Sounds of the Sirens

The dawn of 2012 brought true horror. Not only did the news of Madonna’s twelfth album release ‘MDNA’ reach me, but I then had the mind-boggling experience of seeing it fleshed out in the form of an iTunes recommendation. If you’ve had the misfortune of hearing featured track “Give Me All Your Luvin” you’ll know that it’s every bit as embarrassing as her recent up-take of ‘street’ abbreviations will suggest. The worst part of all is that if she were to record the sounds of her own excretion and turn it into an album, it would probably still make it onto the top spot of the Billboard Pop Charts. And yet as we pray for this to be the age-defiant vampire’s last form of torture, we can’t avoid the fact that the controversial, sexualised image with which she grounded her commercial success is constantly being reimagined by record labels looking to cash in on the aspiring, female artist. Over time, Madonna’s once controversial lyrics “Like a virgin, touched for the very first time” have snowballed into the perverse and embellished “whips and chains excite me”. The sad fact is that in all this unoriginal dreariness, the overwhelming popularity of Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and (dare I say it) Beyoncé overshadows the potential for the female artist to attest to the vacuous claim “we run the world, girls” without so blatantly spelling it out.

Set as one to pin your eyes to in 2012, ex-musical theatre student Azealia Banks has something that the majority of these financial powerhouses do not; an evocative soul voice reminiscent of The Raelettes and both the wit and impeccable rhythm to spit supremely catchy bars.  As her debut track “212” Ft. Lazy Jay smoothly bridges into the chorus, she wittily melodises the “tall tale” of her female competitors who seductively claim to be “grinding on it” as a way of selling records. Amongst other online previews of what Banks has next in store, the 90s house beat of “Liquorice” hosts a fireball of quick-witted lyrics that would have Tonedeff hot and flustering. “212” anticipates a debut EP release this year that will exude sexual anarchy.

Yet in all her taboo talk of tongues going “deep in” you pity Banks as she seems to desperately grapple with both commercial aspirations and genuine talent. In an interview with the BBC on the 11th of January, she expressed her concern about establishing herself as an original artist while being critically compared to the unrecognisably auto-tuned, chicken-intellect Nicki Minaj. With Banks’s main competitor unconvincingly faking multiple-personality disorder, it’s no surprise that her debut track deployed crude lyrics and explicit details of fellatio as the next, new way of shocking a commercialised music audience.

Darkly deconstructing dance, hip hop and  garage in her own off-beat take on the electronic, there’s no doubt that Claire ‘Grimes’ Boucher uses music alone to stake her claim. Akin with recently emerging and hauntingly poetic Julia Holter, there’s something so refreshing about her music with an irresistibly appealing air about her almost frighteningly girlish, lisping vocals. In the video for her notably dance-inducing “Oblivion”, she is encircled by a swarm of buffed sportsmen as she jolts around uncaringly to her own sound. Allegedly driving herself to tears for the sake of debut album ‘Visions’, Boucher now mocks the self-objectification that so many other female musicians rely on in their desperate attempts to be heard.

Equally scene-shaking and unwilling to conform, goth-pop Charli XCX is backed by the experience of having been in bands from the age of seven. Following her trippy track “Valentine”, “I’ll Never Know” sinisterly places lyrics of tormented love over a dark, steel-drummed reworking of Whigfield’s 90s classic “Saturday Night”. The result is a bizarre sound that curses the girls-night-at-Reflex feel on which it is grounded.  Playing with the stereotypically ‘feminine’, 19 year old Charlotte Aitchison stands out in creating her own, almost satirical art form.

Building acclaim on October 2011 as she sang angelically on ‘Later…with Jools Holland’, English folk/soul singer Lianne La Havas speaks of love with endearing sincerity. In single “Age” she hints at a sordid affair singing “I kinda know this other guy but he’s rather/Old enough to be my father”, only to cheekily interject “So he’s not the one for me/Cause I fancy younger men”. Her lyrics are honest and free of pretention. She communicates the complications of romance and her sensuality through the delicate sultriness of her voice, without having to goad listeners with gratuitous pillow-talk. In a recent interview with The Observer, Havas explained “It’s hard for me to make up a story and to be able to put the necessary emotion into the performance. It doesn’t make me happy if I can’t hear myself in it. It’s like I’m lying; I feel bad”. Her smoothly soulful, piano-backed debut single “Lost and Found” certainly reflects a desire to keep it real that will, with any luck, continue to feel so refreshingly apparent in her first album Is Your Love Big Enough(set to be released with Warner Brothers on July 9th this year).

Yet as I get into my car to find that my 17 year old sister has left the radio on Capital FM, it is not the voice of Havas, Boucher or Holter that I hear. Instead, as Tulisa Contostavlos cries “Forgive me for what I have done/Cause I’m young” over the abysmal ‘dance’ beat of her debut solo single “Young”, I start to ponder whether the recent ‘leaking’ of her sex tape is just the happy coincidence she claims. As if Rihanna’s lyrics “Give it to me baby like boom, boom, boom” weren’t enough to shock, it seems a cameo, porn star appearance is the next best step. Fated by their own femininity, the female artists who dominate the mainstream are blow-up-dolls, manipulated at the hands of merciless money-makers. Pitiable though they are, it is the audience who pays the ultimate price. Blindly lured in by their ‘bold’ acts of self-sexualisation, it is our musical endeavours that fall wrecked at the rocks of their drearily auto-tuned shores.

Jonjo Lowe