By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
The unrivaled highlight of A.M. to P.M., the long-buried 2001 debut by former Disney Channel star turned r&b singer Christina Milian, was a song called "Twitch," about a man who sweats, stutters, and yes, twitches when confronted with evidence of his misbehavior. "Twitch" ("First you start forgettin', then you start sweatin'/Then you twitch, twitch") is simultaneously the worst and the best song ever written on the subject of embarrassing muscular conditions. As you might have guessed, nothing on Milian's new disc can quite top it.
In the years since her debut, the now 22-year-old Milian seems to have decided that even her previously moderate wholesomeness was not the way to go. This explains "Dip It Low," a craven club-pop hit with an accompanying video depicting her writhing in a probably rash-inducing vat of paint. (It looks like high-gloss enamel, but there's no way to know for sure.) The rest of It's About Time finds Milian morphed into a lesser, trashier version of J.Lo.: Several tracks mirror Lopez's "Waiting for Tonight" both sonically and in their air of tinny desperation, and Milian moves through the album with the cheerless, mechanized sexuality of a lap dancer.
Thirteen-year-old JoJo, a former TV performer herself and possessor of the summer's other inevitable single, "Leave (Get Out)," is part of a new crop of teen stars who actually grew up listening to Britney Spears, instead of being influenced by her when they were safely past their formative years. If tracks like "Not That Kinda Girl" ("Take me home and meet your mama/. . . Cuz I'm that kinda girl") are any indication, she seems to have survived the experience. JoJo is more Justified than . . . Baby One More Time, anyway: full of preternaturally self-possessed, insanely catchy songs about respecting yourself, talking on the phone all night, and not letting boys buy your affection unless they really, really insist.
With her amazingly broad voice and a way of singing that's both perky and commanding, JoJo can't help but be likable even when JoJo isn't. And you can't help but hope she stays that way, and doesn't wind up half naked, dipping herself in motor oil one day, or writing songs about a cheating boyfriend's bout with shingles. In the meantime, at least, "Leave" remains vastly superior to "Dip It Low," mostly because JoJo seems to actually mean what she's singing: In the world of moderately chaste, barely-teen divas, Get Away From Me trumps Have Sex With Me every time.