfect,” one of the album’s standout tracks. In this vibrant reflection on societal expectations, Amerasu criticizes a society that expects her to be perfect. She moves from frustration to acceptance as she realizes that she will never be perfect, but that’s OK.
But it’s the third section, “Men,” where Amerasu and her album truly shine. Unlike the other two sections, the interlude “Men” is followed by six songs. The eponymous interlude by Saturn Rising preludes what is one of the album’s overall most impressive tracks: “Heartbreaker.” A true indicator of Amerasu’s star potential, it is contagiously catchy, a bittersweet pop song that candidly reflects on an unbalanced relationship.
The album’s only flaw is something that can’t be helped. Because of its narrative format, Star inevitably becomes a concept album, a story of learning to love oneself. The songs are linked together by common themes — only about half of the songs can be listened to by themselves, while others make the most sense when they follow the interludes. “Be Free,” “Boys” and “Stale Water” are the album’s weakest points on their own, lacking the emotional punch and commitment to musical innovation that make the rest of the album so impressive. However, they are strengthened by the interludes and by the tracks that can be enjoyed in isolation, such as “On,” “Heartbreaker” and “Need You, Need Me.”
Impressively, the album is both a love letter to the LGBTQ+ community and a compilation of club bops that anyone can, and should, listen to. However, LGBTQ+ themes are by no means absent from its story. Each one of Amerasu’s friends featured on the album is part of the LGBTQ+ community, and while the songs do not contain explicit LGBTQ+ terminology, gender transitioning and toxic masculinity are both mentioned in the interludes.
And, when taking into account that Amerasu is a Black transgender woman, songs such as “Perfect” and “Powerful” have poignant double meanings. Amerasu is declaring that she is powerful and can’t be put “in a corner,” but she is also declaring that Black transgender women themselves are powerful and resilient, despite societal stigma. Most importantly, the album is an honest meditation on life based on Amerasu’s own experiences. Those experiences just happen to be intertwined with her inevitably scrutinized identity.
With Star, Amerasu has established herself as a rising pop star who demands attention from all outlets, whether they are mainstream, LGBTQ+-focused or otherwise. After such a strong debut, it’s hard to not be excited about what Amerasu’s mind will produce the next time around. It’s not the sky that is the limit — it’s the stars.
Alex Jiménez covers LGBTQ+ media. Contact her at [email protected].