It’s been quite the past 18 months for Tulisa Contostavlos. Elevated from vaguely familiar vocalist in chav-rap trio N-Dubz to tabloid-dominating household name (thanks to her unexpected appointment to The X-Factor UK judging panel), she’s also had to deal with the fall-out from a leaked sex-tape which has made her the punch-line to nearly every joke on British TV.
Her debut album, The Female Boss, occasionally alludes to such troubles. The feisty Diane Warren-penned “Counterfeit” sees Tulisa use a wealth of currency metaphors to describe the deceit in a relationship, while the atmospheric R&B of “Skeletons” confesses to the various secrets she has tucked away in her closet. But for the most part, it’s a fairly anonymous record which could have been released by any of the talent show contestants whose careers she’s helped to guide.
There are the banging Ibiza club tunes (“Live Your Life,” “Kill Me Tonight”), the half-hearted attempts at dubstep (“Damn”) and the obligatory showy ballads (“Habit,” “Steal My Breath Away”); but it all feels rather joyless, as if it’s been designed by committee to capitalise on her prime-time exposure, smoothing out all her rough-around-the-edges in the process.
Admittedly, it’s a welcome relief to hear Tulisa’s gutsy vocals without the moronic interjections from her brainless bandmate Dappy. But the array of bizarre accents she uses, such as Jamaican patois on the glitchy skank-pop of “Foreigner,” or Cockney geezer on the nursery-rhyme dub-pop of “British Swag,” suggests she’s missing having someone to bounce off.
The Female Boss occasionally lives up to its billing. Lead single “Young” is a gloriously euphoric floorfiller featuring the best ravey build-up since Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” while the Caribbean swagger of Tyga collaboration “Live It Up” and The-Dream’s understated production on “Sight Of You” indicate Tulisa might have been better off sticking to her urban roots.
But in the end, The Female Boss ends up getting caught in no man’s land. Too safe for her ‘N-Dublet’ fan base, not safe enough for the family-friendly audience she now appeals to on the Cowell TV juggernaut, it ultimately leads to the question: will the real Tulisa please stand up?