Santigold‘s third album 99 Cents (2016), starts off with a bouncy, electro-pop tune that cleverly manages to satirize our modern-day culture’s obsession with self-promotion through sugar-coated irony. Lyrically and musically, the album is clearly influenced by the changes that she underwent through her four-year gap between 99 Cents and her previous album, Master of My Make Believe (2012).
Through her beat-heavy, playful-toned “Big Boss Big Time Business,” she references that traditional Santigold-esque theme of empowerment. However, the main theme in her album seems to vulnerably reveal her concerns for her future in present-day music in the slightly somber-toned, but still optimistically upbeat track “Chasing Shadows.”
She explores this subject on the next track, “Walking in a Circle,” whose eerie, robotic vocals first seem out of place, until the main subject is revealed. Santigold talks about the pressures on her to give up the pursuit of creating original music, since it’s unclear if intended audiences look for that anymore. “My magic is eternal/I got some tricks/I keep ’em up my sleeve” shows her determination to stay relevant and hold her place in the music industry despite the struggle. Her application of the term “zombie” also cheekily criticizes the musicians who fuel the current demand for carbon-copy pop music– a practice in which she repeatedly shows her disappointment towards throughout the album.
“Who Be Lovin’ Me,” a dream-like synth collaboration with Atlanta rapper iLoveMakonnen, and high-energy, snare-driven “Rendezvous Girl” both continue the theme of being relevant by dealing with the present-day music listener’s attraction to artists in hype and the artist’s struggle to stay in high-demand while staying true to their original sound. In the reggae-influenced track “All I Got,” she languidly voices her opinions on today’s attitude towards popular music as she sings”I”m here scraping away, still no trace of dignity/crowd’s out they got it hard for ’em/so devout, they’ll take an eye for it.” Based on Santigold’s stance on streaming music, this song describes the injustice she feels towards her seemingly earning nothing compared to other artists who put in a substantially less amount of work into their music– a gap that affects her more and more today than perhaps a few years ago.
“Outside the War” presents her impending sense of her time in the music industry running out through Karen O-esque vocals and a continuous, slightly-distorted guitar riff, a style reminiscent of her past punk influences. “Run the Races” and “Who I Thought You Were” close out her album with a lo-fi ballad about risks and an upbeat catchy indie-pop piece calling out the fakes in her life who let the music industry take away their individuality.
Ironically, Santigold’s message conflicts with the way she presents her album. Fans of her gritty, alternative rock, new wave sound found more prominently in her previous two albums may find this one a bit lacking. This album seems more like an experimentation of how she can transition her sound to one that could be more appealing to wider audiences but still hold true to her style. It’s understandable considering the need for artist’s to increase their marketability in order to gain more profit, but in the process it loses the essence that first drew original fans towards her music.
Article by Vivian Chen