If there’s one thing the world can gather from America, it’s that we’re shopaholics. We consume products in mass quantities with one intent: to better ourselves in the eyes of our neighbors. On her third full-length, Santigold tackles commercialization as a whole, from corporate schemes to #personalbrand and everything in between. The cover of 99¢ sees her shrink-wrapped, alongside her life. Forget surface-level materialism and view the art as a side-by-side pairing of digestible pop MP3s (“L.E.S. Artistes”) and polished branding (her life, her relationships, her image as a musician). Over the course of 12 tracks, she sketches a colorful collection of songs on the proliferation of plastic personalities. Instead of mirroring the content with glossy pop, she flips through musical styles like she’s trying on shoes. 99¢ is genre-less without losing cohesion — and it makes you dance in the process.
Santigold crawls through the depths of our selfie-obsessed culture without getting too dark. Opener “Can’t Get Enough of Myself” starts with an isolated note in the vein of doo-wop. Then, out of nowhere, a huge beat rolls into the picture, bobbing up and down while flutes and baritone saxophone prance in the background. “All I wanna do is what I do well,” she sings sarcastically, tacking on, “If I wasn’t me, I can be sure I’d want to be” for good measure. Club banger “Big Boss Big Time Business” follows suit with syncopated beats and feminist rally cries. Handclaps spruce up “Banshee”, intensifying the song’s giddy sugar-high where K-pop singalong lines are made sweeter by Charli XCX’s shouts. Those listening to an album of dance hits do not need a reminder that it’s okay to sweat off their worries on a dancefloor; Santigold reminds them of that. After all, 99¢ is, above all else, self-aware and brazenly fun.
After a hiatus and the birth of her son, Santigold decided the album should become a full-fledged project. She designed a limited edition makeup collection for Smashbox. She created an accessories collection for Stance. Then, after brief acting roles on The Office and Adult Swim, she created infomercials for every song on 99¢, extending the theme of commercialism by intentionally mocking the act of branding. It’s a package deal as sleek as the album’s cover.
For such an expansive theme, 99¢ should be ripe with sarcastic lines and double entendres. Unfortunately, the record largely fails to rise to that lyrical potential. Santigold has her moments, of course, like ILoveMakkonnen duet “Who Be Lovin Me” (which peaks an alpaca pun), but even then it can feel nonsensical. “Before the Fire” trots a straight line while “Walking In A Circle” rides eerie vocal filters too hard to boost its lyrics. It’s nice to imagine the lack of substance at times plays into the message of physical perfection over inner content, but we shouldn’t have to imagine. Only the rapid-fire spitting on “Chasing Shadows” satisfies that need. As Angel Deradoorian joins in with backing vocals, Santigold’s message grows stronger, both musically and lyrically: She will go the long way, she will stand by her standards, and she will race through the game at her own pace. Apparently she’s too caught up in mirroring glitz to articulate what’s seen.
Instrumentally, 99¢ varies dramatically in arrangements and production. With a production crew including Dave Sitek, Hit-Boy, Zeds Dead, and Rostam Batmanglij at her fingertips, Santigold serves up 12 standalone dishes that romp through dancehall, trap, electronica, and beyond. Guitar-centered ballad “Run the Races” doubles the strength of a Sia hit. “All I Got” flips fingers (“Don’t take this personal: Go to hell”) towards nepotism and industry climbers. Synthpop hit “Rendezvous Girl” plays out like an ’80s take on Lily Allen, complete with female empowerment, self-righteousness, and can-do lyrics. Even absurdities like echoing cackles akin to a ghost being sucked into Luigi’s vacuum don’t keep “Outside the War” from sounding like a Girl With the Dragon Tattoo soundtrack outtake. She’s swimming in a musical melting pot.
In a press release, Santigold said she doesn’t make music for herself. 99¢ takes aim at the world at large, for the world at large. Sure, we’re driven by the commercial nature of our lifestyles and our fascination with perfection (and our inherent inability to attain it), but we can challenge its perceived strengths while still enjoying its temporary fruits. Between Spoon and Vampire Weekend-like guitars, Santigold finally gets personal on the Caribbean-inflected “Who I Thought You Were”. The artist’s life is about managing balance in an otherwise unbalanced way of living. When one goal is accomplished, five future goals demand attention. They criticize themselves for not being more famous, even if they’ve already achieved fame. The fickle genres of 99¢ not only see Santigold challenging the rules of pop, but bettering herself. In writing for others, Santigold grows a backbone that defines her unapologetically bold sound, even if she doesn’t push her lyrics as far as she does the music.
Essential Tracks: “Can’t Get Enough of Myself”, “Chasing Shadows”, and “Banshee”