Thursday, August 25, 2011

Jessie and the Toy Boys – So Now What? An Open Letter

Dear Jessie/Ms. Malakouti,

First of all, congratulations on the Femme Fatale Tour  on which by all accounts you performed an excellent, effective opening set for the one and only Britney Spears that exceeded expectations. Also, bravo on the EP Show Me Your Tan Lines, a set of five solid pop tracks that are both enjoyable and by themselves superior to a number of full albums released by major female pop acts in 2011 (I can think of at least three off the top of my head). Well done, truly; this is work of which you can rightly be proud.

All of this brings me to my point today. First, the good news: with your canny and clever reincarnation as Jessie and the Toy Boys you are not only proving yourself a noteworthy and talented pop musician, but thanks to Spears and Co. the public is starting to catch wind. This in itself is a major achievement, and a more jaded person would hardly blame you if you threw in your cap, declared victory and lit off to rupture a glass ceiling in some ridiculously unrelated career. However, I get the feeling that the musician thing is really the innate occupation you’re gunning for, in which case you’re barely out of the starting gate. Words cannot fully express the vast scores of good artists before you who also made it out of the gate only to be trampled by the overcrowded stampede before getting anywhere and…well, when the horse breaks a leg, you know the rest. 

I could easily tally a list of common errors that have undone those before you, and it would probably be fun. However, I am aware that even when one follows the lessons of “don’ts” to the letter, one still can struggle to determine what to “do,” often because the “don’ts” can easily contradict one another when taken out of context (it’s like the Bible, really. Too many cooks…). Plus, advice in the form of productive ideas can actually be useful, and requires much more knowledge than outlining ways people have screwed up in the past, and it’s generally more pleasant too. But the main point here as to why this open letter is worth your perusal at all is this: I like you. I think you’re a talented artist but more importantly I think you’re really on to something with Jessie and the Toy Boys, and as a lover of pop music I would very much like to see you become a success and a prominent contributor to the art form for a good long while.

All right, enough ass-kissing, now to the tough love. First, “Push It” is done. You have ridden it as far as it’s going to go, and frankly it wasn’t as far as it maybe should have gone, and now you must cut it loose and let it wither away into your past. I'm not the only one who's been wondering why the Hyundai Sonata* keeps racking up the mileage given the Ferrari Testarossa you’ve been keeping in the garage for God knows what reason, and it’s high time you took “Money Makes the Girl Go Round” out for a spin. Now THAT is a fantastic track, an excellent introductory single and a killer production that the top tier pop Amazons would kill to have in their discography. Remember when Britney put out In The Zone after that Madonna duet kind of fizzled and nobody was really sure if she's jumped the shark or not and then halfway through the album there was this song called “Toxic” that even a deaf-mute could instantly tell was a freaking pop Leviathan? That’s how I felt when I first heard “Money Makes the Girl Go Round," and I'm not alone. You know, Katy Perry runs a multi-million dollar enterprise with the express object of creating and perfecting tracks like this one you casually tossed onto your EP while running out the door to go shopping for all we can tell from the attention your camp has given it. You may have noticed how Katy Perry's career is going... take note.

'Money Makes the Girl Go Round'
Jessie and the Toy Boys
Show Me Your Tan Lines - EP
Prospect Park, 2011

