Saturday, August 8, 2009

#145. 'Get serious like crazy'

Looking at the progression of female pop stars this decade is rather interesting. as of right now we seem to have come full circle with a repeat of the teen-pop movement that started the decade off, albeit one underwritten by the Disney conglomerate and thus devoid of that pesky smuttiness, but along the way there were tantalizing hints that the whole teen-pop thing would give way to a more mature brand of female pop star. Ones who wrote their own material, ones who didn't try to coast by on looks alone, ones who could pull off complex emotions with aplomb. We never quite got there though. Sure we had Beyonce pulling number one hits out of a hat at random but youth managed to keep striking back in new forms. Mature female pop singers that didn't traffic in pop-laced R 'n' B were relegated to the sidelines, or in Natasha Bedingfield's case her homeland, only breaking out occasionally to moderately class up the charts.

Bedingfield's an interesting case to look at as far as "mature" pop goes. She wasn't old per se, but she definitely had a lot more going on behind her songs than the Britneys and Christinas that we kept coming back to. "These Words" was as good a first hit as you could ask for, showcasing her ebullient personality, great voice and slightly more intelligent than average songwriting (I mean, namedropping Keats in a pop song? Not done.) That's not what we're gonna talk about today though. Instead we're taking a look at perhaps her most hated single, 2007's "I Wanna Have Your Babies."

I don't think it was even released in the States, but for me "Babies" is the essential Natasha Bedingfield single. It also works perfectly as a mature contrast to the love songs that managed to gain traction over here. In most cases a love song is centered around attraction or lust, juvenile stuff really. If the specter of sex is brought up it's never dealt with in depth and if the possibility of long-term relationships come up it's usually a passing mention without much development. "Babies" is pretty much the antithesis of all that; it's about nothing but the results of a long term relationship, or at least the search for one. The title gives that away pretty much immediately, but the way it's dealt with in the song isn't what you'd expect. Personally, I was expecting a maudlin ballad, a huge string laden declaration of fidelity and such based on the title. What I got was a rather lightweight pop song in the macro, upbeat, anchored by humming and occasional la la la la las. It was a bit jarring at first but it works wonderfully.

I can sum up it's appeal in three words: it's fucking adorable. Ignoring the subject matter and just focusing on the tone of the song coupled with Bedingfield's effervescent performance makes for the most unbelievably adorable single she's released. What Bedingfield has working to her advantage on her more upbeat songs is her combination of technical ability and spunkiness. Her voice always sounds natural, never overly processed and obviously harmonized until the chorus and her attitude towards the whole endeavor seems to be that this shit is fun. She's having a blast singing it and it shows and it makes some of the more egregious lyrics just float by without meriting comment.

If it weren't for the level of fun she brings to the table the song could easily be as bad as many seem to think it is. It's really a romantic comedy cliche about keeping the real reason for innocent flirtation (read: the possibility of it becoming a lasting relationship) hidden for fear of scaring off a potential suitor, and the clichedness won't get a whole pass from me, but instead of tackling it as a huge deal the way 90% of sitcoms and/or chick flicks have it's treated as a bit of a lark. The adorableness of the performance doesn't undercut the subject matter too badly though. Any other pop singer attempts it and I can't say it wouldn't.

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