“I’m obsessively opposed to the typical.”
I’ll give you one guess as to which outrageous megastar lives by those words. Protruding cheek bones, male alter-egos, fluorescent wigs, girl-on-girl stage appearances and egg capsule transportation are only a few of the shock effects flaunted by artists like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Ms. Spears and Aguilera as methods of enhancing their “craft” and pledging continued allegiance to the above quote. Performers, they are – there isn’t a doubt about that. Nor is there a doubt about the mark they’ve made on the industry.
But let’s set talk of the veterans aside to take attendance in the newest school of female-driven pop, hip-hop and rock; a class of equally impossible to ignore lady characters sporting similar neon uniforms, bejeweled nails, curious histories and alluring pouts – taunting men and women alike, probably already bored with the first period of this new journey. Aside from also possessing the common denominator in the rise and allure of award-winning female pop artists in the past four decades – flashy clothes, on-stage domination and pin-up potential – this brood of bad girl up-and-comers has a few other things they’re dreaming up. Rich songwriting, undeniable vocal talent, troubled dark sides and two middle fingers to anyone who thinks otherwise, to name a few.
This A-team of bad girls might not be mainstream paparazzi preoccupied, might put their foot in their mouths more than once, but they’ve got depth as well. They’re confusing and challenging – elements that might sustain them during an inevitably bumpy and long journey to the top. But they’re real, real things last – and what’s real is going to rule the school.
Thanks to the digital age – an era filled with devices, footage, access and heightened connectedness – the general population is, for the most part, unbelievably desensitized to sights and sounds that would have had our grandparents throwing their TV dinners off their laps and boycotting Ed Sullivan, and television, for life. The fact that in this day and age we’re hungry media consuming robots who are accustomed to short clicks and flicks that could lead to imagery blinding us with inappropriateness – is old news to you and me. We’re so rarely surprised, hardly shocked and most interestingly – we’re expecting the next wardrobe malfunction, on-stage intercourse simulation and racy lyric – so naturally, the bar has been raised, and the past twenty years have seen the rise of the performer, the scandal and jolting personas like Madge, Gaga and Spears. But even these acclaimed performers are hard to be surprised by anymore. Funnily enough, what’s surprising nowadays is when the good performer, the spectacle and the vixen – writes, sings and performs a thought-provoking or meaningful concept. Maybe it’s not fireworks and rhyming “love” with “above” – but creatively impressive elixirs like “depth” and “songwriting” go beyond the average near-naked performance and are like oil to this rusty and unphased robot spectator.
Enter Lana Del Rey – the subject of so much media scrutiny and intrigue. At first, seemingly a YouTube sensation with no real explanation, we wondered – was she Lizzy Grant, a pouty Lake Placid native with organic and haunting sounds, who self-coined her vampy persona the “Gangster Nancy Sinatra”? Or was she a manufactured project from the start – timed meticulously to enter with a predictable indie bang that would quickly translate into the mainstream limelight, and then lose its cool? Maybe a bit of both. Her talent, intrigue, and character – regardless of who thought it up – paired with chancy songs, chilling melodies, semi-confusing motivation and dark charm have made her the new spectacle. Her nearly motionless performance sway, although unlike a flashy choreographed dance routine, could be her image. Her album isn’t called Born This Way, it’s called Born To Die, and along with her obsession with Chateau Marmont and old, sad Hollywood glamour – we’re still trying to figure out why. With only a shallow pocket full of captivating songs – she, like the other vamps before her, has people talking. And that’s the point, isn’t it?
Swing on over to Maya Arulpragasam – or British emcee MIA – another ostentatious bad girl experimenting with bigger beats than some male counterparts, boasting a cocky tough persona and flipping the bird during the Superbowl halftime show. Having moved between Sri Lanka and the UK, laying claim to “more records than the KGB” and collaborating with hot shots who she would argue she’s hotter than – she’s often the definition of a sore thumb in female empowered mainstream hip-hop. Throw in Nicki Minaj, whose showy appearance and mainstream performance-style often gets grouped with those less intriguing than her, is musically like a cold splash of water after years of praying for fresh. It’s as if she breathed life into the scene; she may have children in tutus reciting her lines to Ellen Degeneres – but does her hard-hitting presence as the only woman on all-male collaboration tracks always sit easy in the ears? Absolutely not. She doesn’t hold back, she spits nastier rhymes than you’d think capable of such a petite, soft-featured woman – and next to her, the boys have stepped it up.
Kimbra, a 21 year-old hailing from New Zealand and making waves as part of Gotye’s indie hit “Somebody That I Used To Know”, is destined to be everything but a wing girl. This Nina Simon-inspired, smoky soul artist knows how to put her old voice to a big beat – something that’s beyond her years, something that’s fated for bigger fame. Her unconventional performances, quirky and inventive song concepts and exuded confidence are evidence she’s ready to roll with the big guns – and write a song that will make you dance and make you think. Imagine that. The late Amy Winehouse and ladies like Lykke Li, Florence, Cat Power, Zola Jesus have had other paths for themselves, and other sounds for us. Hallelujah.
The list goes on. Welcome to the new age and the new mainstream woman. We’re slowly peeling away our desensitized layers because we’re ready to feel something from music again, something that makes us proud. We want a song that we look up the lyrics to. We want to dance to something because it makes us feel good – and because we’re dancing for what it stands for also. This growing gang of new girls on the block are equipped with the words, looks and moves to make that kind of historical impact on music – and even though they might be a little dangerous, a little weird and a little different at times, a lot of change has never been a bad thing.