Tei Shi_Valerie

REVIEW: Tei Shi Takes Back Control on New Album ‘Valerie’

Photo by Vogue Giambri.

It takes a special kind of talent to take a sour experience and turn it into gold, and Tei Shi has proven she has it. Born Valerie Teicher Barbosa, the Colombian-Canadian artist went through a nightmare of a breakup with her former record label and management that left her understandably broken and distrustful. But instead of throwing in the towel, she used that as the spark that ignited Valerie, her first independently released album and follow-up to her standout 2019 full-length La Linda. Welcome to Tei Shi’s Declaration of Independence.

Tei Shi’s unique vision of pop permeates the entirety of Valerie, but she jumps from electro-pop to turn-of-the-millenium R&B jams to guitar-led ballads as effortlessly as she switches back and forth between English and Spanish, allowing her to grab our interest with her musical choices, her immaculate skills for writing earworm melodies, and her Aaliyah-level runs. Though half of Valerie has been available since 2022 in the form of the Bad Premonition EP, she gets to showcase how much she’s grown in this short time while successfully delivering a cohesive body of work with the six new tracks. She managed to do so with help from an impressive list of collaborators that include Noah Breakfast, Mikey Freedom Hart, Nick Hakim, Knox Fortune, Dave Sitek, Chairlift’s Patrick Wimberly, and more. 

Valerie’s first big swing comes right off the bat with opener “QQ (Quédate Queriéndome),” as Tei Shi dives head first into reggaeton-fueled bachata-pop. This isn’t the first time she’s dabbled with Latin American genres, but this is the first time she’s featured such influences front and center, and it’s a path we love seeing her go down. The song also sets the tone for the rest of the album, as she’s able to use universal stories of love and heartache as a vehicle to process her own feelings of betrayal and loss and recovery of control over her career while navigating the music industry.

A clearer example is the sour “BAD PREMONITION,” an understatedly nasty flex of Tei Shi’s pop muscle, where she’s unable to follow her instincts right before hitting a wall in her career and relationships. On the other end, both “GRIP” and “¿QUIÉN TE MANDA?” show Teicher Barbosa planting herself in the face of the ones who wronged her and taking back her power to the beat of R&B/pop. She also included the English and bilingual versions of “MONA LISA,” but it’s on the latter that the phrase “Tú estás lleno de mierda y lo sabes” hits the hardest, stomping hard on a slow beat to let them know they messed with the wrong girl. 

Right in the middle of Valerie, a string of ballads brings a drop in energy that might run a little too long in the context of the album, but it’s right where the title track is able to shine the brightest. Backed with little more than an electric guitar, Tei Shi stops beating herself up for someone else’s wrongdoings and offers herself much-deserved grace and tenderness, offering a heart-wrenching moment that will leave many of us teary-eyed. 

But beyond thematic structures, Valerie is just filled with great musical moments that add flavor to her discography, like the tropicalia-tinted, Rodrigo Amarante-assisted bop “No Falta,” “FAMILIAR” and its melting synths, and the cold beat of “Shooting Star” sweetened by Teicher Barbosa’s voice. It’s an expansion of the Tei Shi sound. 

Right before the bilingual reprise of “MONA LISA” that closes the album sits “COLOR,” dazzling with current club-inspired production. Here, she asks, “Is it safe on the other side?” with the dim trust of someone who’s been hurt before. But the melancholy in her voice is wrapped by euphoric synths that give us a glimpse of what Valerie affirms with its whole existence as a project: Tei Shi didn’t just push through to find independence — she’s now reaping the emotional and creative rewards of doing so.