Yuna’s ‘Rouge’ is sophisticated story of empowerment, reflection, class

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Grade: 4.5/5.0    

Malaysian pop and R&B artist Yuna is not here to let your expectations down. The 32-year-old R&B monarch released her senior album, Rouge, on Friday — unsurprisingly, it’s full of energy, war, strength, determination, passion, and basically every other characteristic tied to the connotations of the album title.  

Yuna, born Yunalis binti Mat Zara’ai, initially struck musical success after riding the Myspace train back in 2006. Even though she began songwriting as early as age 14, she didn’t start performing until after attending law school to address her creative side. Her viral videos caught the attention of her current label, Fader. After three previous albums, we have Rouge.

The cover art brings a stunning visual to the fashionable and timeless aesthetic weaved in the layers of the album. Featuring the bubbly singer in an equally vivacious tulle gown, the album cover is as simple and elegant as a Chanel No. 5 daydream. Yuna wears a gold-leaf headband atop her earth-toned hijab. This representation of female power is more than fitting for the fiery rouge theme of the album as a whole.           

The first song, “Castaway,” starts with an elegant, dream-wave strings section. After a smooth transition into a gentle sigh of a beat, Yuna’s velvety voice carries an analog back whisper. Tyler, The Creator is also featured on this track, a perfect fit since the style of the song sounds like it could’ve been a Flower Boy summer leftover.    

The guest artists continue with “Blank Marquee,” an empowering lo-fi funk track featuring G-Eazy. In the song, Yuna faces a strong case of Gemini syndrome from someone she considered a friend. G-Eazy appropriately sings from the perspective of the accused in the relationship. As Yuna croons, “Who are you without me? / You’re just a blank marquee” G-Eazy unsurprisingly interjects with a “Lemme tell my side.” This song is a melodic argument between both sides of the disagreement, and boy is it entertaining.

“(Not) The Love of My Life” continues following Yuna’s emotional growth. Each lyric is enunciated like spoken word, showing she wants to make her message clear: The person she’s singing to is not really “the one.” The toned-down marimba beat gives the song a soft Jhene Aiko soul, while the hurried breaths at the end are reminiscent of an old Lorde style.   

The downfalls of being young and in love are even more clearly marked on “Teenage Heartbreak.” Distracted by the shininess of infatuation, Yuna describes the sensation as a “classic mistake.” This kind of slow, manic energy is alluring to listeners, with them left wondering why she would repeat the burning pattern so quickly.    

The more nostalgic sounds pick up on “Pink Youth.” A discernibly 80s-influenced dance beat drives the groove of the song, resembling a modern Madonna revival. The feature of Little Simz brings a British edge to the song, the rapper’s sharp accent imbuing a woozing flair to the otherwise runway-approved track.  

The upbeat fun takes a turn at “Forget About You,” a sinister push toward a dark post-breakup song. An idiosyncratic combination of confusion and anger, this song is the lovechild of Billie Eilish and Lana Del Rey. Her groaned lyrics spout blame for her hurt on her “younger years.” The lyrics fit in with her album’s theme of categorizing youthful mistakes as “growing pain.”

The album gets a little forgettable after the midpoint, but ends on a strong note as “Forevermore” and “Tiada Akhir” showcase the artist’s individual style and Malaysian background. Going from syncopated beats to a tender bed of rain sounds to piano melodies playing behind a Malaysian ballad, Rouge is a successful display of Yuna’s artistic and emotional growth.    

Contact Skylar De Paul at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.