Review: @AJ_McLean’s “Smoke” Heats Things Up With Music Video

by | Jul 21, 2022 | AJ McLean, Backstreet Boys, Music, Opinion, Pop Music, Review

It finally happened…over a year after AJ’s last single #LoveSongLove came out, we got a new single from AJ’s upcoming album.  AJ has shared that he is targetting late October (just after the BSB’s Christmas release!) for the release of his EP, titled “Sex and Bodies”.  Has there ever been a more AJ name for anything?  And if this song is any indication of what is to come, I AM HERE FOR IT!  ALL OF IT!!  Bring it on AJ!

I have to admit, I’m a little weary to get too excited about the release.  We know some of his material tends be boxed up, never to see the light of day.  But wow was this song worth the wait.  I’ve had it on repeat since it came out last week and honestly, I love it more the more I hear it.  

The song itself is incredibly well-written.  The lyrics are clever and catchy.  The way the words liken his feelings for this person to an addiction is not necessarily new, but it was done in a fresh and fun way.  I love the line about “12 steps to the kitchen” because it weaves in the theme so well and the song is really filled with pieces like that.  I love this return to the genre AJ really does best.

And then, of course, this song really showcases some fun sides to AJ’s voice.  We all know AJ is an INCREDIBLE vocalist.  We’ve heard him sing his ass off for years and he’s never hit a bad note.  His voice is unique and his talent is endless. 

On this song, we get to hear a few different sides to his voice from that sleek, raspy, soulful sound to the higher notes and it’s still flawless.  Then he kicks into the second verse with the pseudo-rap which is so much fun and so stylistically AJ!  Still with the soul even while rapping, because that’s signature AJ right there. I love hearing AJ’s versatility on just about anything, but he outdid himself this time. 

And c’mon…this song is FIRE.  You know those songs that just make you hot all over? Like you need an ice bath or a dip in the ocean immediately…yea this is that.  Forget the video, the song alone just has that sexy, seductive, and sultry feel.  And I can even see this one banging at a club!  What I wouldn’t give to be able to dance to this at an after party someday!  Just all around this song kills.  My biggest complaint about the song is the length…I could’ve used more!

And then there’s the video.  A LOT has been said about the video already, but I want to throw my 2 cents in the ring (although I’m well aware my 2 cents is worth less than that!).  If you haven’t seen the video, go check it out. It is definitely a conversation starter.  

On face value, the video itself is great artistically.  I love the cinematography, the black and white feel, the upside down shots.  It is creative, stylistic, artsy and VERY AJ.  It’s beautifully shot. It’s simple, yet complex in the same breath. 

It is also very intentional, from the angles shot, to the wardrobe choices, to the message AJ is trying to convey.  This is not just a fun video to go along with a sexy song.  This video is a statement, but for some reason, not everyone seems to understand what that statement is or why it’s out there.  The backlash from this video was reminiscent of Robin Thicke’s Blurred lines.  If you don’t recall, there was a lot of commentary on how Thicke and Pharrell were objectifiying women in the video, when they explicitly stated that their intention was to depict women as admirable and worthy of praise.  

AJ has shared (and his wife Rochelle has added) that the video for Smoke was intended to celebrate women and women’s bodies.  Rochelle tweeted that they want to be clear that women’s bodies are beautiful and that we should not be ashamed of expressing ourselves in any way we want, as long as it is in an age appropriate manner.

Here is where my commentary comes in: as someone who (like so many others) has been plagued with body image issues and eating disorders for many years of my childhood and young adult life, I applaud the effort to try to normalize the human body in all forms.  That’s really all I see in the video: an attempt to allow people to stop shaming or being embarrassed in their skin.  Yes, it’s considered taboo for women to show off skin like they are in this video.  But why? How did we get to that place? These are all societal beliefs that we have created and then bought into with a lot of help from the media in solidifying and codifying those messages into our brains. 

I, for one, may have had a very different outcome as a teenager if we as a society had allowed all humans to express themselves in whatever manner they chose without fear of ridicule or shame.  To this day, I hate seeing myself in pictures or looking in the mirror because those messages of what was appropriate in terms of size and shape were so ingrained in me from the media to the people around me.  We became indoctrinated to it and that is what became our norm.  More recently, some attention has been given to body positivity and embracing ourselves as we are.  This is, sadly, a very new concept and will take years and years to truly become ingrained in our societal messages.  This is something I actively have to fight as a 30 something professional, and have to work exceptionally hard to rethink my messaging as I raise my own kids.  If they have more diverse images, coupled with acceptance, no matter what the visual, maybe they’ll have a different view of themselves as adults than I do now. 

This video, for me, was an attempt to further that conversation.  If these women were choosing to don this wardrobe and show off their bodies in this way, why should others judge them for that?  This is just a form of artistic creativity, and AJ wanted to give a platform to that.  The more we shame them, AJ, or the video as a whole, the more we are saying that women (specifically, because we know men seem to be held to different standards) should not be able to be who they want to be.  And then that opens to door to a whole host of other issues including blaming women for being the victim of assault and other sexual crimes (don’t even get me going on that one…I’ll spare you for now).  All that to say, I applaud AJ for using his platform to spread awareness, to shed light on deep-seeded issues which are long overdue for change, and for standing up for what he believes is right. 

That being said, I did take notice that there did not seem to be a ton of body diversity in terms of size in the video.  There was definitely diversity in other ways, but when I think of the problems that society has created for women’s self esteem when it comes to our bodies, it is quite often about size.  I think it was a missed opportunity not having more women with plus size bodies showing confidently that their bodies are beautiful too.  That would have probably made a difference for me as I was growing up and receiving these toxic messages that women have to be a certain size or look a certain way in order to be considered beautiful.  The more we show ALL bodies as beautiful, regardless of color, size, shape, etc, the more we embrace and truly accept diversity.  

Nonetheless, I am grateful that AJ has opened the door for this conversation to continue.  

And I’m grateful we also got a kick-ass song in the process.

Below find (what I hear as) the lyrics to AJ’s new single (as requested by so many of us fangirls!):

Breathe you in, you’re a hell of a drug

When I taste your lips, I’m gone

And I can miss it (??)

Have to get it, uh uh (??)

On my skin with your strawberry tongue

I’m addicted

I can’t quit it

12 steps from the kitchen and your clothes on the floor

No need for recovery

It’s as easy as put your hands on me

It’s as easy as take control of me

It’s as smooth as rock n’ roll

It’s as easy as blowing smoke

I like it when you’re confident and rub it in my face

I’mma pop you like a pill, I’m obsessed with the taste

Burns so good like Tequila, no chase

It’s amazin, uh uh

12 steps from the kitchen and your clothes on the floor

No need for recovery

It’s as easy as put your hands on me

It’s as easy as take control of me

It’s as smooth as rock n’ roll

It’s as easy as blowing smoke

It’s as easy as put your hands on me

It’s as easy as take control of me

It’s as smooth as rock n’ roll

It’s as easy as blowing smoke

*Note-would love the ACTUAL lyrics if we can get them!

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