On Valentine’s Day, the duo DRAMA released their debut album Dance Without Me, an incredibly cohesive album saturated with heartbreak and lacking a flaw most heartbreak albums share: redundancy.
Producer Na’el Shehade matches vocalist Via Rosa’s catchy lyrics with irresistible synths, concocting eleven unique and highly addictive tracks with R&B, house, and dance-pop beats.
Perhaps there is no better way to describe DRAMA and their music than “dark and dance”, by far my most favorite way to concisely—and aptly—characterize Shehade and Via Rosa’s collaboration.
The lyrics and beats throughout the album are introspective and indulgent, both equally important to dealing with heartbreak. The experience of this album could even be likened to softly running your fingers over scar tissue.
Each song is a work of art, an individual painting in its own right with a respective story. DRAMA has reinvigorated the genre of heartbreak with their genuine contemplation of complex and often contradictory feelings; they redefine the grief of love lost.
There’s a certain resignation that comes with finally realizing the person you’re waiting for a call or text back has been ignoring you all along. The beat of the song reluctantly echoes Via Rosa’s resigned hums. Shedding denial is relieving, but also painful. It’s a beautiful choice for the first song on the album, because realization is also the first step to healing.
“Years”, quite literally, took years to come into being—DRAMA explains more about the inspiration and process on the song’s Genius Lyrics page. Steady drums under repeated lyrics about a lying lover speak to how tenacious we can be when it comes to holding onto people. Track 1 is about an external type of realization—seeing those you love in a newer light—while Track 2 is bittersweet in an introspective way as the pre-chorus and chorus acknowledge a self-sacrificial love.
“Forever and a Day,” “Hold On,” “Gimme Gimme,” & “Good For Nothing”
The next step after realization is grappling with conflicting emotions. Within the album, these four songs epitomize the duality of DRAMA—bliss and despair, upbeat and listless, dance and daze. They might at first deceive with their infectious beats, but the lyrics are still for the broken-hearted, as Via Rosa ponders how to cope with people who let you down, how to genuinely move on, and how to juxtapose emotional reticence with an intense desire to love again. These are heartbreak songs that you can dance and laugh to or play in the night to get sloppy drunk and cry messily. Hell, you could dance, laugh, and weep simultaneously throughout the entire album.
“People Like You”
In Track 7, there’s a shift to a different type of melancholy. This song is a double-edged sword. It’s slightly bitter. Where to place the blame? The beat rocks back and forth as Via Rosa similarly oscillates between accepting her fate–“Someone like me deserves this / People like you break people like me / In two when we deserve it”—and candid vulnerability—“Was this your plan? / Cause it feels like you came into my life / With intentions to hurt me.” The truth? There is no winning when it comes to breaking hearts. Most importantly, there’s no closure if you’re looking for any emotional affirmations outside of yourself, as the song fades out with Via Rosa’s voice declaring she doesn’t care.
“Days and Days”
The album’s narrative of heartbreak continues down this vein of melancholia and reminiscence; after all, how could you ever talk about heartbreak without wallowing? The bass throbs with tragedy and irony in this track—“Guess I was afraid of losing you / Now I lost you all the same.” “Days and Days” is a succinct story of how heartbreak can be so inevitable sometimes—but stings nonetheless, no matter how far away you saw it coming. From the get-go, it’s a doomed relationship with the first two lines explicitly mentioning doubt on one side and fear on the other: a small but mighty harbinger of the mess to come as this relationship ultimately snowballs into loss.
Of all the songs on the album, “Lifetime” may be the most uplifting in the sense it is more of a love song than a heartbreak song. This track is a reminder that you can’t—and shouldn’t—hold onto despair forever. Via Rosa quite literally offers light—“I’d give you the light in your darkest hour.” The song opens with dismal chords that bring to mind an image of trudging footsteps, but by the end the song is a chorus of transcendent strings.
“Nine One One”
If “Lifetime” is recovery, “Nine One One” is relapse. Shame and the lingering tenderness that comes with acknowledging past heartbreak is raw in the album’s penultimate track. “Nine One One” opens with an explicit call-out: “Remember the time / You thought you was in love but you was tweakin’ / And cut everybody off on the weekends just to sleep in / And gave your all to a love you thought would last.” Nonetheless, the strings behind the chorus show a glimmer of hope for the future. It’s an ambiguous hope, but that’s the safest type in any circumstance dealing with the broken-hearted.
“Dance Without Me”
The album’s narrative of heartbreak ends with uncertainty—that disbelief, almost extreme stubbornness to change or to even believe you have a chance to heal. “Don’t know who I am / Don’t know where I stand without you / I won’t stand a chance,” Via Rosa claims. The title of this song, and the album, comes from the image she had of dancing in alone on a wedding dance floor. It’s eerie and has none of that comforting ‘happy ever after’ sentiment we might expect or desperately crave. And perhaps that is a message we should be more comfortable with: truly realizing that you are alone can be just as self-empowering as it is frightening. There’s a sense of liberation and catharsis present as I picture a figure spinning in solitude on a deserted dance floor.
The album as a whole is a refreshing exploration of eleven different recipes for heartbreak. Via Rosa repeatedly mentions how she utilizes music as therapy for herself, but in doing so she and Shehade have gifted us with one of the most beautiful heartbreak albums to ever exist—and a debut album, at that. DRAMA has once again dazzled the world with their defining duality of “dark and dance.”
Vanya Truong is a Cal Poly English Junior and KCPR staff member. She wrote the article and created the art.