It’s easily forgotten these days that The X Factor originally followed in the footsteps of Pop Idol by having a panel of ‘industry’ judges, with even Sharon Osborne ostensibly present due to her career in music management rather than her reality show celebrity. This began to change with the addition of Dannii Minogue to the panel in 2007 and, with Cheryl Cole’s weepy three-year reign, the role of the ‘celebrity judge’ was cemented. These days each series of the show is preceded by months of feverish speculation over which celebrities will be joining the panel. It’s fair to say, however, that Tulisa’s elevation to the role of judge in 2011 was rather unexpected. Still only in her early 20s, Tulisa was best-known as the passable female voice in the moderately successful (and rather ridiculous) N-Dubz but would have been completely unfamiliar to much of the Saturday night audience who enjoy X Factor as a melodramatic reality show rather than for its musical aspects. If X Factor was hoping to gain a degree of edge and youthful credibility, Tulisa had clearly paid attention to the star-making role the show had played in Cheryl Cole’s career. It’s almost a surprise, then, that it’s taken Tulisa so long to release the inevitable solo album.
Any expectations of this meaning an album that has had heart and soul poured into it quickly dissipate, unfortunately. Further following in the footsteps of Cheryl, this is truly wretched pop which exists only as an extension of a television personality. Clocking in at an inexplicably-lengthy 16 tracks, The Female Boss is more endurance test than anything else, with the strong sense of ‘will this do?’ The album begins hilariously, with Tulisa delivering self-help guff about “inner beauty” over a portentous piano backing before the climactic line: “She is (lengthy dramatic pause) A FEMALE BOSS.” If such stabs at feminist sentiment are typical of many current female pop-stars, it’s still depressing that this female boss suffers from a paucity of imagination and ambition. Her feminism somewhat predictably manifests itself as a series of familiar songs about cheating boyfriends, having lots of money and going out a lot. It’s difficult to fathom how Tyga‘s turn on the grim Live It Up, wherein he boasts of “big titty girlfriends” and having “two by the leg, two bitches by the head”, fits into all this.
Such bafflement is typical of an album which has almost no identity of its own, instead sounding like a calculated effort to target certain demographic markets. This has already produced success with the Number 1 single Young, an efficient but uninspired banger which couldn’t be more blatant in its attempts to ape Rihanna‘s We Found Love. Rihanna is a frequent reference point on the record, making it easy to understand why Tulisa allegedly balked at performing on the same episode of X Factor as the Bajan phenomenon. Steal My Breath Away, meanwhile, sounds not unlike a b-side by co-judge Nicole Scherzinger.
The dominance of target markets over actual inspiration is nowhere clearer than on the astoundingly terrible British Swag, which finds Tulisa caricaturing her own nationality to declare “I know you love my accent darling” and “’I’m all about my dollars but I specialize in pounds.” God knows why an American audience would care. The song sounds even more ill-judged when, three tracks later, the horrific Foreigner finds Tulisa singing “foreigner, what you come around here for?” while dropping references to bombs, hostages and demands with all the nuance of a frenzied Daily Mail editorial. The latter is one of three contributions from The Dream which are a long, long way from Umbrella or Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It). British ‘Godfather of Grime’ Wiley pops up on Visa, a woeful ode to Tulisa’s credit card which we can only hope he was paid handsomely for.
Given Tulisa’s repeated emphasis of her urban roots, it’s somewhat surprising to find legendary American power-ballad writer Diane Warren pop up with Counterfeit. It sounds rather like Beyoncé‘s Halo, if Halo was rubbish and performed by someone who’d been dragged in from the street. It sharply highlights the inadequacy of Tulisa’s blank, heavily auto-tuned and frankly painful vocals.
There are brief moments of interest: Skeletons plays against the notoriety of Tulisa’s sex-tape ‘scandal’ and finds her attacking the hypocrisy of those who condemn her. It’s not great but at least offers something more than the tired urban stereotypes which so dominate elsewhere. Kill Me Tonight is another club banger yet offers hedonism as a desperate effort to escape from an underlying anger. Given the well-documented difficulties Tulisa has had to overcome, it’s an intriguing effort. For the most part, however, The Female Boss is a cynical and dire product which invites the riposte: Tulisa, you’re fired.