Welcome to Junk Mail, where a few Music Times staffers email back-and-forth about each week's biggest release throughout the work day. This week, Carolyn Menyes, Yasmin Merchant, Ryan Middleton and Armon Sadler chat about Prince Royce's new album, Double Vision.
Carolyn Menyes: Prince Royce has had massive success over the last five years in the Latin world with three No. 1 albums and enough chart-topping singles to have a best-of album called #1s. So after taking on the first half of the 2010s in Spanish, the Latino star is now aiming to take on the rest of the pop world with his first full English album Double Vision.
There's no denying this guy has a voice like butter, sometimes he reminded me of a buttery, Latino Usher, and that's in no way a bad thing. However, as far as the actual production and material goes... I'm not so sold yet that Royce will be able to crossover a la his buddies Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull. What are your guys' initial thoughts?
Yasmin Merchant: Armon and I were saying that he remind us of Jason Derulo. Meaning, I could see dancing to his music at a party or something like that but I'm not sure this album is going to be the one that makes him a crossover artist. But he got some really good artists on the album and there are some decent songs, so I think he has potential.
Armon Sadler: Prince Royce is definitely a smooth guy and very popular with the ladies. And as an artist you should absolutely try and spread your music to all fanbases, so I applaud the attempt to crossover. I think that he could've done a much better job on this album, though. There are some songs with potential to breakout and be radio hits. No chart toppers here but songs you'll hear and recognize, nod your head to. The rest, to me, just sound like anything I've heard on Z100 or at a party before. The trouble is I may not be able to distinguish these from something from Jason Derulo or any similar artist.
Ryan Middleton: There is a clear attempt by Prince Royce here to go from being a superstar in the Latin music world to crossing over into the general world of pop, which is much more fickle and can embrace an artist one year and ignore them the next. He has the intangibles to make a global star with the voice, looks and style, but with this album it just feels like there is something missing. With that crossover move it just feels like he wanted to go for it, but was afraid to go full "English / U.S. pop" and leave behind his very loyal Spanish speaking fanbase.
I think we are all in agreement here that something is missing on this album, what didn't do it for you guys?
CM: I don't think there's anything wrong with Prince Royce maintaining that inherent Latin flavor -- I feel as if he really went full 2015 pop and R&B or EDM that he would be totally selling out instead of branching out. And you can have a big hit with sunny, foreign-inspired pop music. I mean, we are in the very middle of summer. The release of Double Vision is kind of perfectly times. Following a few weeks of Jamaica's OMI at the top of the charts with "Cheerleader," something from Prince Royce could easily hit the Hot 100's top 10 instead of the U.S. Latin Charts. There also is some of that little gritty Derulo-style music on here. That should come as no real surprise because this album's main producer Jason Evigan also produced Derulo's "Talk Dirty."
What seems to be missing is something really modern. This album feels about 15 years late for me in terms of pop style. I was sort of surprised that Darkchild had no hand in this because the heavy bass and that sort of electronic reverb reminded me so much of Destiny's Child or even Brandy, especially on the album's opening track "Stuck on a Feeling." Even the ballads like "Lucky One" or "Paris on a Sunny Day" have this boy band feeling to them.
Am I alone in this? In, like, 2002 this album could have been huge.
YM: No I totally agree with you on that. If this was the '90s or early 2000s, the girls would probably be going crazy over this: decorating their rooms with his posters, putting his lyrics on their Myspace profile, getting lunchboxes with his face on it (my NSYNC obsession was bad). He has a really nice falsetto voice that fits the romantic songs very well. I got the feeling he was going for an Enrique Iglesias or Ricky Martin vibe, especially with "Back It Up."
But I don't know... in my opinion he should stick to the sweeter, romantic songs instead of the gritty, edgy songs. That just seems forced to me. But I think he is still figuring out what kind of artist he wants to be in the English-speaking charts, so I think this was a good effort.
