A major part of the Great Swift Debates of 2020 has involved the idea of “authenticity.” With Folklore, Swift was consciously playing into a common critical bias: the assumption that less production, joy, and fun makes an album more real and honest (I also mentioned this in my post about Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher, so it’s been on my mind lately). Jessie Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure? serves as a useful counterargument: it’s a big, bold pop album with some of the smoothest production you’ll hear, but it’s also undeniably authentic in its goals and presentation.
Ware operates under the increasingly novel idea that music (especially pop) should be enjoyable to listen to. What’s Your Pleasure? plays sort of like the more worldly older sister of Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, using disco-flavored sounds of the past to create songs that are perfect for the current moment. In a context where artists like Swift are trying to earn indie acclaim with their take on boring bearded dude folk, and others are using music more as a vessel for shrill political grandstanding, this album is refreshing in its direct, unpretentious presentation. And while a lot of art made by women lately has a trendy misandrist tone where they berate shitty men — which is understandable, but gets old — What’s Your Pleasure? has a pleasantly inclusive vibe. This album is fun for everyone, and even the most dancefloor-resistant socially awkward dudes (don’t know any myself, just hypothetical) will have a hard time resisting it.
Fitting its nostalgic sound, the lyrics and tone of What’s Your Pleasure? are similarly a throwback, with its focus almost entirely on feminine desire (or, more bluntly, horniness). This can be interpreted partly as Ware capturing her own feelings, but also as a tribute of sorts, as she emulates the sexed-up pop of the past in a way that borders on being campy or semi-ironic. Ware captures this without quite crossing the line into tawdriness, aided by her voice that is sophisticated and soulful. She commands these songs with her singing and presence, and I think her complete confidence is the key to making this album work when it could have teetered into being cheesy. A lot of the fun in listening to this comes from hearing her performance, which is at such a high level without ever taking itself too seriously.
The album’s immaculate production is the other hook, with horns, strings, and pulsing rhythms creating the sensual and funky disco sound that Ware is looking for. The sound is cohesive, but Ware explores a few different moods and styles within this framework. “Ooh La La” and “Read My Lips” are the silly and campy side of her, while the last two tracks, “The Kill” and “Remember Where You Are” are slower, more sincere and soulful. Really, every song is a highlight, and the mix of humor, seriousness, flirtiness, and longing give it depth. Ware has captured a wide range of human emotions on What’s Your Pleasure? and done it in a way that is authentic and a blast to listen to.