“Another Life,” the first song on PinkPantheress’ long-awaited debut album, Heaven Knows, opens with the ominous sound of an electrified cathedral organ. The collaboration with Nigerian musician Rema, in which the British singer wakes up next to her partner only to find him dead, fittingly sounds like a funeral. “Can you please wake up, babe? Now you’re scaring me,” she sings, before coming to terms with her reality: “Guess you died today, and I can’t believe it. You lost your soul, you know that you can’t stop this.” It’s the same sound of looming darkness that appeared in the one-minute trailer for the album, released ahead of its arrival. In the clip, a man with a coarse voice deeply contrasting to the singer’s own angel-soft tone ponders: “The first time will be different for everyone. What will your experience be like?” That mystery — whether he’s referring to a first encounter with what awaits on the other side, or a person’s first time living — sparks something in PinkPantheress, who embarks on a search for meaning across the 13-song record.
PinkPantheress’ preoccupation with mortality as it relates to romance — or the ways in which life continues for everyone back home while she’s thousands of miles away — will strike familiar themes for listeners who have followed her rise so far. She explored similar notions on her 2021 mixtape, To Hell With It, and last year’s Take Me Home EP. On those releases, U.K. garage and drum-and-bass collided with obscure dance samples as the singer crafted bite-size glances into the anxiety surrounding fame, loss, and growing up. Her revised approach to the sound and fashion of the early 2000s immediately engraved her signature on pop culture, but she carefully maintained her physical anonymity for as long as she could and to this day safeguards her real name. Her early, anonymous beginnings on TikTok and Soundcloud left her with a separate place to retreat. The songs on those releases barely reached the two-minute mark. When she performed live, she was on and off the stage in a flash, her purse rarely ever leaving her shoulder.
But throughout Heaven Knows, PinkPantheress seems acutely aware of how high the stakes have been raised. The songs hover comfortably between two and four minutes. The album also marks the first instance in which the 22-year-old singer-songwriter-producer recorded outside of London. Collaborations with big names like Mura Masa, Greg Kurstin, London on Da Track, Cash Cobain, and others led her to Los Angeles, where she has also put down roots over the past two years. The farther she swims out, the faster the shoreline begins to disappear. “How many times do I dream of reaching out?” she asks on “Blue.”
The buzz of her new environment can be heard in the anxious stories she weaves across the album. The live instruments she introduces mingle with layers of harmonies that provide the feelings she explores with rich sonic and emotional textures. She communicates a novel curiosity about the people and resources she now has access to, and a sense of wonder that manifests in twisted “what if” scenarios. PinkPantheress’ collaborators on the album also play with ideas of connection and distance — when to open up and when to pull back — like Ice Spice’s emotional tug-of-war on “Boys a Liar, Pt. 2,” Central Cee’s cheeky infidelity on “Nice to Meet You,” and Kelela’s resistance toward being the first to commit on “Bury Me.”
Heaven Knows is split directly down the middle by “Internet Baby,” a starry-eyed interlude nodding to PinkPantheress’ online roots. “My SDs and USBs, you want all of those, and now you want to borrow my clothes,” she thrums. “You’re a needy guy, but I guess I kind of like that,” she sings, still familiarizing herself with giving and receiving attention. “You came on too strong, but I guess I kind of like that.” For someone who has maintained such a guarded attitude during her brief rise, such cautious vulnerability can feel like a big risk.
Fittingly, right after that moment of hesitant connection, tragedy reminds her why she remained weary for so long. Introducing the second half of the album, “Ophelia” begins in a similar way to “Another Life,” except it’s lighter, like the gentle strum of a harp. The serenity is disrupted by the sound of police sirens and submerged vocals as PinkPantheress narrates a cautionary tale about how ignoring your instincts can get you killed. “I can’t believe the fear in me when I had knocked on your door now/And when I went inside and realized I’m the only one that arrived, I wish I stayed at home in bed ’cause then I might have survived,” she sings, effectively becoming the tracks’s titular drowned Shakespearean heroine because of her own naiveté.
On “True Romance,” PinkPantheress delivers her own play on Lady Gaga’s “Paparrazi.” Over hand claps and acoustic-guitar strums littered with the clicks of flashing cameras and cheering crowds, she yearns to stand out. “I’m in the crowd, can you see my hand?” she asks, pleading, “Bring me on tour, help me understand.” It’s deliciously obsessive and wholly immersive, mirroring the urgency of her fantastical visions on “The Aisle,” where she haunts the one that got away. Even when she’s faking a relationship with an alcoholic and her fairytale romance is falling apart on the R&B-tinged “Feel Complete,” the singer’s devotion runs deep.
Money is PinkPantheress’ other true object of affection on the record. But her feelings toward it are just as unfamiliar and uncertain as her romantic explorations. It can offer her protection, but it also signals potential destruction. She wonders what would happen if she were to lose it all financially (“Mosquito” and “Blue”), romantically (the pop triumph “Capable of Love”), and in terms of her newfound sense of celebrity (the dizzying electro-pop cut “Feelings,” where she sings, “I realize that I’m peaking too early/But I don’t want that making you worry/’Cause no one ever told me to”).
But if PinkPantheress often seems adrift in apprehension and loneliness, she inhabits the LP’s different purgatorial states with the same confidence that made her early releases so appealing. She’s never quite distressed, or at least not enough to truly lose touch with whatever seems to be eternally slipping away — be it love, money, or life itself. On Heaven Knows, when PinkPantheress hits a dead end, she just builds a new road forward from scratch.