20 November 2006

Good Crazy, Bad Crazy : Regina Spektor and Nellie McKay

Today's topic: Crazy people.

More specifically, crazy musicians. Imagine my surprise today when I saw that Regina Spektor's song "Fidelity" was one of the top 100 most popular tracks on iTunes. "Really?" I thought, "Isn't she kind of a whack-a-doo?"

In the same way that fellow singer-songwriters Tori Amos and Colin Meloy (of The Decemberists) have left behind conventional reality, Spektor has her own way of doing things. Her music, though obviously steeped in pop and folk, gets seasoned by everything from cabaret to drum loops. Her resulting albums have a strange, arresting beauty that demands attention for being so smart and so unusual.

Check out that picture, for instance. See how she's rocking the 1940's vibe just like Christina Aguilera, but unlike Miss Former Hooch, she's not turning it into an overt performance? The story of that image is also the story of her general style. She's definitely cultivating a persona, just like any super-cool and super-skinny kid in grandpa's tweed pants who delights in reading tattered paperbacks through rectangular glasses on the subway. However, she's low-key about it. Her music and her image reflect a kind of settling in herself that makes her easy to believe.

Really, could anyone who didn't find herself cool create a song as frothy and trippy as "Fidelity?" That is the sound of a woman who's at peace with her world, even if she is lovelorn. Go here to hear what I mean. Or watch this video, which is a guaranteed mood-lifter:

Yes, yes... Spektor's signed to a major label, so there may be some handlers involved in that image. But a bigger budget didn't do anything to her music but give it better sound quality and make it easier for a broad audience to find. Spektor's crazy-awesomeness remains unsullied. I mean, no record company made her say the word "better" like that in "Fidelity's" bridge, you know?

I wish Nellie McKay would take notes. Because I really like some of her music--particularly on her new album "Pretty Little Head," which she famously had to release on her own after Columbia refused--but I find her persona to be obnoxious.

McKay is young, and she's given to loud, breathless protests about animal rights and vegetarianism. She seems like one of those people who's never lacked anything, so she gets exceptionally upset about causes that, while important, perhaps don't require her level of vehemence.

Why do I think she's immature in this way? Really, it all comes down to one thing. While performing the role of Polly Peachum in the recent Broadway revival of "The Threepenny Opera," she changed a line from "the salmon is delicious" to "the zucchini is delicious" in order to uphold her dietary beliefs.

That, to me, is immature. Talking about salmon doesn't mean you support meat eating any more than playing Othello means you a support wife strangling.

Andrew saw this show, and he thought her little statement was annoying. I agree. If you take yourself that damn seriously, then maybe you need to take a nap. Or at least take clues from Regina Spektor on how to be awesome.



At 7:25 PM, Anonymous Jenni said...

not to be a super jaded brat (too late) but when musicians get political, i get bored.

i only like a few political songs and when nellie sings, i get bored.

At 10:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, too, need to take a nap.

Wait...did I miss your point?


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