You can summarize Best Coast’s roughly 1,040,000 Google-search results in just seven words: “boy,” “love,” “summer,” “weed,” “cat,” “cat,” and “cat.” This is remarkable because a) frontwoman Bethany Cosentino has been anointed indie-rock’s first ever “crazy cat lady,” which is an accomplishment of sorts, and b) holy crap, she only mentions the word “cat” in one song. That’s it! The line is, “I wish my cat could talk.” Why is it, then, that nearly every review, feature, or blog post about the band gives a shout-out to her cat, Snacks?
The short answer is that Cosentino has enough marketing know-how to be a character on Mad Men. The long answer is revealed in a pseudo-credible statistical analysis we’ve conducted here at SOTC, juxtaposing the words critics most often use when describing Best Coast’s debut album, Crazy for You, with the lyrics to Best Coast’s actual songs. The results will make you say, “Well, huh.”
First off, the raw data:
Number of Best Coast Songs Analyzed: 27
Number of Best Coast Reviews Analyzed: 27
Designated Keywords: Boy, Love, Summer, Weed, Cat
Which we figured would look better in line-graph form:
So let’s talk about the numbers. “Boy,” “love,” and “summer” are both used excessively by both parties. Which does make sense, because Cosentino lives in California, and sings about boys and love and the summertime. Her totals would be even higher if we were to factor in “guy,” “him,” or “he,” which are also convenient because those words rhyme with lots of things.
On to the curious two, “cat” and “weed.” Cosentino barely uses these words in her lyrics, and yet, they dominate every review of her album. Or, as the SOTC editor who made me do this put it, “Best Coast’s press is even more predictable than Best Coast’s press accuses Best Coast herself of being. I don’t know if that sentence actually makes any sense.” It does! Detractors most commonly identify Best Coast’s music as “formulaic,” and yet each writer tells the same story. The narrative of a lonely-sounding singer who earnestly wishes her cat could spill like Garfield is incredibly tempting. So when a band makes music that fits universal fuzz-pop descriptors — “distorted,” “nostalgic,” “catchy” — something’s got to help the not-particularly-discerning critic work up a vivid description. The whole cat bit works perfectly.
The counter-argument to this stance is that Cosentino perpetuates her blunt-smoking/cat-lady persona via every other medium besides her music, and simply ignoring that fact would cast a journalist as inattentive; She makes it pretty freakin’ hard not to mention anything about the cat and the weed. Here are some examples:
Exhibit a) Self-explanatory “joint” interviews.
Exhibit b) Cat album covers. Crazy for You has Snacks sitting on California. Her boyfriend, Nathan Williams of Wavves, depicts the two-for-one image of Snacks holding a blunt on his own new record, King of the Beach.
Exhibit c) Photos of Cosentino cradling Snacks like the baby Jesus.
Exhibit d) Controversy over Snacks the Cat Girl.
Exhibit e) A music video that depicts Snacks “directing” Cosentino and the band. It premiered on I Can Haz Cheezburger, the folks responsible for the LOLcats meme.
The problem with the counter-argument is that, well, Snacks the Cat technically has little to do with the quality or critical validity of Best Coast’s music (though the weed might have something to do with the making of it). Cats are something we helplessly gravitate toward. Repeatedly cued with the Internet’s most viral creature and taught to associate it with Best Coast, a writer’s job is made really easy. People love cats; they make for great headlines. Try not to click this: “Best Coast’s Cat Snacks + LOLcats = Win.”
The fact that Cosentino breathes the word “cat” only once in song is a testament to how effective she is at branding. In a Guardian article titled, “Best Coast’s Greatest Inspiration? ‘My Cats,'” Cosentino wrote, “But the truth is, I’d sooner talk about my cats than my music.” It appears that music critics would, too. She later revealed more: “Anything that helps Snacks reach the level of Garfield — the No. 1 cat in pop culture — is good with me.” The popularity of Snacks the cat is positively correlated with the popularity of Best Coast. He’s indie rock’s current most iconic mascot, created by the only marketing genius ever to rhyme “lazy” and “crazy.”
But maybe that’s too cynical. Maybe there’s something deeper at work here, something more romantic about the discrepancy between her lyrical cat references (of which there is only one) and her public cat references (of which there are many). “I wish my cat could talk.” It’s as if Snacks isn’t necessarily a source of inspiration, but she really wants him to be one. She wishes he could be more involved with her music, but he can’t. She wants him to provide her with feedback, to give her some meaning, to be her director, but he obstinately doesn’t, because he’s an animal. And she’s sad about that, but still committed to the idea of his centrality.
There’s not really a solution to all this critical wonkery, because she’s got the critics stuck on “boys,” “summer,” “love,” “weed,” “cat,” “cat,” and “cat.” Perhaps this is the mark of a good pop artist: picking a hook and sticking with it, creating a symbol that’s recognizable to all. This crazy cat lady is actually pretty smart.
Best Coast and Wavves play Webster Hall tonight and Music Hall of Williamsburg tomorrow.