When Will Sky Ferreira Fall Off the Tightrope?
Sky Ferreira is part of a peer group attempting to attract a quickly dispersing crowd back to pop's big tent. Along with Miley Cyrus, Lorde, and Selena Gomez, she's one of a relatively small group of prominent '90s babies who has attempted to make music for a mainstream audience, rather than bubbling up in a smaller sub-genre and using the buzz to cross over.
Each of these musicians has her own approach to reach an audience that certainly exists, but can be difficult to pin down. Ferreira is noteworthy for the way in which her selling points, her image and story, have taken the leash away from her actual music. Her debut album, Night Time, My Time was a near-anonymous, entirely pleasant mix of pop and new wave with spikes of alternative influence included like easter eggs, for those who gravitate to the edgy, high-fashion net of Ferreira's brand.
That makes the enterprise of Sky's music making sound more manipulative than it is--she's simply a talented, classicist pop songwriter who enjoys the trappings of '80s and '90s alt-culture, and those ideas show up in her music as accessories, rather than the core of her sound. Sky has taken on the guise of a provocateur: her selling point before the release of the album last autumn was her sudden freedom from the corporate slavery of her label overlords. But she has followed up with all the substance of a particularly pop-friendly mouse.
That tricky one-two punch of explicit provocation followed by amiable vagueness was epitomized in the response to the just-released video for "I Blame Myself." The video plays with the imagery of West Coast gang culture, at first in a way that seems explicitly stereotypical, but which is later muddied by several scenes, including a deliberately strange (and really funny) dance sequence. The clip was an impressive vehicle for Sky to further her image: in it, she's a snarling Sharon Stone-influenced figure who exerts control on those around her, mainly through a hard-edged sexuality. But the clip is also suffused with irony, and is clearly intentionally comical. Sky has promoted it as an act of catharsis, to help her excise the demons that came when she and her boyfriend were arrested and charged with possession of ecstasy and heroin, respectively.
The video provoked a twitter-fueled tempest in a teapot, with some fans calling it racist and accusing Ferreira of using black people as "props." Sky and the video's director, have responded, and the message of the video's song has been submerged (and exemplified!), first in the presentation of its star and secondarily in the controversy that followed. The whole incident follows the Ferreira playbook of big noise drowning slight substance so closely that an observer of Sky's career could have scripted it before it happened.