Ever since Lil Nas X went viral with Old Town Road, in 2019, TikTok has altered the trajectory of the music industry in a big way. Without the social-media platform, artists such as PinkPantheress may well have remained a project dreamed up on GarageBand in her university dorm room.
Instead, the 22-year-old signed a big-label deal, released an acclaimed mixtape (To Hell With It, from 2021) and topped the BBC’s Sound of 2022 poll. Despite her rising-star status, the Kent native has attempted to cultivate a sense of mystery until recent times, clutching her real name (Victoria Walker) to her chest like a trade secret. As a millennial, however, she will be no doubt aware that there are no secrets on the internet when you’re famous.
PinkPantheress’s youth is stamped all over her debut album, from the lyrical themes she explores (relationships, romance, loneliness) to her girlish vocals, to the various interpolations of songs dotted throughout these 13 tracks; alongside melodies by McFly, Skrillex and Example, a snippet of Spandau Ballet on Nice to Meet You sounds positively ancient. That same rawness is audible on Walker’s lyric sheet. True Romance is a commentary on parasocial relationships that reads like an open letter to an idol (“I got a tattoo just to show how much I care”) while Capable of Love claims “There’s no other place I’d want to be / Than sat here replying to someone on a screen”. Young love, eh?
These are undoubtedly songs for millennials, although there are moments of nostalgia for older listeners, too, not least on Boy’s a Liar Pt 2, which features Ice Spice and sounds like the thematic successor to TLC’s No Scrubs. The rapper is one of several guests here, although some seemed clumsily shoehorned in; others, such as Kelela, fare better, her soulful thrum a necessary counterpoint to Walker’s vaporous ricochet.
The biggest problem with Heaven Knows, however, is that, despite the big names drafted in for Heaven Knows (most notably Greg Kurstin, who cowrote and produced several tracks), it all sounds rather samey. The influence of the electronic producer Mura Masa is keenly felt throughout, although that’s not always a good thing; although PinkPantheress gleefully plunders 1990s 2-step and garage hits – the bittersweet track Mosquito sounds like Trusteppers and Artful Dodger never went away – that echoed ping effect soon grows tiresome.
All told, there isn’t enough here to sustain momentum across a full album, despite its brief 34-minute length. It feels as if PinkPantheress’s career could go any way after this: is she flavour of the month, a sweet hit of nostalgia or the future of music? Heaven knows.