Monday, 14 December 2009

Where has this sudden surge in female electropop come from?

I'm not really au fait with pop music any more (I haven't been since roughly 1999 to be honest) but after years of the charts being dominated by either awful, awful bling-clone hip hop with atrocious vocal hooks from the likes of Chris Brown, N Dubz and various Eminem proteges, or cheesegrater voiced tight-trousered indie bands with harsh guitar lines and two-step "jaunty" drums (hello, Arctic Monkeys; hello, Libertines), things have taken a rather abrupt turn in the last 12 months. Because the charts seem to be dominated by female artists, with an interesting edge to them, who can actually sing.

Lily Allen is the queen of British pop. I saw her at Glastonbury this year and she had utter star quality: a woman at her absolute peak, enjoying every minute of performing, with a hefty catalogue of wonderful, idiosynchratic songs, lyrically and musically some of the best we've had in the last decade. She is glamourous in the extreme - "alternative" without Camden griminess, just the right level of gobbiness, and a consummate performer. It was a wonderful gig.

But Allen has been joined by a rather trendier set of female performers who have taken pop music in a whole new direction with their brand of electropop. And it's a revelation.  Take Florence and the Machine for starters. Somewhere in between trance, disco, rock and operatic pop, it's a unique sound and my colleague reports that Florence's Brixton gig last night was tremendous. The Veronicas' wonderful "Untouched" - anthemic in a Calvin Harris sense but much more powerful - is easily one of the best songs of the last couple of years; the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' dancefloor friendly punky upbeat sounds are still all the rage and Little Boots is also on top of her game.

The "sound of 2009" clearly pays homage to the new wave sounds of the 1980s. But there's more - the androgynous, polysexual aspect of new wave culture has returned - but with female protagonists. For Frankie, Annie and Chris Tennant, we have a new breed - perhaps invoking the post-punk spirit of Debbie Harry. La Roux, for example, the alterego of Elly Jackson, describes herself as "well androgynous" - her neutral face (alt.gorgeous? I think so) while Katy Perry's lyrical flirtations with bisexuality tapped into the current climate.

However, the queen of the hypersexual, polysexual electropop world at the moment is undoubtedly Lady Gaga. Her costumes - which Westwood, McQueen and Gaultier would be proud of - are spectacular and help create a unique performing persona which perhaps masks a rather simpler soft centre (on Jonathan Ross a few months ago she just came across as weird and not very bright). At the heart of Gaga's package, though, is a string of blisteringly good pop tunes - reminiscent of Cher perhaps, but more pop than electro. Catchy, feelgood, lyrical...a far cry from X-Factor generated dross. I get wound up by her attention seeking as much as the next person but...my God, the girl can belt out a tune, and at least she's turned music into a performing art form again. I hope burlesque artists can be inspired again.

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