“You’re different, I like it,” sings Shura – aka Aleksandra Denton – on her song White Light, something of a centrepiece in her debut LP. Just as she’s adopted that Russian diminutive as her stage identity, there’s something at once familiar about Shura and something that very, very much reflects that quoted line.
It’s fitting that Nothing’s Real has that title, then, considering it does seem otherworldly at times. Synths zip through like shooting stars on the title track while beats and strings merge for one hell of a rousing opening. There is that 80s mixtape vibe to it – What’s It Gonna Be? a joyous handclap illustration of this – but it never feels reductive in Denton’s hands.
It’s all held together by the lady at the centre of it all. Eschewing overblown production and vocal histrionics for simpler shades, Shura embodies a new kind of popstar: savvy, but not showy, and hella sincere. On Touch, “I wanna touch you but there’s history” is one of those lines that seems so forehead-smackingly simple that you wonder why it hasn’t been done before, but that straightforward freshness is where she succeeds.
And as we bounce through the throwback-pop of Indecision, the slow-jamming of 2Shy (making up for the loss of Just Once on this record) and all the R&B-inflected melodies on newer tracks like, it feels like we’re building up to that near-eight minute showstopper, White Light. It’s an utter masterstroke of pop, a combination of everything that Denton does so well: shuffling beats, a lightly cooed delivery, and the most infectious chorus bathed in the euphoric vibe of its title. It ends with an instrumental coda that’s like a technicolour spacewalk from an artist that seems to already be living her best life from her celestial happy place, and it’s hard not to be enveloped by that warmth.
Looking at Denton’s interviews and social media, it’s clear she has charisma even before setting foot in a studio, something that doesn’t lack from this effervescent debut. Political opinions, music recommendations, hell even her football analysis makes for a refreshing change from the PR-sanded starlets we’re mostly subjected to. But as we take a cosmic walk in the stars hand-in-hand with her, there’s an unshakeable, somewhat delightful innocence that elevates her to a different plain. Nothing’s Real, then, except Shura’s claim as the modern popstar we all deserve.