Written By Hailey Oppenlander

A few years ago, I remember seeing Alessia Cara perform on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. In a world where people always comment on what women wear or expect them to look a certain way, (especially for a New Year’s Eve broadcast), I loved Cara’s choice to wear a large flannel and a ponytail. Unlike some other younger stars, she felt relatable and real. I could tell she was someone whose star power came from her raw talent and not from a crafted “celebrity” image. Although I was just watching from my TV, her live performance sounded just as good as, if not better than, on the radio.

Cara releases two new singles, “Shapeshifter” and “Sweet Dream,” today on July 15, continuing her line of pop music that is soulful and relatable. The Canadian singer-songwriter rose to fame with 2015’s “Here,” an anthem for those disenchanted by teenage parties. Its success showed people’s desire for a new kind of pop star, one without pretensions. Her voice continued to be a staple on the radio thanks to hits like “Scars to Your Beautiful,” a reflection on body image and beauty standards, and an electronic collaboration with Zedd, “Stay.”

Cara shows a new side to her music on these two new tracks, which will be the lead singles from her third studio album. Though the two singles are being released together, they have unique sounds and subjects that give way to two very different listening experiences.

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Shapeshifter

On the first track, “Shapeshifter,” Cara proves that she herself can be a musical shapeshifter as she experiments with a new sound than what I’ve heard from her previous hit tracks. The tune has an almost tango feel, driven by the prominent beat of a stringed instrument and a sultry vocal performance that shows off Cara’s lower register. Her effortless runs fit the song just as perfectly as the silences, conveying betrayal and bitterness towards a love interest who hasn’t been honest:

“Did I get fooled or are you a fool just like me?”

The pacing of the lyrics in “Shapeshifter” furthers the feeling behind the song, with Cara taking rhythmic freedoms that make the song seem driven by emotion rather than convention. I love how Cara sings the following lyrics that play with internal rhyme:

“Who was I to think that I could stop the sun from setting on us / You said you wouldn’t break your promise Mr. Honest”

Sweet Dream

Sweet Dream” is an addictive, quirky pop tune, and my favorite of the pair. It goes through many different sounds in one song, starting with doo-wop-sounding harmonies that take us back in time for a moment before modern beats emerge and give the song a more contemporary feel. 

Despite the overall bubbly sound of the song, the lyrics tackle dark and unsettling topics – not being able to fall asleep because you’re burdened by your own thoughts, but knowing that sleep is the only escape:

“Daylight helps distract my head / Monsters hide under my bed / They bother me with all kinds of things / Like where do I go when I’m dead”

The verses take us with Cara from 4:55 to 8:31 in the morning, from not being able to fall asleep because of all the thoughts running through her mind to grabbing a cup of coffee to get through the day.

The chorus is reminiscent of Julia Michael’s “Issues” – with minimal background noises, listeners can fully latch onto Cara’s tone like a lullaby. But, just as you think you can be crooned to sleep by Cara’s sweet voice, the upbeat and powerful electronic post-chorus soars in for a perfect dance break, giving us bedroom pop at its best. 

One of my favorite sections of the song is the bridge, where Cara’s voice is soft and airy for dream-like harmonies as she pleas: 

“Sandman can you visit me / All I want is a sweet dream”

The harps in the background give the bridge an even more heavenly, ethereal quality. 

As I was reviewing the song, I couldn’t get the tune out of my head. This track is quintessentially Cara – a relatable pop tune that covers topics we don’t talk about enough.