Deconstructing: Santigold

Santigold is the best, biggest pop star, and the perfect person to rep our pre-apocalyptic polyglot universe. We already had a hunch about this on her debut album, Santogold, which dropped in 2008 and was so strong she was able to tour on it for a good two years post-facto, and exemplified her past in punk and R&B, new wave and dancehall. But the new songs from her forthcoming album, Master Of My Make-Believe, feel even deeper than all that, and their expansiveness exemplifies not only where she’s been for the past four years, but where we’ve come as music listeners, and also as a culture. Beyond that, she left SXSW agape last week at her ever on-point live performance, amplifying the requisite, like, 25 shows with a super-tight live band, her trusty pair of dancers, inventive costumes the real-life representation of how a performer can be larger-than-life without contrivances and pyrotechnics. Not that we don’t love contrivances and pyrotechnics (I’m one of the few people I know who thoroughly adored Nicki Minaj’s bizarro/maligned Grammys performances), but Santi White comes from DIY, and she’s showing us how the ethics of self-sufficience can be applied in a populist, pop star, and thoroughly non-alienating way. Check this video of her doing “Disparate Youth,” Master’s ebullient second single, at the MTVu Woodies:

White’s subtle movements as she sings the verses exude a veteran’s confidence, and certainly she knows she can let her umbrella-wielding dancers (and that gilded soccer uniform) do all the fancy work. At song’s finale, she lets loose a bit and lets herself vibe on the dubs. Produced by Flatbush, Brooklyn-bred dancehall artist Ricky Blaze, the track incorporates a Caribbean foundation with post-punk guitar stabs, while Santigold seems to offer an inter-generational pep talk. So let them say we can’t do better/ Lay out the rules that we can’t break / They want to sit and watch you wiggle / their legacy’s too hard to take: in those lyrics, she links her own legacy in protest songs from Bob Marley to Dead Kennedys to Pixies (stormy weather!) to Blondie to Occupy. Unlike most other pop stars, White doesn’t offer an “industry age”: she is 35 years old (which I guess is the new 25, tell that to my running joints), and what makes her powerful is in part her experience, her unwillingness to adhere to preconception, and the precision and succinctness that comes from being a confident, fully-formed adult woman. She does everything: writes her songs, co-produces, engineers, choreographs (along with her back-up dancers, including Brooklyn-based choreo Desiree Godsell, also of Cubic Zirconia video fame). In an interview with the AP before her Woodies show, she said, “I’m really interested in making art all over the place in so many ways. That’s why I’m so hands-on with so many different aspects… The more things I can get my hands on, the more fun for me.”

Master Of My Make-Believe, is supposedly something of an exegesis on her disdain for the fame monster, something she already alluded to in the (non-Gaga, she swears) pop-star-dissing video for the skittering “Big Mouth.” Featuring a conglomerate of producers that show how tiny the globe feels via the internet — Switch, Q-Tip, Nick Zinner, Buraka Som Sistema, etc. — she fuses her multiplicities in a way that make so much sense right now, as the music world co-experiments and seems to create new veins between supposedly disparate genres almost daily. And in an era when female pop stars seem like they feel obligated to try on new visual personas — Minaj with her menagerie of wigs, Gaga with her conceptual Daphne Guinness outfits, Katy Perry with her… boob guns? — Santi White has simply put forth her undistilled conception of self, via her album art…

There is Santigold as “Bond Girl,” Santigold as Godfather (who looks a little like Odd Future’s Taco Bennett), and Santigold as a colonialist British ruler, rewriting history in a painting by legendary Brooklyn artist Kehinde Wiley (she was, remarkably, the first woman he had ever painted, which probably says more about art history than Wiley, though in the future he should probably handle that). Rather than getting Cindy Sherman with it and trying on non-autobiographical characters, Santigold’s doing her own personality in three parts, plus toying with traditional notions of wealth, gender, and power. What’s so awesome about it, and her music, is that she’s not afraid to put herself in the hot seat, or to execute her vision completely as an artist. She is an ideal pop role model — a woman whose art imagines itself beyond divides, whether they be genre, gender, racial, or class. Clearly, it’s going to be another Santigold year, which kinda means it’s our year, too.

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