Thursday, May 22, 2014

Taking Over the Dancefloor: Havana Brown - "Warrior"

Taking Over the Dancefloor is a weekly column highlighting the current #1 single on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart. Read why here

It's the third week of our coverage of the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart, and, as promised, the top spot has already shifted hands from the superstars to the relatively unknown, as the peak previously occupied by Beyoncé and Avicii gets a new tenant in Australian DJ Havana Brown, with "Warrior."

Brown got her start in 2011 opening for Chris Brown (oh dear), and released her debut EP, When the Lights Go Out, in 2012, following the success of her breakthrough single, "We Run the Night," which was remixed for its US release by RedOne with a guest rap by Pitbull (natch). "We Run the Night" was Brown's first single to top the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart; another track from the EP, "Big Banana," also hit #1 on the chart.

Although Brown's 2013 debut full-length LP, Flashing Lights, was not released in the US, the title track (also produced by RedOne) did get a single release, and became Brown's third Hot Dance Club Songs chart-topper in August.

Havana Brown released "Warrior," the album's opening track, on September 27, 2013. It nearly cracked the top ten on the Australian ARIA singles chart, and is certified 2x platinum in her home country (although in Australia, "platinum" only represents 70,000 copies sold, as opposed to 1,000,000 in the US, so...).

So how is it? In some ways, it's thoroughly unexceptional; you could probably guess at the lyrics ahead of time and not land too far off, and anyway, both Ke$ha and Queen of Hearts, also solo female dance-pop acts, put out releases called "Warrior" within the last 18 months.

Of course, it's not unusual for small, emerging foreign dance or pop acts to push the limits of borrowing from major US or worldwide smash hits, either in an attempt to catch a global audience in the same way as any knockoff in the US, or, possibly, to capitalize as an off-brand property in a national music industry unlikely to draw the notice of US copyright lawyers. But outside of some quite minor derivative elements (the growling is also right out of Ke$ha, and the music video is the disastrous, unholy spawn of Ke$ha's second "Take It Off" video and the bad Femme Fatale Britney Spears videos), "Warrior" actually holds its own as an original, if not innovative, piece of work.

One probable reason for this is that among the five credited songwriters is Luciana Caporaso, one of the truly great dance performers and songwriters of the past decade; you can hear her influence all over the slow-build chorus. If the verses have a bit of a different feel, that might be the impact of another notable co-writer, Sabi. Sabi, you might remember, infamously squandered a massive, rare Britney Spears feature spot with an embarrassing rap about "steaming like a pot full of vegetables," and while she did later release a pair of legitimately intriguing singles, which alternately blended light, jazzy soul funk and middle period Rihanna R&B-rock, she'd pretty obviously blown her chance and hasn't managed to put anything together since. It's one of the oldest stories in the music business, of course, but in such circumstances what better to do than make a little cash selling your unused material to other artists more fortunate in their careers? Because Havana Brown has little, if anything, in the manner of distinctive musical style, she's an ideal sort of artist to absorb such material, and the stylistic balance Caporaso's segments provide the track keep the odd, mildly Caribbean appropriation on the verses from being too much of a distraction.

I also have a sweet spot for electronic pop production that ventures even just slightly outside the safety box of synth loops, drum machines, and EDM cliches, so I appreciate the work done here by the essentially unknown producers Jonas Saeed and Niclas Kings. None of what Saeed and Kings create is in any way revolutionary, and you won't hear anything on "Warrior" you've not heard before countless times. But even if the two young (I assume) producers don't have the sonic adventurousness and ingenuity of Switch or Major Lazer, they do display a similar irreverence in terms of form, switching things up at different points in the track that, while not mind-blowing, are at least unexpected enough to be refreshing.


 Previous #1:  Avicii - "Addicted to You" (Drops 1-6)
Possible #1s Next Week: Duke Dumont feat. Jax Jones - "I Got U" (up 3-2), Idina Menzel - "Let It Go" (up 4-3)
Tracks to Watch: Calvin Harris - "Summer" (up 12-8), Katy Perry - "Birthday" (up 19-11)

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