There are a few other, smaller items I hope you will consider.
  • Cough up a recording of “Naughty” already. Those who had the fortune of seeing you perform it on the Femme Fatale Tour will want to purchase it for a mere dollar without question. Those who did not get to see said tour (and thereby this song) want to HEAR the damn song and for that opportunity they will surely cough up a buck twenty-nine without blinking (probably two or three bucks for a mini-EP with a remix or two thrown in)...I speak as one who knows that pain. *spinning maniacally a la Neve Campbell/Ana Faris* WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR, HUH? WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!?!?!?!?! 
What is this sexy madness?!?!?
  • Can you please clarify whether it is “Jessie and the Toy Boys” or “Jessie & the Toy Boys,” perhaps via an official logo or a clean sweep of the social web by a diligent PR team (if you’re hiring, give me a buzz)? This may appear an insignificant detail, but not quite. On the popular social music website, for example, where users’ played tracks are collected semi-automatically by an imperfect automated process that attempts to match even user-edited track and artist data with a limited in-house library and a wiki-based public database, there has been a good deal of confusion, redundancy and altogether non-optimized accumulation of data as your profile has spiked dramatically following the Femme Fatale Tour, and this creates frustrating and unnecessary obstacles to your popular momentum.
  • Keep on the high-profile group tours, but start playing solo shows at smaller but influential venues in Los Angeles (the Music Box, the Wiltern), New York, and across the country, with special emphasis on the Pacific Coast, which has demonstrated a hometown fondness for you and is an enormously fertile and hugely underused resource for developing vocal, loyal and loving fan bases. Consider also a trip to the UK and consider much more strongly a voyage Down Under, because your style and your sound are just the kind that tends to take off in Australia (smart pop-rockers like Pink and Ke$ha are especially big there). 
  • Get your fabulous derriere into the studio and work on that debut album, but don’t rush it: there’s going to be a lull in album releases from big female pop acts for at least the rest of the year and likely into the first half of 2012 while Katy Perry, Ke$ha and Pink write and record their next sets, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and Rihanna exhaust their recent albums, Beyoncé sits in her easy chair and crochets for her man and Robyn continues her slow and steady conquest of the sentient world behind everyone’s backs. Only Kelly Clarkson (meh) and Christina Aguilera (THAT will probably be quite interesting) will be presenting major new work, and there’s plenty of room in between and alongside them.
  • Get your reps on the phone and get booked to appear on “The Sing-Off,” “The Voice” (NB C); “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC); and “The X Factor” and “American Idol” (Fox). Emphasis on the NBC shows might take advantage of their relative newcomer status as well as the inevitable impact of bigger lineups (“The Sing-Off”) or Surprise Hit Show Returns!/post-Super Bowl premiere firepower (“The Voice”).
  • Consider doing something with Robyn. It appears her Midas touch has become more potent of late. (Plus she’s brilliant, yada yada yada…) 
Hang with her.
In conclusion, Jessie you brave, exciting bulb of enormous potential you: this isn’t your first time at the races, so it’s not like you’re galloping out impervious to performing the necessary maintenance or design tweaks at the outset, and the changes you’ve made so far in your approach have been spot-on. You’ve been blessed with the approval and a big nudge from Britney Spears herself (and there you are in stellar company), you’re smart, the bloggers (i.e. pop music’s “critics,” until actual critics materialize) seem invariably supportive, the consumers exposed to your work respond well, you’re blonde, and the timing could definitely be much worse. Heavenly choirs sing in your general direction.

Get that incredible single out pronto (as in before lunch), and by doing so maintain your momentum while giving yourself the time to finish your debut without rushing and cutting corners. That last is very important to me as a fan and a critic and the person who for some reason just spent several hours writing this letter, because if you, American who is (as far as we know) not yet engulfed by the Dr. Luke/Max Martin machine and has released nothing less than solid music thus far, wind up delivering a disappointing letdown like some common American Idol-winner/British import not prematurely dead nor named Adele, it would be a great waste of what I believe is a truly major talent from a very impressive new artist.

Love and best wishes and such,


For the rest of you, do check out the music of Jessie and the Toy Boys (website here), whose EP is available at iTunes and Amazon (and remarkably cheaper via the former).

*Full Disclosure: I may or may not have a mild bias regarding “Push It” as a result of its prominence during of the worst moments in an excruciating and contentious breakup, serving as something of a de-facto theme song for the other party. However, said party also evoked several particular lyrics from “Money Makes the Girl Go Round” upon taking match point, and clearly no negative bias muddies my opinion of that, so shut your mouth and go…well, you know.
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