Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cover-versies: 'Hackensack' by Katy Perry

As you know, elsewhere on this blog I'm discussing one of my favorite bands, Fountains of Wayne, by discussing how I grew to love them item by item. I'm about to discuss the second FoW song I ever really grooved on...but before I do, it occurred to me that there's a Cover-versies attached to that song I wanted to write on.

The song in question is "Hackensack," a rather sad song that appeared on The Fountains' third album Welcome Interstate Managers. I'll be discussing this little three minute gem in the second segment of Me And...The Fountains of Wayne a little later, but here's a video of Adam and co. performing it so we can set up the compare and contrast....
So last year, Katy Perry decided to cover this song on an episode of MTV Unplugged. Here is her take on it...

I hate this version.

No, really. I can't fucking stand this version.

And it's not just because I can't stand Ms. Perry as a whole, one of those idiots who seem to feel that it's okay to be unbearably cruel to people under the guise of 'keeping it real.' I honestly feel that Ms. Perry gets a pass frequently because she is, to quote my partner on BiTD 'Zoe Deschanel's Head On A Porn Star's Body' (I don't see this comparison, but so many people do I will let it stand). But this is a person who calculatedly took a page out of Scott Stapp's playbook and started her career as a 'Christian Contemporary' artist so she could grab a sizable, gullible fanbase; whose first single was a half-assed, atrocious tune that she was able to bull onto the Top 40 charts because of some ham-fisted 'controversy' ("Hey, she's hawt...and she's talking about being a lesbian!"); who said with a straight face that her so-fluffy it'll float away single 'California Gurls' was an answer song to Jay-Z's love letter to New York, 'Empire State of Mind' (so your answer to 'I love my hometown' is...'oh, yeah, well we're hawt?'); and whose newer singles are built around metaphors and imagery so torturous that in other circumstances they'd be considered out-and-out parodies.

And the thing is...I almost find her more detestable because you get the sense, unlike with (Am I A) Lady Gaga, that she might actually have some sort of songwriting talent. But she's so aggressively stupid and lazy in expressing that talent that I just want to pummel her.

(And let me just say that as far as I'm concerned, Perry and that mean-spirited grotesque Russell Brand deserve each other...and I don't mean that in a positive way.)

However, a lot of people who would tear her apart overlook her lack of artistry and her clumsy bids to be a STAH overlook at it because...well, she's 'hawt.' Don't take my word for it--just wander through the intrawebs and see all the comments about her. Not a lot of comments about her songwriting, is there?

Anyway, this cover....she takes a subtle, borderline creepy song about a sad man escaping from the misery of his life by fantasizing (and maybe even planning to stalk) a classmate who has achieved fame as an actress and butchers it. The simply fact that she opens up the orchestration destroys the sense that the original is an interior monologue from the singer late at night as he watches one of his obsession's movies. And check out that awful vocalization--the way she seems to swallow the last syllable of each line drives me up the wall. It's so mannered that, once again, you have to wonder if in a parallel universe this is a parody of a Fountains of Wayne song. On some level, even though Perry is affecting a 'sad puppy with cancer' voice, the song sounds...brighter, less desperate.

Quite frankly, given Ms. Perry clumsy career choices, I know exactly what this is supposed to be...this is the mainstream Top 40 pop stah trying to get a little 'sensitive artist' cred by covering a non-single track by a band known for being a little cerebral, a little culty. I give her credit for going with FoW as opposed to other, rather more obvious choices--I shudder at the version of 'Landed' or 'Brick' or 'Hallelujah' we could've gotten. But this is another bald-faced attempt to win over a few people she hasn't impressed yet by acting all 'quirky' and showing that yes, she likes lesser known artists, too.

Of course, it occurs to me that if she chose 'Brick' or 'Suzanne' or any of a number of better-known culty songs, she couldn't count on the oblivious segment of her fanbase insisting that 'Hackensack' is her song that she wrote and performed herself--thus giving her more cred for being a 'deep and sensitive artist.' And the fact that I know deep down inside that this move worked with more people than I care to imagine.

Fuck you, Katy Perry, and fuck this cover.
I've complained more than once about alternative artists doing 'ironic' slow jam covers of hip-hop singles to give them some hipster street cred. This cover is cut from the same cloth--an artist playing at being real bo-ho and smart by aping a great song in a way that is designed to glorify how bo-ho and smart the singer is.

Yeah, I can take some solace in knowing that once her looks start fading, Katy Perry will disappear into the reality TV hosting limbo she belongs, while The Fountains of Wayne will endure long after. But it's little solace. For now, all I can do is grit my teeth and put on Traffic And Weather in an effort to drown her caterwauling out.

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