Kerli – Utopia EP Review
With Kerli’s music and visuals both getting more imaginative and unrestrained with her latest independent project, tracks like “Feral Hearts” and “Blossom” are a wonderful introduction to Kerli’s world. In 2013, Kerli released her second extended play, Utopia, which was the follow up to her debut, Love Is Dead, in 2008. Utopia showcased a new side of Kerli; the sound and imagery that accompanied the EP were a stark contrast to the moodiness and gloomy nature of Love Is Dead.
On Utopia, Kerli melded her former dark, gothic self with her new enlightened, transcendental spirit, and as a result, bubblegoth was born — Kerli’s description for the genre of her music on Utopia. The EP embraces the attitudes of love and happiness, an important concept to Kerli and her fans, who often use the acronym I.L.U., playing on “I love you” and having the letters stand for Integrity, Love and Unity.
Utopia as an EP was slashed down to six tracks and a remix, despite more tracks recorded with the intention of Utopia being her second album. This review will cover all of the tracks that have been released, including some that didn’t make the EP’s final cut because they are some of Kerli’s best.
Transitional buzz singles to take listeners from Love Is Dead to the new sound on Utopia, neither “Army of Love” nor “Zero Gravity” made the EP’s final cut, but the music videos for the tracks are just as fresh and inspiring years later as they were in 2010 and 2012 respectively. A glorious bubblegoth rave takes place on “Army of Love”, and the track’s visual features some of the beautiful forest imagery Kerli has carried over to her new era, showing that her love for her Estonian roots runs deep in her blood and has a direct effect on the art she creates. A beautiful elven Kerli frolics in a forest of illuminated trees with a unicorn before jetting off to an Integrity, Love and Unity rave. It’s a song that perfectly encapsulated Kerli’s new fresh and fun image at the time.
One thing that is noticeable re-watching Kerli’s visuals from years past is just how profound her evolution is today. “Army of Love” is a beautiful glimpse at Kerli’s creative mind, but it pales in comparison to “Feral Hearts” or “Blossom”. The green-screen beauty that is “Zero Gravity” is also visually appealing and angelic, but the computer imagery is apparent next to Kerli’s new work that is much more visceral and natural. Where “Zero Gravity” teleports you to another world full of magic, “Feral Hearts” and “Blossom” highlight the magic in the world around us.
Sonically, “Zero Gravity” is one of Kerli’s best, and the visual does not disappoint. It is a love song that only Kerli could create; “I am not alone, Searching for the starlight in the darkest skies,” she sings, having found a lover that takes her to another galaxy. In the music video, Kerli’s short, tightly spiraled white hair harkens back to Gwen Stefani at her most punkish in No Doubt. In another scene, Kerli lives up to The Odyssey mentioned in the lyrics with a beautiful Grecian look. “Army of Love” and “Zero Gravity” are proof that Kerli is an artist ahead of her time; when these songs were released, the pop landscape was much different. This was a time when Lady Gaga was at the height of her popularity, and as a result, artists like Kerli who had been creating imagery like this for years before Gaga came on the scene were quickly dismissed as doppelgängers and frauds. Luckily for Kerli, her artistry needs no validation from the mainstream media, and her perseverance and dedication to her craft are shaping up to pay off with her new material.
Perhaps in an effort to avoid further unnecessary Gaga comparisons, Kerli’s visual for Utopia‘s only single, “The Lucky Ones” was much more restrained and commercial. The influence of The Island Def Jam Music Group is apparent. It is borderline impossible to stop Kerli from being her natural, beautiful and ethereal self, but the video cuts to a storyline featuring cliched and over stylized Hollywood actors, leaving Kerli in the background with only one look. Compared to “Army of Love” and “Zero Gravity”, the visual for “The Lucky Ones” attempts to please the masses, but ultimately is a let down. Kerli’s signature style and sound is what makes her fans love her, and this is evident by the views for the three tracks; as of writing this, “The Lucky Ones” has 2.3 million views, compared to “Zero Gravity”‘s 4+ million and “Army of Love”‘s 5+ million.
To knock the promotional clip for “The Lucky Ones” is not to knock the track itself. “The Lucky Ones” is an incredibly personal and inspiring track in Kerli’s catalog, written after her best friend’s cancer diagnosis was reversed. It is just a shame that a track with such meaning was let down by a visual that didn’t live up to the track’s epicness.
The remaining tracks on Utopia did not get a visual treatment.
“Can’t Control The Kids” is a banger that literally feels like a rollercoaster ride when listened to on the right gear. Kerli’s lyrics, partnered with an adrenaline-inducing production make this track a standout. The buildup to the track’s bass dropping is intense, and once it finally drops, the amazing dance party that is Utopia kicks off in full force!
