There was a time last decade when music hacks were falling over themselves to spin endless lines of hyperbole ridden, guffaw inducing quotes predicting that the likes of M.I.A., Santigold (then Santogold), Ebony Bones!, Cocknbullkid, Amanda Blank, and Kid Sister would lay waste to all the manufactured bullshit, restore a sense of urgency and save pop music.
It never happened. To the contrary, Gaga happened; all over everyone’s collective faces, teeth, noses, mouths and ears. Luckily some of us were able to keep our eyes closed, as the resulting cultural black hole seemed to be more vacuous and stinging headache inducing than anything in recent history.
It’s understandable, really. In some ways, by appearances it wasn’t too dissimilar to the housing bubble that helped contribute to the financial meltdown that has engulfed world. A house built on credit will never stand. In music, the same can be said for hype. Back in 2007, intelligent, culturally aware listeners and critics everywhere (myself included) were so excited by artists that seemed to represent something more than Madonna (and other namelessly derivative divas) influenced pop, that they extended free credit, a pass or loan if you will. So eager were they to reap the reward of backing new seemingly relevant artists that they willingly putting their reputations and that of their publications’ on the line. “Here’s loads of quotes, column inches, and airtime, so when the record comes out and goes top 20 we can have you back on to celebrate the success story.” Although it is now a very recognizable conspicuous consumption, it was a laudable approach at the time. However, they overlooked One. Tiny. Thing ? THE TUNES! With the exception of M.I.A.’s ‘Paper Planes’ and to a lesser extent Santigold’s ‘L.E.S. Artistes’, none of the acts involved in this wave of hype had any good solidly crafted pop songs with real chart legs. Without the songs, or even THE SONG, the wheels don’t turn.
So fast forward a couple of years and Gaga, who in many ways mines the same well of visual aesthetic that all of the others did (like it or not, we are still in debt to the ideas sonic and otherwise explored during electroclash) has completely dominated the pop landscape with barely disguised Top 40 drive-time radio anthems. There is also no doubt that Lana Del Rey was able to the weather the shitstorm generated by her label’s ham fisted push for indie cred because ‘Video Games’ is one of the best noir pop ballads people have heard for a long, long time.
Santigold’s new album Master of My Make Believe is due out on the 1st May. She recently unveiled the cover for The New York Times’ T style blog. M.I.A. also has a new record on the way, an important one for her after 2010’s less than celebrated release Maya. Yesterday, Azealia Banks, one of Harlem’s new hopes, confirmed via her ever-active twitter feed that she is in talks for collaboration with M.I.A. There exists a strange passing the torch moment in the mix here. Azealia, who’s managed to spark as much adulation and praise for her lyrical and vocal dexterity as for her hood chic potty mouth, seems to have a grip on the finer nuances of pop. And roping in super producer of the moment Paul Epworth to producer her debut Broke With Expensive Taste seems to be more than a clear indicator of intent.
But with the likes of Iggy Azalea making the XXL Freshman Class of 2012, including a T.I. co-sign (really, is there nothing Interscope’s money can’t do?), Kreayshawn (more misspent major label money), Lana Del Rey and of course Banks all in the process of storming the castle, is there really still a place for the “never quite blew the way they were supposed to” hype artist? Only time will tell, but if Banks’ shots fired at Iggy Azalea are a taste of the future, the fight to be crowned freshest MC/singer/songwriter/brand in the game right now could get ugly. Honestly, my money’s on Banks … but then, I’ve been wrong before.
Published February 29, 2012.