Review: Tori Kelly Flirts with Power on ‘Tori’

Tori Kelly
4/5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

It’s been four years since Tori Kelly came to terms with several major life transitions. From the death of her grandfather and her parents’ divorce to her marriage to basketball player André Murillo, all these moments are documented in her 2019 album, Inspired by True Events. Now, Kelly is settled in love, and herself, on the aptly named Tori.

Produced by Jon Bellion (Justin Bieber, Camila Cabello, Jonas Brothers), the seven-track EP illustrates some of Kelly’s most empowered songs to date.

Love in suspension, when you put up your guard / But I know I can make you believe / I’m the exception, Kelly’s velvet vocals deliver on the pining “cut.” The song picks up from delicate finger-picked acoustics to more fast-paced beats. Longing brews on “missin u,” which is treated to an “r&b edit” at the close of Tori. Denser pulses shift the mood on the afro beats-pulsed “unbelievable,” featuring Arya Starr and Kelly’s protective ode of “shelter”—Let me provide you a life raft / I know you’re alive, but you could be livin’ / If they try to bite, then I’ll bite back.

The progressively thumping “young gun,” features Bellion playing out a love affair with Kelly, who offers a more life-affirming piano ballad on “alive if I die.”’

Life has certainly kept Kelly absorbed since Inspired by True Events and her 2020 debut holiday album, A Tori Kelly Christmas. She’s also been busy with a collection of collaborations, including co-writing and singing on the track “Name” on Justin Bieber’s sixth album, Justice, in 2021, and returning as the voice of Meena on the animated Sing 2.

[RELATED: Tori Kelly Updates Fans Following Health Scare]

Maybe the former American Idol contestant and YouTube star, who released her debut Unbreakable Smile in 2015, followed by Hiding Places in 2018, has more to say about the past four years. For Kelly, who was hospitalized days before the release of the EP, Tori, is a vital interlude for the soulful pop star.

If brevity is the only shortcoming of Tori, there’s sure to be more soul-searching ahead since Kelly has a knack for revealing songs torn straight from the heart. 

Photos by Sasha Samsonova / Epic Records

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