At most events where we perform, unless it’s a theme party of some kind, there’s always people with a wide range of musical tastes. Some people want to hear songs they know well, while some crave new tunes to discover. Others don’t care so much about the songs or artists, but more of an overall vibe – but of course, even then different moods are preferred, as some like only modern electronic lounge music, while some may like a vintage atmosphere of Motown or soul. And these are just a few of the tastes we’ve seen over the years. The kind and combination of music that people want to hear at events are endless.
This is, most often, a great thing – especially when you’re a DJ in New York City, where so many styles of music that thrive, and even an obscure genre can have a surprisingly large following. But sometimes, those planning events want to make sure that the DJ can pull out some songs at times that everyone can agree on, but of course don’t feel stale or played out.
In the last few years, several young female artists like M.I.A. (“Paper Planes”) and Santigold “L.E.S. Artistes”) or female-fronted groups like The Ting Tings (“Shut Up and Let Me Go,” “That’s Not My Name”) have managed to create different shades of pop that all share a genre-blending quality, as well as an attitude of in-your-face, almost snotty confidence. These artists have been embraced to some degree by those with more underground tastes, as well by as those who like a more mainstream sound. In other words, songs from these artists are just as likely to be heard in a Williamsburg hipster’s iPod, or playing overhead in Aisle 8 of Rite Aid.
A relatively new addition to this vein of young, edgy and intense female-dominated pop acts is La Roux (loosely translated from French, it means “the red one”), a British duo made up of, you guessed it, red-haired singer Elly Jackson and keyboardist Ben Langmaid. La Roux doesn’t mix as many genres as much as M.I.A. or Santigold, but their freshness does come from fusing something old to something newer. In this case, it’s meshing the feel of the ‘80s synthpop era – from the Depeche Mode-like electronic riffs to Jackson’s dramatic, Patrick Nagel-like wave of a hairstyle – with a take-no-shit, confrontational stance on relationships that takes a cue from modern hip-hop, ultra-empowered mid ’90s female pop artists (and, even though it untidys the description here, Blondie).
La Roux’s “Bulletproof,” currently climbing toward the middle of the Top 40 pop charts, is a lean, buoyant pop song that shows how seamless this combination of retro electronics and a current “talk to the hand” brash attitude can work. While the song’s intro might make you think the group has revived every type of keyboard sound heard in the ’80s, the defiant energy and lightning-fast delivery of Jackson’s crisp vocals keep the tune from feeling like a cover of some obscure Yaz single.
“Bulletproof,” though, truly becomes special when it reaches its chorus, where Jackson vows she won’t be sucker for bad relationships anymore: “This time baby/ I’ll be/ bulletproof.” Sure, it’s simple, and without the right vocal performance or melody, it could be forgettable, but in the way the melody opens wide after the constricted, staccato verses, and how Jackson’s voice hits the song title with an enchanting delicate balance of airiness and emphasis, it becomes a surprisingly uplifting moment, one that feels at once gorgeously free and sharply focused.
And also, to invoke the ’80s, this is a totally awesome dance song.
Have a listen to the original mix (there’s plenty of remixes out there, too):
La Roux – Bulletproof