Heart On My Sleeve
Ella Mai knows her way around a love song. We've known that for years—certainly since her 2017 single “Boo'd Up” proved a breakout sensation—but her second album cements her as one of R&B's preeminent heart healers. Heart on My Sleeve is filled with the kind of desperate pleas and resolute statements of adoration that could soften even the hardest of hearts. With a voice made of satin and honey, she sings of love in the way so many wish to feel it—vulnerable and terrified yet thoroughly convinced it's worth it. The lead singles, “DFMU” (which stands for “don't fuck me up”) and “Leave You Alone” (“I can't leave you alone,” goes the staccato and Auto-Tune hook), were the perfect appetizers for what proves to be a buffet of tender devotion intertwined with blind infatuation. On the gorgeous “Break My Heart,” Mai welcomes the heartache if it means feeling the rush for even a second: “Face my fears, ’cause if I had to choose who could break my heart, baby, it would be you,” she confesses on the hook. “Fallen Angel” literally invokes the heavens with a cameo from a Kirk Franklin-led choir that slides seamlessly into the lament of “How,” which, despite its grievances, still manages an optimistic bent. Elsewhere, tracks like “Pieces” and “A Mess” are about leaning into a person and the feelings they stir up, even when it doesn't necessarily make sense. The songs here aren't naive to the problems or immune to the pain, but instead reflect someone choosing love again and again. It's far too easy to keep our walls up—and in a voice note at the end of “Sink or Swim,” Mary J. Blige in fact implores us to “guard that heart” from those who don't deserve us—but Heart on My Sleeve also reminds us of the potential rewards that await on the other side.