Friday, October 2, 2009

#90. 'Nobody else, so we can be free'

t.A.T.u. "All the Things She Said"

Marketing is just as big a driving force in pop music as the singles themselves. In order for something to get popular it needs to have a whole series of factors working in the background to get the song/artist out to the public in a way that all but ensures a massive surge of popularity. There's the obvious stuff, the music videos, promotional visits to daytime talk shows, radio spots pimping the new album and any other advertisement for the product, but the more fascinating area is what I'd call image management. I'm not of the industry at all so this might be total bullshit on my part, but I'd wager that there's a whole cottage industry in the backrooms of the big 5 where artists in development are tweaked by focus groups the way a pre-release movie would be. Something about the way that any new artist comes out with this air about them that says 'I am what the youth of America want right at this moment' just gives me images of the singer standing in front of a panel of market researchers who are telling him that America doesn't like that smile, try this one instead and so on. It's humorous for sure to think that the level at which these artists are a product extends to that length, but someone in one of those backrooms at Universal in 2002 saying 'America wants to see two girls kissing' might be the only explanation for t.A.T.u.'s existence.

Now, t.A.T.u. weren't the first lesbian(?) pop stars, or even the first artist to use some sort of sapphic imagery to boost their appeal, but I don't think any artist before them was solely centered around lesbian(?)ism in the same way. Even if the world at large wasn't convinced that the lesbian thing was anything more than a gimmick, it didn't stop them from grabbing a fairly large chunk of notoriety and popularity on its back. Their singles were all cut from the same cloth thematically, basically amounting to 'If girl-girl love is wrong I don't want to be right' with a side order of 'Society want to keep us apart? Fuck them!' thrown in for good measure. Of course the songs were secondary to the image of the two remarkably telegenic young girls kissing, but that didn't stop the army of producers and songwriters behind that side of the process from churning out a great slice of pop as a first blast. Really, it wasn't necessary for them to release anything besides "All the Things She Said" because any subsequent singles just tore up the same ground and did it nowhere near as well.

As usual with this type of thing it's not so much the lyrics that sell it as a great song as it is the production and arrangement. Given that none other than Trevor Horn was behind this one it's not surprising just how immaculate the end product is either. Every single part of the mix is just perfectly placed, from those tight, snappy drums that announce the arrival of the chorus to the synth-strings that act as the interlude post chorus and the slightly majestic keyboard motif that kicks the song off. It all adds up to sound like the textbook example of the debut single: bombastic enough to alleviate concerns about their relative inexperience, dynamic enough to suggest a bit of range to the rest of their material but not too much of either of those aspects to leave the feeling that whatever comes next it could be bigger and better. It's the consummate studio creation basically, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.

The kicker comes in the chorus though. That multitracked, overlapping vocal arrangement absolutely makes the song for me, giving the whole scenario that t.A.T.u.'s career was boxed into a sense of urgency that never materialized on their other singles. The arrangement gets that across more so than the words themselves, suggesting the sort of racing thoughts that would accompany the whole initial lesbian shock thing without having it explicitly stated. It's kind of remarkable how much mileage the chorus gets out of a grand total of two lines, but the way that they're aaranged and produced make it seem like so much more is being said through so little words. Not talking about subtlety or nuance, still a bit early in the list for that stuff, but just harnessing the power of simple words to their maximum effectiveness. That efficiency bleeds out into the verses too, where the girls' hesitant, breathless delivery is as responsible for evincing the first crush mentality as the lyrics. It's oneof those instances where I'm willing to overlook things like fairly perfunctory lyrics because of how the producers work with them to get more out than you'd expect.

Coming up tomorrow: Possibly the most obscure single to grace the list.

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