AS: I think what could save this album would be evoking the nostalgia of us '90s babies. As Carolyn pointed out, I heard "Stuck On A Feeling" and immediately thought I was listening to "Peaches and Cream" by 112, which I do think he was kind of going for. That'll grab lots of attention but I don't know how it'll hold up against the popular songs of today. In summation, I also think this album was a bit dated. What's popular in English/American pop is constantly changing and I think Royce isn't aware of what people are looking to hear.
But, as I previously said, some of his music kind of falls into the bunch of other songs people hear on a daily basis. I know I'm not the only one who thinks "Handcuffs" sounds like a less intense version of "Chains" by Nick Jonas, right?!?. They both even refer to methods of restraining people!
"Back It Up" has potential, but I see it being another one of those party hits that disappears after a while. Not much longevity here, on top of it being dated.
RM: Yeah what sounds dated and pretty lacking is the production. The smooth and more sensual jams get a pass because those are about the songwriting and his voice. Its on the poppier records where they could have gone for bigger and bolder production. It almost seemed scaled back to try and not such a brusque transition from Spanish to English albums. There are some bright spots like "Getaway," which falls back on his Latin influences, but a lot of the production seems to let Royce down.
Also hearing a RedOne shout out at the beginning of a track brought me right back to the mid-late-2000s with those big pop records from Lady Gaga and others. I guess they couldn't get Stargate or Dr. Luke to make a record.
Armon the similarities to "Chains" is spot on and not a coincidence as Evigen was a co-writer on the record.
What do you guys like in the album?
CM: The production really is a shame and it's bringing Double Vision down. Royce has big star potential and you can even feel hit material within some of these songs, but the subdued production (as you so wonderfully pointed out, Ryan) always ended up failing him.
When it comes to things that I LIKE... well, I like the meat of a lot of the poppier, R&B singles. Unlike you, Yasmin, I think Royce does better here. The ballads feel REALLY cheesy, which probably plays well in the Latin market if telenovellas have taught me anything, but the pop has a little bite to it, and that appeals to me. I think Tyga is a deplorable person and rapper, but the groove in the album's title track is really appealing. I can imagine bumping to this one in the clubs (if I were one to go to a club). I also think "Chemical" has a similar sort of production value, and while it lags a little bit in tempo, it's a nice little summer jam.
This album feels a little top-heavy to me. "Handcuffs" could have been a great track if it had a little more punch in its vocal melody, but on this album it totally works. I also think "Back It Up" is a really fun summer song. It may be a little too Latin to fully crossover in the U.S., but I have a feeling Royce's already massive fanbase will be bumping to that one for a long time.
YM: Well I just think there are too many pop artists doing the same exact thing so it didn't really appeal to me. I prefered the songs that had a bit of Latin flavor in them. The emotional ballads may feel a little cheesy, but Latin music just tends to have heightened emotions and be a little bit more dramatic so it probably comes from there. I really like when artists bring their own culture into their music.
He probably just needs to find a balance. He mentioned that he found the process for this album a little less organic than his usual albums. Bachata music is really focused on the instruments and the emotions of the music and I felt like that part of him got suppressed on some parts of the album.
AS: I liked that he injected some of his Latin flavor into it, and I think he may have been afraid to put more of that in the album due to his desire to crossover. But, as Ryan pointed out, he also didn't go entirely full English/U.S pop on some tracks either. There's the dilemma of completely selling out versus staying true to himself, which refers to the balance Yasmin mentioned.
I really like "Extraordinary." That's one song I could see with some radio longevity. I kind of got an Ed Sheeran feel from that and the more I listen, the more I see where the attempts to hit today's popular music "hit" and "missed."
Echoing the top-heavy sentiment. There are a couple of ways Royce could have been cerebral about the placement of his songs, in terms of getting people to listen to the album all the way through. However, he definitely put his best foot forward with the first half of the album, especially the top three songs.
