PopText will resume my usual meanderings tomorrow, because for now it's 4am and I want to weigh in on this
; a female acoustic cover of the NWA track which has been causing some racket over at ilx and the like.
People say it’s a dull cover. People say its offensive. People say there wouldn’t be such a fuss if she did some crazy electro-dub remix thing. But of the people who care enough to be disgraced, the majority appear to be men. And I find that pretty interesting.
This is not a genre I chose to listen to. Familiar territory to many readers I know: woman as degraded objects etc. Every numb-eyed faux stripper in every blinged up video makes my heart sink a little further and for each song that doesn’t promote this world-view, odds are that artist has a stack more that do just waiting on their album. So I obviously didn’t bother with the NWA version.
But this made me listen to the track for the first time; familiar female voice plaintive with emotion, gentle strumming and flowing rhyme pattern. Talking about gang life and murder. Issues of class and ethnicity are flying around. People care if she, as a middle class white girl, has the ‘right’ to take a track with such deeply rooted socio-cultural relevance and pull it from this apparently sacred context.
Yes, there is the ‘cheap trick’ obvious juxtaposition that comes with the switch of genre, but so what? Comedy cross-genre covers aren’t such a big deal; you’ve got the Gourds bluegrass ‘Gin & Juice’, Ben Kweller turned his attentions to ‘Ice Ice Baby’, hell even Kid 606 did a direct sample of this song without such outcry.
So why should I care?
Well, it’s just the sneaking suspicion that if it were John Mayer strumming away in a back room with this, there wouldn’t be nearly as much derision and attack. People would laugh, but not half as many panties would be getting quite so twisted.
See, Nina took a song that speaks not just of a cultural experience, but a brutally male one, and has subverted it into an unashamedly feminine entity. Her voice is fragile, the guitar melodious. No aggression. No bravado. Just vulnerability and aching regret. The fact is not that she’s middle class, or white, but because she is a woman. That is the final straw that jolts the listener into thinking about the song, and I consider that to be the underlying reason for the impassioned response.
Not ‘What right does she have to take this track, n-word and all, and sing it for her/our entertainment? (Because god forbid a song be, you know, sung!)
But, ‘What right does this woman
have to take this track?’
It probably isn’t her intention to make some feminist statement, because had she continued to the second verse, we would have had her sweetly lulling “So if you're at a show in the front row/ I'm a call you a bitch or dirty-ass ho” and then it would have been obvious and the focus of all discussion. But I prefer it this way; a not-so-subtle reframing of context that strips away that defense for content and leaves you only with the meaning.
Because an artist can hide it behind beats and a quick-fire delivery, or synthesized production, but in the end, their words will stand alone and maybe, just maybe, another person might rethink the opinion they’ve been absentmindedly repeating. Those might well be fighting words.