It's not often that you can say that a 17 year old's album was a long time coming, but that is actually the case here. Kimberly was born in Melbourne, Australia and recently played the character Young Nala in Disney's The Lion King in both Melbourne and in Shanghai. But, long before that, she was trained to be a singer by some of the best vocal coaches in the world. Her first coach -- after her father -- was Maestro Vladimir Vais, a world-famous musical director for the Russian Bolshoi Ballet. Following that, she started singing for various charities in Australia and appeared in a McDonalds commercial. In 2003, she was the featured child model on the revival of The Price Is Right, ultimately appearing in over 400 episodes of the show during her two and a half years working for it. In 2008, she spent several months training with K-pop giants JYP Entertainment, though she ultimately parted ways with them by the end of the year and never went on to become a K-pop star. She did, however, stay in New York after leaving JYP and trained with Grammy-award winners Barry Eastmond and Gordon Chambers. In 2010 she was asked to compete in the Taiwanese singing competition One Million Star. Although she didn't win, audiences loved her and it was clear that she was destined to be a star. To that end, she was asked to be the opening act for Kelly Clarkson's All I Ever Wanted World Tour in Taipei and soon signed on with Sony BMG Taiwan. Kimberly's self-titled debut album was released on April 27th, 2012 and features songs in both Mandarin and English, as well as bilingual songs featuring both languages.
Kimberly's album opens with “愛你 (Love You),” her first single, the video for which has received over six million Youtube views. The Mandarin song starts off with Kimberly singing softly over subtle acoustic guitar, but after a minute or so bass guitar, strings and drums begin. It continues to be a rather mellow song to a point and then it gradually grows in intensity as it progresses, the music and Kimberly's voice growing louder and louder. By the time the moving song is over Kimberly has used the full extent of her voice, hitting several impressive high notes, proving that she could easily compete with Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera.
Kimberly's second single, "Never Change," which she wrote the lyrics for, is a simple but beautiful acoustic ballad. There are moments when she hits some high notes, but she never goes into powerhouse singing mode because the song doesn't call for it and she isn't out to show off her vocal capabilities, rather focusing on delivering quality songs. "Wish you could take me away, pretend that I am your baby, somewhere faraway, somewhere in the shade, somewhere we could call our secret place," she sings sweetly during the first verse. She really bares her heart here, like she's letting listeners read her diary. Some might find it a bit silly and you could call it raw, but you have to admire the honesty. Ultimately, it's a ballad befitting a lovelorn montage in a John Hughes movie.
Another standout is the mostly Mandarin "星際旅行" (translation: "Interstellar Travel"), an impressive duet with Tai Ai Ling. Basically, Tai raps the verses while Kimberly sings the chorus. "Somewhere across the universe, there's a restaurant, let's go get some dinner for two," Kimberly sings as the song nears its end. While Tai's rap parts sound confident if not a bit cocky, Kimberly simply sounds like a girl who wants a boy to love, sweet yearning in her voice. The English-language "Satellite" also refers to space. "I'm on top of the world, I feel like a satellite," Kimberly sings during the chorus of the genre-bending down-tempo song. While it's easy to call it a ballad, you could just as easily call it trip-hop with its slow, thick and moody beats. And there's clearly a dash of R&B in there, too. "Jump in my rocket, it's just you and me," she sings, her voice sugary sweet, and lots of teenage boys are likely to want to take her up on that offer.
Kimberly reveals a sense of humor during the English track "So Good." She's actually laughing as she sings, "You see I'm loving commercial, I'm all about mainstream, money from billboard, I spent it on your dog." She's obviously joking and you'll find it amusing because the album isn't all about mainstream. Sure, you have songs that have the potential to be big hits, but most of them come from a truly artistic place. Consider the fact that "Never Change" is simply Kimberly and acoustic guitar, a bare bones sort of song you'd never expect to hear on the radio, yet it's become a huge single because there's something so charming about Kimberly and people know that she's the real deal, not a puppet on a string like many pop singers.
I suppose you could criticize this album on the grounds that every song is a love song on some level, but the girl is seventeen, so her world is bound to revolve around crushes and kisses. You can't fault her for acting her age. And you have to admire her for singing about love where many pop stars would be singing about meaningless sex. There's no denying it -- Kimberly's album is a stellar debut featuring a sonically diverse collection of exquisitely-produced songs that showcase her voice and personality perfectly. Who cares if they're all about love? -Michael McCarthy