Friday, August 17, 2012

Angry White Female: How A White Girl Won Over Hip-Hop/Pop: Can't Take Me Home By P!nk

The Good: Decent musical accompaniment. Some concepts of lyrics
The Bad: Most of the lyrics, Vocals, Message is impossible to take seriously.
The Basics: On an ultimately average album, Pink awkwardly embodies hip-hop roles while still trying to express her vulnerable teen self.

Hip-Hop culture is represented in the media with several aspects that, if encased in an individual would, embody a split personality. Sex is treated as "just sex," where hip-hop men score and are fairly indifferent to their partner(s), there is a high instance of homophobia, yet hanging out with (guy) friends is almost more important than being in any other relationship. So, ultimately, hip-hop men are supposed to be indifferent to relationships, lustful for sex, generally homophobic and loyal to a core of friends. Hip-hop women are essentially treated the same way but they're supposed to give up the sex as opposed to going out and getting it. The hip-hop woman who is truly emotive becomes relegated to the "crazy bitch" and one who is too easy is, well, relegated to simply "cheap and easy." But ultimately, hip-hop women are embodied in mass media as angry. Where the men are indifferent, the women are angry.

It is, therefore, understandable how Pink (or P!nk) could win over the hip-hop-pop niche. She's an embodiment of teen anger with rage in the hip-hop dialect and all-important emphasis on basslines. It's also no wonder her first track on Can’t Take Me Home is "Split Personality." At the risk of malappropriating a phrase, her album featuring such radio tracks as "Most Girls," "There You Go," and "You Make Me Sick" is just fronting.

Can’t Take Me Home (the album) is a mix of anger and vulnerability, strength and weakness, hip-hop toughness and pop rhymes, basslines and violins, with unimpressive vocals and overbearing backing vocals. So, for example, "You Make Me Sick" is a quasi-rap that explores conflicted feelings involving becoming aroused. The narrator feels guilty over becoming aroused and feels used. It's hard to take the serious aspects of sexual dynamics in mismatched power relationships when it is being sung to singsong lyrics like "You've got me lit like a candlestick / Too hot when you touch the tip . . ." Mismatched sexual power is not often explored in music and "You Make Me Sick" is just silly for attempting to make conflicted sexual feelings dancable.

Pink shows a softer side on a fairly standard hip-hop ballad "Let Me Let You Know," which sounds like it could have been a track on a Jodeci album. So, in this way Pink's Can’t Take Me Home provides a very familiar listening experience for fans of hip-hop, making her accessible. She's one of the culture, despite her whiteness. After all, with the way she works out (as evidenced on the back cover photo) odds are she could take most anyone in a brawl.

And there's that brawling sensibility to her. On the album's title track, overproduced as it is, the sound is basically an auditory throwing down. She challenges her antagonist to drop all pretenses because she is not a lady. She insists in both lyrics and the sound of the song that she is streetsmart, real and uncouth. But then she wants us to accept her vulnerable side and it does not work for the listener.

This is not to say that as one who is trying to capitalize on the hip-hop-pop market, Pink should simply embody the role traditional in that niche. I'm all for challenging the normal paradigms. But Pink lashes out with "Hell Wit Ya," "You Make Me Sick," and Can’t Take Me Home, embodying all of the hip-hop woman's strengths and angers, only to turn around with songs like the radio-friendly "Most Girls."

"Most Girls" is actually an excellent example of what is wrong with Can’t Take Me Home (the album). Pink sings about how most women want a man who will buy them things, then insists that she is not that way. Please! Celebrities and commoners don't mix. Seriously. Outside Sean Connery and Elizabeth Taylor, what celebrity isn't involved with another celebrity?! My point here actually extends to the concept that I've been hawking the whole review: "Most Girls" tries to defy the hip-hop stereotypes using the diction and phraseology of the market ("shorty got a job" "bling-bling") without replacing it with anything meaningful or real.

It also illustrates two troubling aspects of Can’t Take Me Home. The first is the trend, far too popular in today's pop music, where the singer will provide their own backing vocals, raise them to the forefront during a refrain and provide somewhat incomprehensible (supposedly emotional) wailings over them. Which leads to the second problem. Pink does not appear to be a terribly talented vocal performer. I've listened to each track several times and I cannot figure out how she was signed to a recording contract. She doesn't have the voice. Most of her vocals, like on "Hiccup" are a combination of speak-singing (limited harmonizing, close to talking, like rap-droning) and exceptionally overproduced vocals. So the moment the song begins to explore anything outside a very limited range, the production quality kicks in.

What I will say is that Can’t Take Me Home sounds good. It has a decent bassline, it kicks on a lot of songs. If it weren't for the lyrics and vocals, it might be decent. But it's not enough to recommend. I was close to rating this a 3, but when I listened to it while writing the review, it just began to completely grate on me, especially the split personality aspect. Even the best song on the album can't escape that. On "Hell Wit Ya," Pink complains about how the guy who left her has learned to open doors for the new woman he's with. That knocks denies the fundamental male hip-hop role of indifference. Sigh. At least it makes Pink angry, allowing her to embody this weird angry white teen young woman who basically arrived at the end of the Blonde Revolution to say "It's over!"

The best song is the angry and dancable "Hell Wit Ya," the superlatively bad track on the album is "Let Me Let You Know."

For other, similar, works, check out my reviews of:
Introducing . . . Joss Stone - Joss Stone
Two Suns - Bat For Lashes
The Sweet Escape - Gwen Stefani


Check out how this album stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Music Review Index Page where the albums are organized from best to worst!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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