Following three years of peculiar but persistently catchy EPs and critical buzz-building, England's Nilüfer Yanya arrives with Miss Universe, the singer/songwriter's first longform statement. With breakout tracks like 2016's "Keep On Calling" and 2018's "Baby Luv," the West Londoner introduced the bones of her sound, which generally revolve around a quietly smoldering electric guitar part, a handful of beats, and the bluesy, mumbled staccato that marks her unique vocal delivery. Like an urban magpie weaving bits of pop, soul, indie rock, jazz, and hip-hop into her nest, Yanya's artful and often minimalist guitar pop comes from a contemporary place and on Miss Universe, with both pathos and humor, she tackles the overly commercialized industry that has built up around that most fragile of concepts: the self-image. Punctuating the album's 12 core songs are brief, quirky interludes portraying a self-care program called WWAY Health during which she (presumably as Miss Universe) alternately delivers affirmations of comfort, provides dire warnings, and falls apart in cold glitchy phone tree menus. These shorter tracks provide an interesting framework for full-length songs like the irresistibly punchy "In Your Head" and "Angels," which cover themes of ambition, anxiety, falling apart, and reaching too high. Later on, during the album's second half, the tone shifts somewhat and becomes jazzier and more ethereal, especially on cuts like "Melt" and "Safety Net," which deal more directly with relationships and matters of the heart. Yanya covers a wide breadth of styles and emotions here and even if it all doesn't hang together perfectly, Miss Universe is a fascinating debut that is reflective of the pressures we place on ourselves and others which all too often result in a striving but imperfect mess.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger