Ella Henderson’s “Chapter One”: Exactly What Pop Music Needs

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Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

In early January, Ella Henderson, an 18-year-old British X-Factor reject, dropped her debut album Chapter One in the United States. And while her fame in the UK has been widespread, American audiences have only been exposed to her single “Ghost,” the opening song on her debut album. Chapter One is a dynamic piece of work that features Henderson’s songwriting and vocal abilities at their best.

Chapter One is best understood in context. Henderson was shockingly eliminated in sixth place on X-Factor in 2012, but eventually remained loyal to the show’s producers and signed with Simon Cowell’s label Syco. And rather than capitalizing on Henderson’s too-soon departure from the series and dropping a rushed album (which often causes these type of shows’ winners to return to pop-stardom obscurity) the label allowed her work to breathe and develop into an album that feels remarkably mature for an 18-year-old.

The label also gave Henderson the opportunity to work with some of the biggest producers in the industry, including Grammy winner Ryan Tedder, who is also a OneRepublic band member and a producer for stars such as Adele, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, and Gwen Stefani (just to name a few). And while Henderson had a hand in penning all but one track, the writing team is incredibly talented especially for a freshman album.

It’s hard for me to point to the strongest point of the entire album because there are so many strengths. “Ghost” perfectly captures Henderson’s spirit with its driving rhythm, almost masking the pain and desire present in the lyrics, yet somehow elevating that anguish to an inspiring level.

Throughout the album, Henderson finds ways to balance sorrow with joy. “All Again” and “Yours” are rousing performances of acceptance and shedding insecurities. In both tracks, Henderson’s performance is astoundingly similar to Adele’s in 21. While her vocals are at the forefront of the tracks, it never feels like Henderson is simply showing off her vocal agility (read: not like Jessie J).

On the other end of the spectrum, Henderson shows her versatility as an artist in her high-energy, upbeat tracks in Chapter One. “Mirror Man,” with its rousing old-school feel and  groovy bassline, is one of the unexpected highlights of the album. Similarly, “Rockets” is ridiculously catchy and casual. Unlike other pop hits that feel overproduced and commercial, “Rockets” conveys a mood so easygoing and effortless that I feel transported back to my Southern California beaches, laying out under the sun.

Both of these tracks feel uniquely Henderson, perfectly creating her light, charming brand. The mix of ballads and pop anthems on Chapter One have the potential to feel disjointed, yet Henderson has crafted one of the most impeccable, cohesive debut albums in recent time. Looking forward, it seems that Henderson has a bright future ahead. Only 18 years old, Henderson is younger than most Swarthmore students. Still, she doesn’t let her age hinder her ability to make Chapter One a simultaneously youthful and mature debut that has been much needed in the pop world.

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