As of late, it seems that a lot of indie’s leading ladies have been going the dance route. Most of their fan bases, comprised of a great deal of hip hip hurray hipsters, are quick to label them as sell-outs. I imagine it goes something like this, "I listened to her back when she was making music with her left nostril. Ugh, this actually sounds catchy. She’s dead to me!” Anyhow, is this really the case? Have these indie queens sold their souls to the music devil? Let’s examine.
Exhibit A is one our faves here at Unapologetically POP, Marina and the Diamonds, with the song "Radioactive" (click here to listen) off her upcoming sophomore release. Stargate produced the track. They’re a Norwegian duo that has worked with a number of pop divas including Beyoncé (on "Irreplaceable"), Katy Perry (on "Firework" and I wanna see your "Peacock" cock cock cock), and most prominently with Rihanna (on "Please Don't Stop the Music," "Rude Boy," "Only Girl," "S&M," etc.). At first, the synths sound like they do in any other club banger, but if you listen to the way Marina sings and to what she sings, it’s the same old gal from before, but in a brand new magical sonic sphere. Look at the chorus’ lyrics, “When you’re around me, I’m radioactive/My blood is burning, radioactive/ I'm turning radioactive/My blood is radioactive/My heart is nuclear/Love is all that I feel/I'm turning radioactive/My blood is radioactive.” The same honesty, pain, and vivid emotional landscape are painted in this song as was the case on all the tracks on The Family Jewels, her debut. She may not have sung many love songs in the past, but she’s said herself that before, she was trying to be indie cool and have credibility, without much regard to what she actually enjoyed, which was energetic, danceable, bubblegum pop. Doing something different to be viewed as respectable and cool if that’s not truly your style is just as fake as doing something to fit in with the radio crowd, so I respect that she’s finally embracing the fact that she wants to be a massive pop diva herself.
Exhibit B: Singer-songwriter Lykke Li’s "Until We Bleed" (click here to listen) with fellow Swede Andrew Kleerup, who’s known for his shimmering dance beats, particularly on Robyn’s "With Every Heartbeat." I’ve never been the biggest fan of Lykke Li. I have nothing against her musicality; she’s quite talented, but most of her stuff isn’t up my alley. However, this song is super catchy and grabs your heartstrings from the very start. The opening verse, “I'm naked/I'm numb/I'm stupid/I'm staying/And if Cupid's got a gun, then he's shootin',” exposes the vulnerability she feels, and the surrounding synths capture her mood perfectly, making for the perfect combination of lyrics and production.
Exhibit C: Sia’s "Titanium" (click here to listen) on David Guetta’s album, Nothing But The Beat. Sia’s music has always been quirky pop, but I actually prefer the shiny spin that Guetta provides her soulful voice and lyrics. With a chorus in which she sings, “I'm bulletproof, nothing to lose/Fire away, fire away/Brick of shame, take your rain/Fire away, fire away/You shoot me down but I won't fall/I am titanium,” an electronic kick only enhances the ferocity of this power girl’s delivery.
Exhibit D is Kelis. She’s not necessarily indie, but she’s never been as well known as the leading ladies in R&B/Pop, including Beyoncé and Rihanna, except for 2003’s omnipresent "Milkshake" (For some reason my milkshake isn’t bringing all the boys to the yard. Girlfriend needs to send me her recipe. Kelis?). Her 2010 album, Flesh Tone, saw Kelis abandon the hip-hop beats of her past for a brand new direction that was totally gay and totally yay. On the single "Brave" (click here to listen), she starts out revealing the mistakes of her past, singing “I'm not ashamed of winning/But it wasn't that way in the beginning/It was this way/It was kiss me/Come kick me and diss me/I had to give it up.” She then states how having a child saved her, “All of this pain you had given /It's just a reminder of livin/It was crazy, had a baby/He's amazin, he saved me.” This chick’s no sell-out. The synths cloak her emotion and allow her to deliver a sort of truth that I can’t imagine being captured in any other style but dance.
Exhibit E. Robyn. Of all the indie chicks now doing dance music, Robyn is the most prominent. Ironically, the dance direction she took after her teen pop ‘90s years actually made her more popular among indie music lovers. She serves as an excellent example of the beauty and purity that dance production can provide to some raw, emotional lyrics. One of my favorite tracks is "Cry When You Get Older" (click here to listen) on Body Talk Pt. 1. “Hey girl in the strobing light/what ya momma never told ya/is love hurts when you do it right/you can cry when you get older/Young boy by the traffic light/what ya daddy never told ya/is love hurts when you do it right/you can cry when you get older…I start out with good intentions, but mess it up like all the time/I try to keep up with appearance, but always end up way out of line/I need some kinda miracle, cause I've lost all my faith in science/so I put my faith in me.” This song appeals to those who have felt like outsiders (so basically, that’s everyone). Many of us have been the boy in the traffic light or that girl in the strobing light, and that’s what I love about this song and all of the songs that I’ve mentioned in this post. A bunch of people view electronic pop music as a betrayal of all that’s real and true, but I see it as the opposite. It gives us a chance to dance through our pain, to exorcise ourselves of our insecurities. These girls’ lyrics allow us to do it with songs that reflect our own feelings (as opposed to listening to another song about taking shots, which has its place but gets a bit monotonous after a while. I don’t need anyone telling me how to take a shot. I’m a big boy and am well versed in the practice). During these moments on the dance floor, we connect with our wounded inner selves in a spiritual way, and it’s all thanks to the indie gals who’ve bypassed the coffee shop on their way to the gay club.