Eighteen-year old Texan heartthrob Austin Mahone recaptures power pop styles of the early-millennium on his second EP: The Secret. N Sync would be proud!
The definition of ‘retro’ is quickly pulled from under our feet as a new generation of entertainers rise, many of them taking it in their stride to re-appropriate pop styles they grew up with in the mid-90s to early 2000s.
It’s clear that Swedish pop producer Max Martin‘s sound is the blueprint for Austin‘s latest collection of tunes. Martin’s sound dominated the mainstream music scene in the late 90s, most prominently through monumental hits by Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and N Sync. If you are looking for a slice of boyband pop nostalgia with a modern twist, The Secret is the EP for you.
‘Next to You’ is a crowd-pleasing, warm up track with head-jerking beats, handclaps and an obligatory call for the bass to kick.
The tune is so slick that you almost miss Austin stealing the girl from under your arm, singing “No matter what you say or do. He don’t really care about you, like I will, I will… Whenever you decide to leave, you’ll ever be alone, believe me. I will, I will… I will be next to you.”
The EP’s big single ‘Mmm Yeah’ is a foot-stomping New Orleans-flavoured uptempo featuring the grandmaster of party anthems himself, Pitbull. The chorus is built entirely on the middle-eight snatched from Shawn Desman‘s minor 2002 hit ‘Shook‘ but it still sounds ever so current. Even though it doesn’t quite fit in with other tracks, ‘Mmm Yeah’ is a welcomed change, saving the EP from sounding like a dated set.
The digital version of The Secret also includes Austin‘s 2013 single ‘What About Love’, which was his first single to break into the US Billboard Hot 100 (peaking at #66). The track is an ominous number with buzzing alarms, thundering drums and heartstring-tugging lyrics about a waning love affair. It’s like Glee does heartbreak when Austin sings, in the tender refrain of a pre-chorus, “You’re moving on, you say. Here I stay, I’ll take this pain. Yeah, I can. I can! But what about love? What about our promises? You take it all and leave me nothing!”.
Say what you will about the wide-eyed lyrics, but what makes The Secret sound cheesy to some is what makes it so on-point.
There is a naked display of feelings that recall the kind of uncontrolled sentimentalism you might find if you flip through your early high school journal. It’s straightforward, it puts its cards on the table and immediately engages with the listener. You never have to guess what the song is about. And in pop music parlance, that heart-on-sleeve approach will always have a sacred space.
The Secret is hardly a whisper – more like a shout of neon-bright tunes. The EP is produced almost entirely by mega hit maker RedOne, who has crafted monster tunes like Lady Gaga‘s ‘Bad Romance‘, Nicki Minaj‘s ‘Starships‘ and Nicole Scherzinger‘s ‘Poison‘. The catchy melodies and electronic beats suit Austin’s own clean-cut, all singing-and-dancing persona, but at times it puts a wall between him and the listener.
It will be interesting to watch the young entertainer’s next move as he develops as an artist. At this stage, it’s hard to discern any quirks that set Austin apart from the regular pack of enthusiastic Bieber-clones. It’s clear that the teen sensation’s got the whole shiny pop package but sometimes, a star is not realised without a little deconstructing and pulling back.
Highlights: ‘Next to You’, ‘What About Love’ and ‘Can’t Fight This Love’.