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Where the Neon Lights Sing: Kehlani Reinvents the Cycle of Self-Destruction on "CRASH"

To put it in gambling terms (though I have never once set foot in a casino), if blue water road was Kehlani betting the house on love, CRASH, their fourth studio album, is the unadvisable follow-up bet that most certainly ends in disaster. It's a raunchy, sweaty, hot 'n' heavy record teeming with jealousy and less than subtle themes of loneliness and self-sabotage. While blue water road had its own heaping helping of innuendos, it was quilted together by commitment and tireless monogamy. CRASH instead careens into the carnal pleasures of the flesh, hypnotized by the inebriating gaze of temporary company.

CRASH raises the curtain to "GrooveTheory," picking up right where blue water road left off. "everything" left our main characters on the up, with Kehlani listing out all the best qualities about their lover, all the subtleties that made them fall in love and everything she adds to their life. "GrooveTheory," however, opens with a contrasting revelation, "I'm not the one," setting the stage for the album's ensuing chaos as Kehlani drives away, flipping through radio stations. Following their shattering revelation, they fall into a fit of jealous denial on "Next 2 U." The album's second single, produced by DIXSON and OAK, finds Kehlani out reminding themselves of how much they love their partner, of all that they do for her, and the destructive things they'd do to keep anyone and everyone from her.

The night soon gets the better of them, the drinks are flowing and the music is right. As the liquid courage begins to take the wheel, Kehlani starts throwing themself into every momentary distraction that presents itself. The seductive, smooth rationalization of "What I Want" and the infectious kick drum hammering through the speakers on "After Hours" convolute and melt the night together; everything feels right, don't let it end, they start casting lines, "I know you don't wanna leave," "I'ma turn you into the baddest bitch they ever seen," before crossing the inevitable threshold to the point of no return.

Unfortunately, as we soon find out, the consequences of our actions are never far behind us. Kehlani tries, with mixed success, to convince their lover it didn't mean anything on the subsequent tracks. "I would choose this dance with you in every life," they fervently beg on "Better Not," earning them a second chance, being told they "better not [get caught] doing that shit again." But what's already in motion can't be stopped, the seed of mistrust has already started sprouting, now growing between the cracks in the relationship still under construction.

They try to move past it, leave the betrayal behind and work towards their future together as things begin to finally move towards the positive, "what happens here stays here, it's just like Vegas." But old wounds make themselves known on "Deep," tensions rise, arguments and fights become unavoidable, "watch how you speak, watch how you talkin’ to me," driving a wedge between them. But despite it all, paying no mind to mistakes made at the height of passion, it clicks, "I don't need to sign no papers, NDAs, just two gold rings and bootleg Elvis and my baby."

But the dream only lasts so long. Kehlani gets comfortable, tensions rise and they start fighting without thinking once again. They get too friendly on a night out reminiscent of the night alluded to earlier in the album, "dancin' on my homegirls, throwin' ass on a few strangers." Lost in the haze of money, mistakes and temporary fixes, a sobering moment of realization creeps up on Kehlani. The strippers and liquor stop being enough to stop the momentous cloud of dread hanging over their head. The fun dwindles, friends trickle home, and as the night comes to a close, the reality of their actions becomes painfully clear, "I might lose my wife tonight."

CRASH paints a beautiful, nuanced picture of the human condition, of our intrinsic desire for companionship constantly at odds with our animalistic and nomadic tendencies, glueing us to the mirror to reveal our frightened and impulsive true selves. This is all we are, they tell us, but not all we have to be. Kehlani delves firsthand into the ideas of temptation and human error, but doesn't shy away from the possibility of retribution. The first two acts of the LP are veiled by misguided self-destruction and jealousy, but the third pulls back the curtains of worldly pleasures and urges for self reflection. CRASH is a violent warning and a gentle nudge; a reminder that regardless of the mistakes we we make or the vicious cycles we find ourselves trapped in, we are always capable of change.

Rob Lucchesi


1 Comment

han gu
han gu
7 days ago

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