On her fourth album, Superstar, Caroline Rose concocts an irresistible and delightfully self-aware depiction of falling in love with fame. The slim album tracks a classic “girl meets celebrity, girl loses celebrity, girl vows to get celebrity back no matter what” tale of the intoxicating brush with fame and success that can so easily distort a person. The synth-heavy, shiny electronic-pop of each song perfectly suits the artifice that Caroline Rose’s character puts on, again and again, to achieve what she wants. The album is not a drag, however, but is an enjoyable pop album you can enjoy on a surface level without contemplating some of Superstar’s darker undertones.
The album’s 11-song arc hits all of the entertaining and enticing beats of a tragic Hollywood entanglement. In “Nothing’s Impossible,” Caroline Rose’s soaring vocals with a slightly busy, but enthusiastic, production conveys the optimistic but naïve ambition of Rose’s character. She declares, “no one is gonna’ stand in my way/ even if I have to leave this whole city in flames.” “Got to Go My Own Way” is an undeniably catchy pop jam, all about a person filled with a burning sensation to leave her small town and show everyone what a star she really is. The specificity of her fantasies about fame, with a mix of imagining how rich and fabulous she will be, but also how humble she’ll be about it, highlights Rose’s wry sense of humor.
The ambition present in the first two songs quickly segues into anxiety about losing what she’s gained in “Do You Think We’ll Last Forever.” Here, Rose sounds especially upbeat to mask the anxiety-ridden lyrics. The excessive falseness of the track’s mood, however, does make it less instantly memorable than the surrounding tracks that are steeped in delusions that particularly benefit good pop songwriting.
“Feelings Are a Thing of the Past” and “Feel the Way I Want” go hand-in-hand, with the former being an instrumental interlude. The conflicting ideas present in the titles also contribute well to the over-arching aspiring superstar narrative. As this burgeoning “superstar” begins to settle into fame, she realizes that there are unique limitations that come with it: namely, that she cannot exhibit her feelings as freely as she likes. “Feel the Way,” however, illustrates the dissonance fame creates between reality and fantasy as Rose sings that “I am on strike against my body and mind/ what once was pain is now pleasure of mine.” Again, the hooky nature of the pop song makes it easy to glide past the track’s undertones. This makes it enjoyable on two levels: a sassy kind of pop tune and an example of how celebrity damages while appearing benign.
That conflict between pleasure and pain moves easily into “Freak Like Me,” in which Rose writes from the perspective of someone who enjoys being submissive in an S&M relationship. This is the first track on the album to take a slower approach, as Rose settles into this Superstar life and the manic passion of the first few tracks dissipates. “Someone New” takes the relationship metaphor a step further and depicts a kind of breakup, while simultaneously illustrating the never-ending cycle of hot new things in Hollywood. “You’ve found someone new,” Rose sings, “she looks just like me… but let me make this easy for you/I’ll become someone new.” The music takes a notable turn for the minor key in this track, which lasts through the rest of the album. These darker, moodier songs contain some of the best tracks of the album, including “Someone New,” “Pipe Dreams,” and the finale “I Took a Ride.”
“Pipe Dreams” is an especially compelling song, because of Rose’s relatively low-key performance as the singer and temporarily fallen starlet convinces herself to give “regular life” a try. The laidback nature of Rose’s music and performance makes this an intriguing pause on the album and one that adds a compelling texture and variety to Superstar.
The album closes with “Command Z,” as Rose hits “undo” on her ordinary life and first fling with superstardom. “Back at the Beginning” returns us slightly to the early part of Superstar’s upbeat ambition, albeit with a wiser and somewhat more somber touch. Although both of these tracks are a touch too subdued, the final track, “I Took a Ride,” leaves a fantastic final impression. The darkest synths present on the album cloak Rose’s declarations that “no way, no how, no one is going to stop me now.” Rose sidesteps the easy finale of “Back at the Beginning” by presenting us with a darker Superstar ending indicating the story never ends.
Caroline Rose’s deft handling of theme and character throughout Superstar is the icing on a cake made of pop hooks and Rose’s distinct perspective and wit.