RM: I agree that the album does seem a bit top heavy with the hits and the features especially, potentially a way to try and draw fans in, but also an acknowledgment that they struggled to put together a full 12 (16 for the deluxe edition) track album of hits.
Some of the standouts for me include "Stuck On A Feeling" with Snoop Dogg, which has a different type of funk to it from the reggeaton beats that are found in "Back It Up." The slow jams will work with his traditional audience and especially his female fans who will line up in the front row of a concert to be serenaded to, but "Chemistry" and the bonus track "Getaway" are two of the strongest attempts at going pop. I think the bonus tracks are stronger then some of the other tracks on the album, which is normally not the way artists and labels like to organize their albums.
How does this flow for you guys as an album and what do you think is the lasting value of the project?
CM: We've already touched pretty heavily on how much the first, say, five tracks of this album stand out, so I'll leave it at that for how I feel like it flows. When we're talking about a balance between ballads and bangers, I think that Double Vision has maybe a few too many mid-tempo tracks and those float away from me.
Lasting value... it will be interesting to see how Royce moves forward. I think with the right producers behind him and maybe a few different co-writers, he could have a Hot 100 hit that floats above No. 43 (where "Stuck on a Feeling" peaked). As far as where this album will fit into the pop music lexicon and Royce's career... let's peg it as a transition phrase. This LP isn't the fiery Latin pop we need, instead it's a little lukewarm. I had higher expectations.
YM: I also think that the bonus tracks are stronger than a lot of the others, which is weird and a little disorganized. There are a few singles on here that I believe will intrigue the English speaking audience enough to keep an eye on Royce, but I agree that this album is more of a transition than anything else. Hopefully he takes some time to find his artistic voice and then follows it up with something stronger.
AS: I really don't have anything new to add so I won't, simply because I agree with Carolyn and Yasmin. Even if this album isn't a huge hit on the market, which I doubt it will be, it's lasting value will be more so influential on Royce in terms of how he goes about the next project. He's definitely capable of crossing over but this album wasn't indicative of what he can do. There will be some successes here, with some songs doing well on the radio, but this won't be an album discussed for decades in the industry. A learning experience for Prince Royce, more than anything.
RM: Yeah I think the album flows like a group of singles. The problem is that when some of the singles don't hit you have yawns and people going on the next song. It is odd that there are some real standouts in the bonus tracks, but that could be an attempt to bring people in for the full LP.
As for its lasting impact, I doubt it will have the same type of success he had with his prior albums, though it could go number one just based on the lack of competition this week, the low numbers you need these days to reach that plateau and his huge fan base. This will be a lesson as to whether or not he wants to go full English pop or return to Latin.
CM: Prince Royce had a lot to prove on Double Vision, but I fear he only got halfway there. The songwriting was perfectly fine but in the end, he could have used a few more gripping hooks and production that's more in line with 2015, not 2005. Despite this, he struck a solid balance between his Latin roots and pop future, and with the help of some better songwriters and producers in the future, he could finally hit it big in the U.S. pop market; he definitely has the smooth, silky voice for it.
YM: Prince Royce has all the elements needed to make a good crossover star. He's super talented, attractive, and I love how he started from humble beginnings. This album shows promise, so if he treats it as a learning experience I think he will be able to find his place in the U.S. market.
AS: I feel Prince Royce will always be a hearthrob and produce some of the most popular Latin music for as long as he is around. I commend the crossover effort and definitely see potential, this just didn't exactly hit the mark for me. I'll be looking to see how this album does and what he puts out in the future, if he does continue with this, though.
RM: Prince Royce had a tall task of going from a superstar Latin artist to a superstar crossover act that appeals in both the Latina and traditional pop markets. Double Vision was a tentative attempt at this move to try and appeal to an English speaking audience (or at least English listening audience), but it falls a bit short of that singular goal.
He has laid some good ground work to either continue the crossover into English-speaking pop or return to making music for the Latin market without too large of an adjustment. It will be interesting to see how this album does with fans new and old and his moves in the future.