Syd trades bravado for vulnerability on Broken Hearts Club
On her sophomore album, the artist finds euphoria despite being in the thick of a breakup.
We love when our stars talk their shit, but we relate to them the most when they bare their souls — and in recent years, Syd has learned that firsthand. Through her roles as an in-house producer, engineer, and DJ for Odd Future and the lead singer for The Internet, the progressive soul band she co-founded with fellow OF member Matt Martians, her ethereal vocals and flirtatious allure have quietly influenced the rising era of women in R&B. The Internet built a devoted following with their 2013 sophomore album Feel Good, a cathartic opus that used deep cuts like “Red Balloon” and “Cloud of Our Own” to paint affection as floating on a high and defying gravity despite any need for a reality check.
But on Syd’s 2017 solo debut Fin, the artist leaned into her cocky, braggadocious side; The Internet’s two most recent albums, recorded after inducting guitarist Steve Lacy into the group, have done the same. But while those works were undeniably successful — garnering positive reviews, landing on multiple year-end lists, and earning a Grammy nomination — Syd since realized her fans prefer vulnerability. She heeds their desires on her new album, Broken Hearts Club. “They didn’t really care about my flexing like that,” Syd said in a recent interview with DIY Magazine. “That influenced this album a lot, because I let go of trying to prove something to somebody.”
Broken Hearts Club finds the closest kinship to Always Never Home, Syd’s post-Fin 2017 three-track solo EP that has her tracing the complexities of love and keeping her cool while contemplating whether her relationship was worth it. But where she once traded in emotiveness for take-your-girl “flexing,” Syd’s sophomore album gets to the root of her disenchantment. Musing through heartbreak, Syd opts for dreamy soundscapes with her signature vaporous octaves and heavy 80s synths. Syd goes toe-to-toe with the deeply-pitched vocals of Justin Daye on “CYBAH,” an acronym for “Can You Break a Heart.” Over slow-burn production reminiscent of “The Beautiful Ones” from Prince’s Purple Rain, she breaks the ice by moving past superficial pleasantries to question her lover about their true intentions. The jagged “BMHWDY” sees Syd facing her broken state as she and an ex exchange their belongings after their separation, while on the closing track “Missing Out,” she unconvincingly seeks solace when telling her former flame that they’re better off without each other. Syd and her partner broke up near the beginning of the pandemic, and the poignancy is palpable. “You read stories about people not getting over a breakup for ten years because they just put their head down and go to work. I didn’t want that to be me,” Syd told The Cut, while reflecting on that time. “I was just like … Let me cry for three months, and then I’ll be ready to write.”
While heartbreak is the titular theme of the album, sadness isn’t its only emotion. On the bouncy “Tie the Knot,” Syd vets a new romantic prospect but holds her cards close: “Lately, I've been thinkin'/Don't want it to end before it begins/Really wanna go the distance, but it depends/Tell me if it's somethin' you believe in.” The Smino-featured “Right Track” beams with the fresh optimism of new love, and the lead single “Fast Car” finds her and a love interest pulling over for window-fogging sex on the side of the road. Bedroom anthems such as “No Way” and “Control” eschew the explicit, lusty lyricism of Fin to stay true to Broken Hearts Club’s passionate intimacy, while songs like “Sweet” and “Goodbye My Love” owe production nods to Stevie Wonder’s 1972 reverie Talking Book. There are multiple collaborations on Broken Hearts Club, but Kehlani steals the show on the guitar-led track “Out Loud,” her latest feature for another queer artist since she came out as lesbian in 2021. Both comfortable in their own skin and identities, Syd and Kehlani soar on the mellow ballad.
While songs like “Missing Out” and “Goodbye My Love” seek closure and contentment with the separation, they don’t convincingly achieve it — but that’s just as much a part of the process. It’s an experience anyone who has been through heartbreak can attest to — and with her own first major breakup behind her, Syd has recognized that she’s able to handle it. “I think fear of the unknown is also very real and not knowing what that pain could be like is also scary,” she told UPROXX. “So now I know that I could get through it. … I learned a lot in that process. I’m less afraid these days.” The final stage of grief acts as a passage into a new dawn, and on Broken Hearts Club, Syd waves her sentimental flag high, taking command of her post-breakup healing with all of its woes and thorniness.