While Kerli’s bubblegoth image is all about happiness and the joys of life, the wistful tracks are poignant and add depth to Utopia. “Love Me Or Leave Me”, which made the EP, and “Supergirl” which didn’t, are heartbreakingly beautiful odes to learning to value yourself, especially when the person you love does not afford you the respect you deserve. “I know that you’re out of love so say it isn’t so…or please just let me go,” Kerli heartbreakingly croons. “It kills me every time you can’t say it back. I’ll pretend I’m fine, but I’m about to crack. Bleeding dry of faith, I just miss you so. Pull me closer now, or please just let me go…”
“Love Me Or Leave Me” is a track made to be listened to while you cry and release pent up emotions. It will heal your heartache. Once the pain begins to heal, “Supergirl” is a track that is there to flaunt personal growth. On the track, Kerli is empowered and independent. “You say I’m not pretty, that no one else would fall for me […] But go look in the mirror after you drop your key, and see that all your sorrow, sure ain’t because of me.” Kerli’s heartbreak may have cracked her, but she is resilient and rises stronger than ever.
It surprises me that the song “Sugar” made the EP’s track listing, considering that everything about the song feels out of place on Utopia. “Sugar” is laid back, and hardly an electronic club-rocking track like Utopia‘s other love songs. “Sugar” is sexy and seductive, but it’s not as strong as the rest of the EP, and there are certainly far better and more congruous tracks that didn’t make the cut.
“Kaleidoscope”, for example, is a superb track that fits Kerli’s aesthetic for Utopia much better than “Sugar”. “The stars are dripping down the night sky. And if it’s a dream, please don’t wake me up,” Kerli sings on the track, which creates an aural celestial prism, living up to its name. Another track, “Speed Limit” also ranks higher than “Sugar”; Kerli’s love and respect for Asian culture is apparent on the track. It’s interesting to note a shift in Kerli’s outlook on life that is apparent from minor differences on “Speed Limit”‘s leaked demo and it’s would-be album reworking. Most noticeably is a lyric change, from “I’m sick of all my CDs, and the radio’s not playing Kerli” to the more optimistic “I’m sick of all my CDs, but the radio’s playing Kerli.” Such a subtle shift marks a profound difference on Kerli’s outlook, and the track takes on a much more uplifting vibe as a result.
On a personal note, “Speed Limit” is one of my favorites from Utopia, despite the fact that it isn’t the best on a more technical level. There is just something so charming, relatable and lovable about the production and lyrics. “Speed Limit” is about embracing a struggle, and the song’s lyrics are vague enough to be open to the interpretation best suited for the listener. Are you fighting to catch the eye of a crush, waiting patiently for them to notice you back? Or are you feeling stuck in life, knowing your full potential but having trouble bringing it into reality? “Speed Limit” is an encouraging track that serves as a guardian angel, sitting on your shoulder and whispering in your ear that you will succeed in whatever you go for, as long as you have a little thing called patience.
“Here and Now” is a track in the same vein as “Speed Limit”, and of the two tracks is the one that made the final cut. It’s a track about seizing the moment and forgetting the concept of forever. When you’re with the right lover, all that matters is the moments you have together, the memories of which will last a lifetime. “Here and Now” features an uplifting production that celebrates sharing your life with someone you love.
The remaining tracks from Kerli’s Utopia sessions, “Chemical” and “Last Breath” are similar in their content matter, but wildly different in their approach and execution. Both are splendidly affectionate love songs, although the more slow-tempo “Chemical” won out on the track listing with its richer lyrics and more stripped back, piano-led production. It’s a raw love song showing a rare side of Kerli that is intimate and untouched. It is breathtakingly beautiful, and very few people are lucky enough to truly know a love as pure as Kerli describes on the song.
Kerli’s adoration for her lover is extended on “Last Breath”, and she shows her willingness to die for true love. “Last Breath” rises and swells, another beautiful rollercoaster ride as co-writer and producer Jonas Jeberg manages to craft an almost literal sensation of motion and falling to perfectly match the track’s chorus: “If you were falling somewhere down to a fast death, If you were drowning I would give you my last breath.” Kerli and Jeberg unite to make true magic, with her lyrics and his production making it all too easily to bring “Last Breath” to life.
Much like most of Kerli’s career thus far, Utopia was a would-be album and ultimate extended play that was well ahead of its time. Kerli’s mind operates in higher times, and listeners have the honor of being enlightened by her uplifting songs. Those who get to experience Utopia will know the type of world Kerli wants to live in, and it’s a utopia indeed. With the pop landscape changing and Kerli’s new work becoming more authentic and limitless than ever, hopefully all that she has in store will propel her to even more widespread notoriety so she can change the world, as is her ultimate goal and destiny.