Jeffrey Li’s exposure to the world at large commenced with his 2018 audition for the popular American network television talent show America’s Got Talent and has expanded at a furious pace since. He is an unqualified YouTube smash with over seventy-five million views between two videos alone. His new single “Anniversary” is, hopefully, a harbinger of an impending album release, but it is an excellent standalone single. Li and his musical cohorts have a lock on countless qualities that make for great pop songcraft. You hear proof for that in the track’s on target length, the tight build sweeping listeners from the opening to end, and the mastery of vocal dynamics running throughout the recording.
It will not be difficult to reproduce this song for live audiences, but its success relies on the careful orchestration of its instrumentation and successfully blending Li’s vocal into the arrangement. The goal is maximizing the potential inherent in the song’s singing and musicality and Li clears that bar with room to spare. “Anniversary” marries acoustic guitar and pop sounds with seamless skill; there’s never any jarring contrast between these disparate elements. There is an overall sense of confidence guiding this track from the start and, despite its sleek clarity, it radiates reams of sincerity.
I take notice of the guitar work. It is impressive how the playing has such spontaneous organic appeal while still piercing the listener’s consciousness with pinpoint eloquence on the strings. It has a strong partnership with Li’s voice; beginning and ending the number with Li’s singing and the acoustic guitar working through a musical dialogue bookends the song in an ideal way. As mentioned earlier, the guitar work mixes well with the electronic touches present in the arrangement and there’s never any sense of musical elements in competition with one another.
The lyrics for “Anniversary” in Li’s mouth should far exceed his range. It is one thing to put on a pyrotechnic display of raw vocal ability, but quite another thing to invest words with a sense of stakes and catharsis. Li managing such a feat at fifteen years old is staggering and poses a valid question of just how far he can take his gifts. His material and choice in collaborators will figure, for sure, in determining how far he can go. Based on “Anniversary”, the proverbial sky is the limit.
His singing is the peak of the song’s achievement. Li throws everything of himself into putting over the track, never backing down from its challenges, and displaying equal parts technical skill and dramatic powers. Most singers of this caliber are singing freak-shows and nothing more; you appreciate the ear-popping range of their voice, but they sing every line the same way. It isn’t so with Jeffrey Li. He puts the full breadth of his skill into making “Anniversary” work for the widest possible range of listeners and lights up its individual lines with an understanding of complex emotions much older peers cannot match. It’s my introduction to Jeffrey Li’s work and I can scarcely imagine a better first encounter.