RetroPop: Into the Future!
Hello for one last time, RetroPoppers! For weeks now I’ve been chugging y’all along on this here female-pop-music-and-historical-lady-writer-fueled train of mashups and analysis. We’ve talked about the ways Carly Rae Jepsen’s work is kinda like that of Jane Austen, how Maya Angelou can be compared to Katy Perry, and you’ve done an amazing job of keeping the comments section lively whether we were discussing Adele or Hildegard von Bingen. I’m proud of the conversations we’ve engaged in and will miss hanging out with you in this space. *Tear, tear* *Brianna offers friendship bracelet.*
But rather than dwelling on what we’ve achieved together over the past couple months in this final RetroPop installment, I’m going to instead go against the historical nature of this column and look forward. Because if there's anything Finding Nemo taught me, it's that we have to just keep swimming.
So. If this blog were running a year or two years or five years from now, which female radio artists would I hope to see advancing conversations about women, art, and pop music? And which female authors do I hope become icons of "the female canon" in the same way it was a foregone conclusion that I’d include Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë when I started this thing? Here are just a few suggestions...
Kimbra: You know this New Zealander from the rueful third verse in Gotye’s "Somebody That I Used to Know," but in my opinion it’s high time Kimbra started getting props for her own work. The content in her record, Vows, consistently questions expectations put on women and girls, and she addresses these issues with vocal pizazz across an impressive range of genres—while managing to nail all of them in the process.
First, her single “Settle Down,” which pokes at conventional notions of domesticity, has a really killer depth of production—there are a lot of layers beneath the vocal, each of which are equally interesting though unobtrusive. Add to this her cheeky lyrics, a deep beat, and, man, there’s some serious emoting going on in her vocalization. This girl can really tell a story with her voice. I realize this type of song likely won’t be seen in the Top 40 (unless Top 40 tastes take a detour towards the indie, such as it did with Gotye’s tune…), but it’s a great example of what she’s capable of. And her moves she rocks in the video are also a great example of what I look like while I’m dancing, in case you were curious.
Second, "Warrior," her (Converse shoes-funded) collaboration with Mark Foster and DJ A-Track is certainly proof that she’s capable of busting out vocals to surf on catchy, mainstream-friendly electro beats. And, again, check the lyrical content and its comment on gender expectations. This, to me, is the best evidence of her ability to break into Top 40 poppiness.
Third, this live track, a live vocal-looping cover of a Nina Simone tune, shows that beneath all these layers of sass and production in her more pop-friendly tunes is a gifted and jazzy-souled vocal artist. This girl can really let it rip with the free form scatting, and gosh golly if I don’t feel her communicating a story of longing and regret through those lines. I give this song nine cinnamon hearts out of ten on the sexy meter. (And if you're into those solo looping gigs, you HAVE to see this version of "Settle Down" from SXSW this year. Swaggy.)
For all these reasons, Kimbra is one woman I'd love to see topping the charts again... but with her own music this time.
Other lady artists I’d love/kind of expect to see sailing some thoughtful and salty cultural commentary into the Top 40 include Azealia Banks (who’s already charted with the narratively complex and lyrically intoxicating "212," and is poised to make further waves with tunes like "Jumanji" and "1991"), and the now-more-accessible-than-ever Santigold, if she keeps moving in the direction of "Disparate Youth."
I think all these women—Kimbra, Azealia, and Santigold— are producing something like pop with an intriguing depth of music and lyrics. With a bit of buffing around the edges, I believe they could be interesting female figures topping the charts and providing/prompting cultural critiques with solid gold pop beats. (Don't get me wrong, I love the edginess of these lady artists, I'm just saying they could work well as more mainstream audiences with a bit o' spit and polish.)
I will not waste the thousand words I want to discussing how I wish Robyn would just continuously give us more, more, more heartbreakingly awesome songs to be the soundtrack of my life. But, Robyn, if you ever read this, THIS LOVE I’VE GOT FOR YOU COULD TAKE ME ROUND THE WORLD, NOW SHOW ME LOVE (in the form of endless singles)? I love you. Okay, moving on.
I will admit it, RetroPoppers: I am much more comfy talking about lady writers of times past than those who are still alive and scribbling today. But if I may make a few humble suggestions of inspiring lady writers of quality who are typing and Tweeting in the present, here are a few that I really do hope make it into the female canon of the future...
Margaret Atwood: I don’t think I need to hope to hard on this one, seeing as MargAt has already been overwhelmingly accepted as the gifted author and visionary she is. I mean, on her website it says you can get a copy of Claire Danes reading one of Atwood’s novels! That’s Angela Chase/Juliette/daughter from The Hours/lead character from Homeland, people! Atwood’s speculative fiction is consistently critical, provocative and engaging to read. She advances conversations about gender politics, yes, but also topics of environmentalism, economics, biotechnology… all the stuff we SHOULD be talking about... and she does it in a style that makes you feel so SMART and FULFILLED after finishing one of her pieces. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that a few hundred years from now Margaret Atwood will be our era’s equivalent of Hildegard von Bingen. And now I get to conclude this paragraph with the sentence I have always wanted to write in journalism news stories, but never had a legitimate reason to until right now: ONLY TIME WILL TELL.
Zadie Smith: Critical darling, master (mistress?) of essays, novels, short fiction AND interviews with Jay-Z, winner of The Orange Prize and, I’ll argue, probably the boldest young female voice discussing race issues in literature "these days." The New York Times review of Smith's latest novel, NW, by Anne Enright also quite appropriately mentioned that, "Smith’s novels are notable not just for their social acuity, but also for their ability to absorb philosophical ideas." Thank you, I’d like to have some more, please. And so would the canon of female writers! (Yah, I’m just going to go ahead and speak for the canon).
Jennifer Egan: Pulitzer Prize winner(!) for format-exploding novel on rock and roll and existentialism and safaris and PowerPoint. Award-winning journalist. Author of first-ever serialized/live-Tweeted short fiction for The New Yorker. Told The Gothamist, "I don’t know what I’m doing. That’s the price you pay for doing something different every time." Yup.
So, obviously there are many more fabulous women who I am excited to see/hear/read more from in the future and I’m sure you can think of a few as well. Please feel free to keep this conversation going in the comments thread and, otherwise, I'll just say…
THANK YOU! Yes, you. Thank you for reading this and other posts in the RetroPop series. This guest blog sure was fun to write, but it only meant something once I started hearing back from readers. So thank you for your thoughts, suggestions, questions and support. Thanks, too, to Kelsey Wallace and the good people at Bitch who support thoughtful and surprising and important content every single day.
It’s been a blast, RetroPoppers. If you want to stay in touch, find me on Twitter @b_goldberg or on my website. And now, in closing, let's indulge in the latest from Ke$ha, which is sure to start its climb into the Top 40 as we collectively shake our groove thangs into the future! Say, does it remind you at all of Mrs. Dalloway? Argh! Another blog series for another time...
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