Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Brittany McDonald - "Notice Me" (Music Video Review)

If you haven't heard of Brittany McDonald, there are a few things you oughta know.

First, you're not alone. Brittany McDonald isn't a brand spanking new artist per se, but she is rather new to the pop scene, having recently defected to our side from Nashville, where she spent several years as a stellar yet under-appreciated country singer. She's also unsigned, mostly a result of her determination to team up with a label and management worthy of her considerable talent and formidable industry know-how.

Second, you probably would like her, and her music. She's got the whole package, and that's not amateur blogger enthusiasm talking. McDonald has matinee idol looks, college-level smarts, almost a decade of real experience as a working musician, tested corporate tie-in-friendly material, and a naturally impressive instrument enhanced with the benefits of years of training. If you like Katy Perry, and I'm pretty sure a good number of people do, you'll almost certainly like Brittany McDonald. If you like Ke$ha, you'll also probably like Brittany McDonald. If you like Miranda Lambert, you'll certainly like Brittany McDonald. If you like Kay, Sky Ferreira, Jessie and the Toy Boys, Kimberly Cole, Charli XCX, Nicola Roberts, Queen of Hearts, Yasmin, or all of the above, you'll probably find Brittany McDonald fitting neatly into your library.

Finally, what separates her the most from the approximately 865,976,597,634 other pretty white 20-something females who aspire to some degree of pop stardom is that - hope you're sitting down - I'm pretty certain she GETS it.

The "it" I believe she GETS is not just the pop music game; not just the post-American Idol requirements of pop stardom; not just the nuts and bolts of crafting songs for maximum impact across the largest possible audience; not just the postmodernist art of the pop singer as musician, product and performance artist; not just the wry truths about post-adolescence and relationships and the digital age and the world that is at once far more sturdy and baffling than we thought when we were in high school - I mean all of it, and more. I could be wrong, of course...there is always the argument that if indeed Ms. McDonald did GET "it" to the degree I just breathlessly claimed, she'd be on the radio and selling out Staples Center by now, and admittedly she's not. (Yet.) But even Katy Perry, arguably the closest of McDonald's super-famous peers and someone who almost defines GETting it, endured years of un- or misdiagnosed career maladies before she found her Yoda in Dr. Luke.

McDonald, who appeared on our influential list of the Top Ten Pop EPs of 2011 (at #8, above Sky Ferreira and Grammy winner Corinne Bailey Rae), has just released a music video for "Notice Me," a highlight from the Spotify set that won her that spot. On the surface, "Notice Me" seems to belong to a dubious topical tradition I've noticed among new and aspiring female singers, in which the performer objects in some manner to the unfairness of the woman's lot in the music industry, from enforced sexuality and meaningless content to lingering sexism in every possible arena to the infuriating successes of women who allegedly lack the basic ability to dance, write music, sing live, or stay away from abusive ex-boyfriends, since those are the apparently universally understood ingredients for pop stardom (spoiler: they're not). I'm always disappointed when I encounter a song like this from a promising new female act, because it generally indicates that she is not yet mature enough to handle a pop music world in which sex happens and Britney Spears is in fact the greatest product and practitioner of the art form and that's just how it is. In my book, if you want to be a pop star, especially a girl pop star (and come on, it's almost a requirement), I'm not going to be able to take you seriously until you GET "it" enough to know not to diss Britney Spears. That's the measure of maturity in pop musician terms.

Brittany McDonald, fortunately, is too clever for that. "Notice Me" isn't about other pop singers - it's about Brittany McDonald. "Notice Me" isn't a diss song like Jessie and the Toy Boys' "Money Makes the Girl Go Round," or a mildly disguised defensive anthem like Anjulie's "Stand Behind the Music," nor an adolescent rebuttal like Jessie J's "Who's Laughing Now;" it's a restrained, controlled battle hymn of an artist who's learned her lessons, found her purpose, and is ready to leave Never-land and grow up. And because it's free of those distractions, "Notice Me" is a personal song that becomes much more: nuanced, gorgeously crafted and performed, personal, and graceful, McDonald's little song about herself is a graceful work of art whose beauty can be appreciated and, more, can be felt or personalized by anybody at all.

The new music video for "Notice Me" only drives the above points further in. Using clips of female entertainers from classical-era film and contemporary pop music videos stitched between close-up shots of the singer's emotive, camera-friendly mug (we never see her below the collarbone), McDonald makes perfectly clear what she's singing about, with a clarity many more experienced artists often fail to achieve. The clips are painstakingly selected, too, in order to ensure viewers understand that (most of) the women we see are there for sympathetic reasons: when we see Lady Gaga disrobing, it's the enslaved Gaga of "Bad Romance" forced to sell her body to heartless Russian tycoons; shots from Rihanna's "S&M" are confined to those in which she is on display against her will. By half a minute in, McDonald has nodded her head toward Gaga, Rihanna, Britney Spears, Beyoncé, Lily Allen, Lana Del Rey, Fergie, and Christina Aguilera, not in accusation but in sympathetic sisterhood. No woman is a villain in this piece. (Incidentally, there is a distinct lack of Ke$ha, which is a telling sign of how expertly she has managed to circumnavigate these issues.)

If you watch the clip a few times, as I found myself doing, you'll be able to appreciate more and more of the detail McDonald puts into her craft, which I'm pleased to see translates to video as well as audio recordings ("Notice Me" is one of McDonald's first performed music videos). Notice, for instance, the film bride mouthing along to the lyric "brand new," and the classy cutting as she illustrates the line "'sex sells' is never going out of style" with appropriate images yet without identifying or vilifying any single performer. It would be easy to simply plant a clip of Jessica Simpson washing a car or Katy Perry shooting whipped cream from her knockers at that moment, but then we'd just think "oh, yeah, Jessica Simpson, what a slut" and completely miss the point. Perhaps best of all is when McDonald says on the spoken bridge "Whatever happened to using mystery as a device to entice?" and we see a brief shot of Britney Spears, opening her legs while sitting a chair with her back to the camera; it's a classic Britney Spears kind of shot, Spears having all but perfected the art of the tease throughout her career.

This is what I mean when I say that Brittany McDonald GETS it.

As for getting noticed, there's still plenty of hope for this talented and remarkably keen artist. She's still pretty new in these pop quarters, at least in terms of the industry's sense of time. Ke$ha broke into Prince's house and vomited in Paris Hilton's closet (and was in a Britney Spears video) and watched a single she'd done pro bono go to #1 and make bank for everyone else involved but her before she rolled onto the A-list in her gold Trans-Am, and Fergie didn't find her way to the Peas until her 30s. Sure, McDonald would do well to take a few more risks and playing the game a bit more aggressively than she has, but she also has plenty of time to do so if she chooses, and granted, giant ostentatious leaps of are much easier when you have a manager or an industry patron standing by with a parachute, or at least the first aid kit, just in case.

But you don't have to solve the unknowns of her career's future to enjoy the work she's done thus far, and of that there is a healthy chunk available. Watch the music video for "Notice Me," and check out some or all of her songs on Spotify; you may well discover that even while she remains appareled, there's plenty about Brittany McDonald worth noticing.

Find Brittany McDonald on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Spotify
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