When something does particularly well in ‘the charts’ (a shadowy land where wealth is quantified in a currency of being watched in da club, danced with in da club or even occasionally being inexplicably set alight in da club), record companies sit up and take notice.
New success is sniffed out like crystal meth in an airport and speedily bottled. There is rarely a great deal of time left to dither, between this said bottling of musical preference and a fragmented bastard lovechild being rolled out by rival record companies to capitalise (earn a shitload of money) from the success of whomever or whatever is most dominating the public’s seemingly unified taste. Taste decided upon, of course, by the High Council of Pop Elders and voted on in Parliament every Wednesday. Just look at Justin Timberlake’s latest Blurred Copyright Lines video if you don’t believe me, or the ‘arrival’ of that IMAX forehead draped in Topman, Conor Maynard, soon after Bieber Fever gripped the under 12s of the Western world. Money breeds money, and so on.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. We know it’s for the cash. THEY know that we know it’s for the cash. And think: how many of our favourite artists came on the coattails of someone or something else? Natalia Kills could not be more of a Tesco Value Gaga without acquiring some sort of Bernard Matthew’s turkey dress. And Adele –whisper it – wouldn’t have garnered anywhere near the stratospheric level of publicity she did with 19 without the (mostly justified) NME circle-jerk over Amy Winehouse that preceded her.
Likewise, the blogosphere is alight right now (isn’t it always?) with impassioned declarations of love for Lorde, the sixteen year-old messiah of American chart music that has just scored a number 1 single in the U.S alternative charts with her ice cool melancholy-draped single ‘Royals’, (do we even have alternative charts over here? Is that what Capital is? Christ, I really hope not). Or ‘Lana Del Royals’ for those among us – about 90% of the vaguely music-listening population – who spot the similarities in both artists: the ghetto-appropriating melodies; the soft-spoken curt lyrics; the long-held camera pouts.
So can we really embrace an artist who has so blatantly come swooping down the musical birth canal as a money-spinner for Universal? I vote yes, on the basis of my earlier point about Adele and the like, as well as the simple fact that Lorde herself is really fucking good, and doesn’t seem particularly bothered about upholding the pretence of complete artistic originality. In a recent interview with The Guardian, she makes reference to her sonic godmother with surprising frankness: “What really got me is this ridiculous, unrelatable, unattainable opulence that runs throughout. Lana Del Rey is always singing about being in the Hamptons or driving her Bugatti Veyron or whatever, and at the time, me and my friends were at some house party worrying how to get home because we couldn’t afford a cab. This is our reality! If I write songs about anything else then I’m not writing anything that’s real.”
“Opulence.” We’re being out-worded by a sixteen year-old. With a fair point to make too: the complete disregard of audience experience is commonplace in modern pop music, if anything it’s a commodity. Rarely do we hear political or cultural statements being featured in a Radio 1 playlist. No, no. We have One Direction. And Calvin Harris. And the fucking Saturdays. Which is obviously fine in some contexts. I’m as prone as anyone to loathe musical snobbery, but when every single in the top 40, bar none, is about being the centre of attention in da club, are we not supposed to question how tragically monotonous things have become?
Not many musicians chasing mainstream success are willing to really open up about their beliefs, for fear of alienating sections of their audience. It’s now the norm to just play it safe and go with the majority rule.
Just recently, a storm of controversy threatened to brew when it was rumoured that a new Lady Gaga single would be called ‘Burqa’, a song that, in essence, does not exist to us. We’ve never heard it. And yet merely opening a subject like the burqa (deemed by some as an oppressive tool against women) up for discussion is met with hostility by people who, like the rest of us, have not yet heard the argument. Assuming that it even exists. It’s cultural dumbing down at its sharpest.
So to hear this new talent’s critique of wealth and misplaced materialism catapult up charts around the world is refreshing: even if a little ironic.