Monday, September 5, 2011

First Listen: Nadia Oh - 'Shade'

British electro-pop provocateur Nadia Oh is bound to rack up her share of haters. After all, she is kind of brilliant (or is she?) and her music is pretty aggressive in construct and content, kind of like Cher Lloyd's more confident big sister.

Now, pop music has taught us some possible responses when confronted with hateration (© Mary J. Blige): there's "woe is me" (Kelly Rowland's "Stole," only because I can't think of a good enough first-person example), zealous self-empowerment (Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful"), the "oh yeah? YOUR mama's so fat..." (Missy Elliott's "Gossip Folks"), the "how do you like me now? ( you like me now?)" (Jessie J's "Who's Laughing Now"), or the "whatever, I'm successful/hot/rich" (Jill Scott's "Hate On Me"). My favorites in terms of music are the "bring it on - haters are my protein shakes" songs, like Kelly Rowland's "Shake Them Haters Off," Ke$ha's "Backstabber" or the newest track from Nadia Oh, "Shade." 

I'm pleased enough when someone puts out new music I enjoy, and goodness knows Nadia Oh has earned points from me to spare thanks to her fantastic single "Taking Over the Dancefloor (Kate Middleton)." However, not only do I enjoy "Shade" quite a bit, through it I've learned a new expression, which makes it fun AND educational. I'm not sure if this is a cultural thing or I just haven't been paying attention, but I was hitherto unfamiliar with the phrase "throwing shade" and had to look it up. (Yes, I probably could have deduced the meaning from context, but why else do we have the Internet if not to look things up?) Below is my conflation of the slang dictionary listings.
throw shade (v. phr) to give attitude; to criticize, demean or insult, especially in public; to take a superior attitude. Synonyms: Badmouth, talk shit, dis.
Origin: Evolved from the term "shade," used since the 1920s as a verb meaning essentially the same thing, and which likely stems from the even older expression "putting shade on" someone or "hiding someone in the shade," as in a large object blocking the light for a smaller object nearby.
FUN FACT: This phrase is generally associated with English-speaking black culture as well as drag performers, and was popularized during the in the early 1990s when "vogueing" came to mainstream attention following Madonna's song "Vogue" and Paris is Burning, the popular 1990 documentary on the dance style.
See? A clever lyricist could have a field day with this, and Nadia Oh is rather clever. Just as she mined every possible rhyme with "Kate Middleton," likewise no stone is left unturned on "Shade" in terms of wordplay. It's every bit as ostentatiously exhaustive as on the earlier track but ultimately more impressive for not resorting to "poppington in the clubbington" shenanigans. The Moombahton trend explored on "Taking Over the Dancefloor" and its Patty Duke-style cousin "No Bueno" remains, but "Shade" is much more lyrically involved than those two, recalling Oh's earlier single "Hot Like Wow." What this accomplishes vocally is that we get a little taste of the human inside the electronica who wasn't there at all on "Dancefloor" (quite the point, too) and was just an idea on "No Bueno." While I don't think anyone is so prehistoric as to think Nadia Oh really ought to wind up as a girl and a guitar strumming about the industry or how men suck, the only thing more fascinating and tantalizing than a fembot is a fembot with a flash of human sentience.

All of this results in a varied, active track that seems much shorter than its 4:16 running time (always a plus) and centers on a gloriously designed chorus (or as close as these songs come to it).. "Shade keeps me cool," she says casually, "So keep on throwing it!" What's to argue? Shade, in the usual sense, does tend to keep one cool; then of course there's the deeper potential meaning - that controversy may well be what so draws people to this sometimes polarizing creature. Yes, there is an unfortunate use of the benignly intended "gay" slur at the shade-throwers which concerns me because if to be "acting hella gay" is to throw shade about Nadia Oh, then I've been sleeping with the wrong sex this whole time! We'll give her a pass this time (but only this time) but I wish wasn't there to throw me off right before what I'm pretty sure is a Beyoncé reference - but it could be "fiancée," or "peons say," or strangely mangled "bouncy," for all I can tell (I'm usually thinking about the "hella gay" line in one way or another, which is no bueno). But she does compare herself to Rick Ross (which is muy bueno).

Yes, the lights are on at the house of Nadia Oh. She might even be at home.

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