Since the 2017 release of her first single, “Happy Again,” USC alumna and self-described bedroom R&B artist UMI, born Tierra Umi Wilson, rose to popularity as a genre-bending pioneer of lo-fi electronics and R&B. With multiple hit singles, including “Remember Me,” UMI establishes herself as more than just a vocal artist, pairing her unique sonic style with aesthetically imaginative, often self-directed video visualizers on her YouTube channel. Over the past few years, she’s garnered a following of more than 3 million monthly listeners on Spotify.
Her fourth EP, “Introspection,” becomes another masterpiece to add to her growing discography. Vulnerable and intricate, yet smooth and ambient, the six-song record allows listeners to peek into the candid inner workings of her mind in all its complexity, contemplation, hope and self-doubt.
UMI shares the details of her artistic exploration of the human condition in a 15-minute YouTube video titled “Introspection [The Film].” In it, she thoughtfully notes, “I’m the main character in my own story but a background character in other people’s,” and proceeds to feature each track through the eyes of different “main characters” at the same house party. “I call it introspection.”
Complete with a dark, smoky video visualizer, the EP’s title and opening track “Introspection” speaks to UMI’s fear of fully exposing her inner self and the resulting sense of detachment in her relationships. Echoing, distorted vocals and heavy, hazy synths pair seamlessly with lyrics such as “Wish the thoughts would go away / floatin’ farther away” and “Your pretty curls hide your pretty pearls” that might reflect a deeper frustration of putting up a facade for people who may never fully understand her thoughts. “Introspection” is a strong opening to the EP; its explicit vulnerability and somber, captivating melody is custom-made to be the socially anxious overthinker’s anthem.
Similar musical and lyrical themes are found throughout the record. With smooth, glassy vocals and cool, dense acoustic riffs, the next track, “Open Up,” addresses a melancholy farewell and apology to a romantic relationship damaged by her emotional guardedness. UMI’s ethereal, angelic vocals through the second verse are exceptionally electrifying in this gorgeously landscaped song.
While maintaining a slow, weighty sound, UMI strays from regret and declares freedom in “Where I Wander.” Over a relaxed, echoed synth and bass-heavy beat, her siren-like vocals call her to set herself free from a toxic relationship: “No need to keep fighting what you’re dealt … You were given options where to sail.” While dealing with more serious themes, this song’s energy is relatively low and difficult to catch onto compared to the previous two tracks.
Meanwhile, the second half of the EP transitions into lighter, more hopeful themes. The fourth track, “Bet,” is a dramatic shift in tone as UMI boldly cuts ties with a destructive, one-sided romantic relationship. Carrying a similar tone as her 2017 single “FRIENDZONE,” UMI swaps her typical muted electronic synths for a more traditional R&B sound as she calls her ex-partner out for their dishonesty, failure to commit and “clown shit,” making for a brutally spectacular breakup anthem.
On the other hand, “Pretty Girl hi!” taps into a lighter, floating synth and conveys the feeling of giddy hope when falling in love. While addressing a similar theme as “Love Affair” from her third EP “Love Language,” UMI’s intentions have clearly evolved, as she now pays closer attention to the little details of love rather than the mission of achieving it. As she excitedly lists out hopes for her future with this lover, the bubbly optimism to “Dance in just our baggy jeans” is sure to put a familiar fluttering in any listener’s stomach.
The final track, “Broken Bottle,” ultimately showcases UMI’s reflection on and acceptance of both her and her partner’s shortcomings in a failed relationship. With soft piano themes and rapid, celestial synth scales, it might be one of the most expertly crafted instrumentals in the entire EP. Lyrically, it delivers a resolution of forgiveness for all “broken bottles” that had been created in the relationship. As she admits, “Crazy I was a mess / Crazy you were so hollow” and “I did not get to say, to you / That I did have somethin’ to say / Forgive you’re from the ways, my dude.” With these lines, UMI suggests that perhaps the true ability to release emotional trauma stems from absolution and self-reflection.
A gifted artist in multiple respects, UMI proves through “Introspection” that she can deliver more than notable singles. Her relatable and humanizing self-reflection — paired with an impressive artistic intuition for cohesion, filmmaking, instrumentals and lyrics — undoubtedly shine through on this release, making a perfect late-night R&B soundtrack and captivatingly provocative film. “Introspection” is not only a fantastic listen but also an impressive career landmark of a noteworthy artist that listeners everywhere should keep their eye on.