“It ain’t easy walkin’ in stilettos / But somebody gotta do it” proclaims Jordin Sparks in the first verse to her new song “I Am Woman,” the lead single from her still-untitled upcoming third album. As you could probably guess from that lyric, or from the song’s Helen Reddy-referencing title, “I Am Woman” is an anthem of female empowerment, as Jordin commands her sisters to rise up against their male un-appreciators over a hard-hitting, high-energy beat. The only (well, the biggest) problem? Someone else got there first. Like, really not that long ago, either.
Aside from the fact that just about any female musician attempting a frenetic pop/R&B hybrid that goes the “Where My Ladies At?” lyrical route is historically bound to be compared to Beyoncé—sorry guys, she’s just really good and super-successful at it—Jordin is done particularly few favors by her release’s proximity to that of B’s “Run the World (Girls),” which, needless to say, covers very similar territory. The song’s intro even starts out seeming like it’s going to be a direct rip off of the bubbling, minimalist “Run the World” hook, though at least that turns out to be something of a misdirection, and the real beat (produced by OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder) sounds more like something for Willow Smith to do her hair-whipping over—catchy, but not necessarily demanding of attention.
But in addition to being thematically and musically reminiscent of the Beyoncé song, “I Am Woman” is hurt by being neither as convincing or as striking as its predecessor. Jordin, who just turned 21 last December, still sounds a little like a 12-year-old playing dress-up in her parents’ mirror as she repeatedly proclaims the title hook (49 times total, by the way, including the “I’m a Woman” mentions), and Tedder’s spazzy beat lacks the controlled fury of the Switch-via-Major Lazer beat for “Run the World.” The true sign of maturity, Jordin, is not proclaiming your adulthood to anyone who will listen, but demonstrating it through your performance and craft. Only then will you officially graduate beyond “ex-teen-Idol-winner” to “grown-up female pop star person.”