Archive for Jamelia

42. ‘Leave Right Now’ by Will Young (2003)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 8, 2010 by G.K. Reid

Sentimentality.  That long-standing enemy of honest art.  Well, frankly, I love it.  It’s vital.  But a distinction needs to made.  On the one hand, you have the kind of glossily cynical sentimentality churned out to sucker your grandmother and, on the other, there’s a more plangent form which is helplessly sentimental yet aware of it; that comments on it, even.  The former is typified by bombastic production, surging choruses and a sweeping string section.  It purports emotion, being sung with self-consciously earnest ostentation, but not for a moment does it take its steely eye off of the lucrative ‘Top Ten Songs Most Played at a Funeral’ list.  It wants to raise you up until you’re flying without wings and your pension has evaporated.  Will Young’s first release upon winning Pop Idol – Evergreen – was a culprit of this.  Leave Right Now is a different beast altogether.

It still bears formal similarities to the likes of Evergreen – namely the weakness for strings and the penchant for big volume-increasing choruses – but with several degrees more restraint.  The earnestness with which Will Young sings (despite arguably bearing some annoying tics and mannerisms that belie his greenness) is not in the least self-regarding, but supplely modulated and in service of the song.  Plus, it has that great noise in it. (I don’t know what it is, but there’s a similar noise in Jamelia’s Thank You. Some sort of muffled, bassy thing.  Anyway, it’s great.)

It was a watershed, career-defining moment for him (the song, not the unidentified noise).  His Back for Good. Furthermore, it augured his evolution from bankable one-man-Westlife into a purveyor of a deceptive kind of sentimentalism; lovelorn balladry that can lend itself to montages for departing American Idol contestants, while quietly tackling thorny emotional dilemmas with an air of jaded maturity or, alternatively, a frustrated naivete.

His output ever since Leave Right Now is free of meaningless platitudes and, despite always being about love, there isn’t one uncomplicated invocation of the thing to be found.  Look at the complexity of what has followed his signature hit: All Time Love contemplates the folly of romanticism, a la Rufus Wainwright; Changes is a lament that emphasises inertia over action; Who Am I is a love song that takes issue with the very concept of such a thing; the scathing Grace, with its gloating ‘lonely are the days of your life’ sucker punch, is an incisive character assassination, one hell of a lob to an ex-lover; while Let It Go is so thoroughly despondent that it abandons melody altogether.  These are pop-song character studies that hinge upon the human capacity for sentimentality; try as we might, it’s something that most of us can’t divest ourselves of.  Despite a shaky start, Will Young has mastered the ability of appealing to this part of us, without exploiting it.  It’s not an easy feat.

Bonus points: I can’t believe I’ve written 500 words about Will Young and haven’t mentioned his lovely face.

Advertisements

44. ‘See It In a Boy’s Eyes’ by Jamelia (2004)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on October 29, 2010 by G.K. Reid

Considering the career trajectories of the would-be pop princesses of Britain, you can understand why high school careers advisors might have recommended that Jamelia pursue a more secure path in life. Like baking cakes or getting her tits out on the internet, or whatever it is that careers advisors encourage young women to do.

As the decade closed, the battlefields of British pop were littered with distaff casualties.  Before Wino and Leona captured the attention of the US (the former with her fierce talent and Rock-Star-Burnout potential; the latter with a gleaming, Whitneyesque ballad practically giftwrapped for Uncle Sam) and thereby greased the wheel for the likes of Adele, Duffy and Estelle to secure superstar collaborations and Grammys, the prospects of the pop women of Britain were modest at best. There were, by my reckoning, three trajectories to follow:

1. You seem to arrive from nowhere, and swiftly return from whence you came, with at best one or two minor hits under your belt.  People have to think really really hard to remember those hits, let alone what your name was.  You are Lucie Silvas, Amy Studt, Jem, Remi Nicole, Kele le Roc, Shola Ama.

2. You enjoy a higher level of critical acclaim and/or record sales. You may even be a big deal for a year or so.  But both the sales and the support dwindle vertiginously, and you’re left either sitting complacently on a big pile of cash or lurking about the edges of the pop world, like a bad smell you can’t fully expunge. You are Dido, Ms Dynamite, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Natasha Bedingfield, Joss Stone. You were also Sade, Alison Moyet, Lisa Stansfield, Dina Carroll, Mica Paris (the stinkiest smell of all).

3. You were part of a successful group, and attempt to turn this into a solo career. You fail, but you have the comforting arms of television open to you. There are soap operas, dancing and cookery competitions, panel shows, and stuff-that’s-on-in-the-morning awaiting you! This option is neverending and ever-ravenous. It even extends to non-Brits, as long as you can pretend that Beyonce still keeps in touch. Just – for God’s sake – given this opportunity, please try not to say anything racist.  You are Kym Marsh, Alesha Dixon, Emma Bunton, Louise Redknapp, Mutya Buena, Rachel Stevens, Liz McLarnon, Melanies Brown, Blatt and Chisolm. (NB: Why wait til your group is defunct?! If you know which side your bread is buttered, you can elide the misguided solo venture and get a headstart in presenting right now! If you do this, you are Kimberley Walsh, and you are a very clever girl indeed).

If you are Jamelia, however, then you have somehow managed to live out all three of the above.  Your attention-grabbing breakthrough, ‘Money’ (with its noisy operatic bits and neatly subversive video) was a Top 5 hit, but was swiftly followed by years in the wilderness. Then, just when everyone had lumped you in with the Le Rocs and the Amas, you come strutting back in the most commanding fashion and score one hell of a hat trick – the stupendous ‘Superstar’; the piquant and deeply-felt ‘Thank You’; and, best of all, ‘See It In a Boy’s Eyes’, officially the best thing Chris Martin has ever done.

You’re collaborating with slick producers and smart songwriters. You demonstrate an expressive, but nuanced, control of your voice and an ability to invest a song with ambiguous drama (if anyone doubts that, they just need to listen to ‘See It In a Boys Eyes’ again). Your album is nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. You also do this at the Brit Awards:

You have, in X-Factor parlance, ‘the whole package’. You’re all set. You’re big league.

Oh, wait, no you aren’t. Your third album didn’t sell too well. So you’ve gone the ex-Spice Girl route, and now you’re presenting a whole week’s worth of Big Brother’s Big Mouth. You’re talking crap on Loose Women. You’re standing in for Louise Redknapp (LOUISE REDKNAPP!) on Something for the Weekend. You’re on every single comedy panel show going, and you’re not even being particularly funny (except when you nonchalantly call Javine a slag). You laugh a lot, you seem like you’re having a nice time. But you deserve better. You were unlucky to precede Winehouse and Leona; a Jay-Z or Kanye or Pharrel-shaped leg-up could have worked wonders. It still could. Jesus, if Estelle can do it, then so can you!

Bonus points: Jamelia is HOT.