Monday, June 27
Better than: Whatever David Guetta’s up to right now.
Launching British pop stars in the States has been a mostly-miss proposition for labels in the post-Spice Girls era. While retro-soul mashers like Adele and Amy Winehouse have seen success on this side of the Atlantic, those people working in the pop-qua-pop realm—singers with outsized personalities and killer tunes and sometimes a willingness to embrace current trends—were met with either confused blinking or, worse, complete indifference from this country’s audience.
It’s into this realm that Katy B, who like Winehouse and Leona Lewis and Jessie J is a graduate of the UK performing-arts academy the BRIT School, landed on Monday. She started off her Stateside press run at Le Bain for the kickoff of a Steve Madden-sponsored summer concert series that’ll showcase “up-and-coming artists”; her stellar album On A Mission, which dropped in the UK in April and has already received glowing notices from critics over here, will be released Stateside in September. Katy, whose voice brings to mind freestyle divas as much as it does Aaliyah, soars over the fantastic pop amalgam created by her and her producers, which is stuffed with nods to dubstep, UK garage, funky, and other bits scavenged from the fringes of pop—many of which, it should be noted, are genres that have been steamrolled on US radio in favor of the Eurohouse blob that’s subsumed so many singers worthy and capable of better material.
Katy’s set last night was brief, but it made up in ferocity what it lacked in length; she played the first three UK singles from Mission, “Katy On A Mission,” “Broken Record,” and “Lights On,” in quick succession, pausing only to chatter about how this was her first time in the United States and how most of the songs on Mission are about “goin’ out and clubbing.” While this was true for 2/3 of her set, during those songs she also showed that singing of going out need not be completely devoid of emotion, hitting the high notes with bravado that seemed rooted in actual joy, and not the “ooh, I got into the VIP section” type. And “Broken Record,” which had a speaker-ripping bassline and Katy showing off her vulnerable side with broken-heart lyrics and a winsome delivery, turned the admittedly absurd venue into a regret-filled bedroom late at night.
Much of the crowd stuffed into the steamy pool club sang along with every word, tipping the fact that they, too, could not wait for the American market to get its welcome wagon together for Katy. Of course, the crowds at sponsored open-bar events like this one tend to be self-selecting early adopters who don’t want to take their music-consumption cues from their home country. But the singers matching her choruses word-for-word gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, Katy would succeed where so many other forward-thinking British singers have come up short.
Critical bias: Still holding out for that original-lineup Sugababes reunion.
Overheard: “This sounds like my computer speakers.”
Random notebook dump: Ah, the floor-to-ceiling windows in the Standard’s 18th-floor bathrooms—so terrifying, then so liberating.
Katy On A Mission