Fifteen-year-old vocal wunderkind Jeffrey Li claims live performance is where music really comes to life for him and cites acts such as Sam Smith and Imagine Dragons, among others, as influences on his own musical career. His new single “Anniversary” is much more Sam Smith than Imagine Dragons, but even hardened music afficionados suspicious of modern pop music will spark to attention hearing the opening. The melodic acoustic guitar heard during the introduction serves notice that there’s some attempt here to create something of lasting worth and Li’s singing reinforces that idea. He sings in full flight, gliding through lines when it calls for it, soaring through others and the guitar work matches his voice each note of the way.
He’s established his growing reputation thus far on two major singles “You Raise Me Up” and “Little Big Shots” and his 2018 appearance on the NBC television show America’s Got Talent. He’s made a bevy of appearances and recordings since then, amassing awards along the way, and landing highly visible spots at important concert events. It’s even more impressive that Li has committed to braving into the music world while still focusing on his academic development as a high schooler. Even a brief perusal of the young man’s music and the life behind the music suggests Li has a thoughtful and forward-thinking team around him working in his best interests.
They know how to best exhibit his musical and vocal strengths. Those who hear this track and think it too garish are predisposed to dislike pop songs anyway, but many more will love the traditional pop balladry of this song framed in such a modern fashion. The “bones” of a song such as this are as old as pop songs themselves, but Li and his team apply a new coat of paint, an individual twist on long-standing formula that helps gives “Anniversary” such a fresh and involving lift.
It is a relatively nervy move to include such prominent acoustic guitar in a song of this ilk. Big ticket pop music today is too reliant on electronic instrumentation and, while this approach has its financial perks, it can sometimes come at the expense of quality. Traditional instruments add a humanizing touch that often helps elevate otherwise fine material. Li’s vocal has an arch traditional slant — he tackles this song with near theatrical grandeur while still never slathering things on too thick.
Fans of top shelf pop songs will like, above all else, his instinct for knowing when to push his voice and when to lay back. His approach ties into the careful attention he shows each line of the song and his clear aim to give the words their proper due further separates him from the herd. Jeffrey Li has amazing talents for such a young man it is difficult to assess just how far he can take those skills. Much depends on who he works with, personal choices, commercial success or the lack thereof, but there’s no question at all that he possesses the required gifts to leave a mark on anyone hearing his music.