Sky's the limit
With Lady Gaga descending into self-parody, Miley embarrassing herself and Beyoncé losing her way, is Ferreira the next chart diva?
Spare a thought for the modern pop star – chasing controversy in a world where outrage is a devalued commodity. Miley twerks at the MTV Awards and is greeted with hoots and eye-rolls. Lady Gaga invites a "performance vomiter" to join her at South By South West, before the stunt barely registers. Kylie gets steamy in a gym in her latest video, only to be roundly condemned for declining to act her age. What does a chart diva have to do to catch our attention nowadays?
You suspect Sky Ferreira may have the answer. The sometime model was all over the internet last year following an arrest for drug possession. She was caught with ecstasy, but her boyfriend, the singer Zachary Cole Smith (from the band Diiv), was charged with having heroin on his person – prompting Twitter trolls to promptly, inaccurately, declare Ferreira a "junkie" (it didn't help that, with her pale features and big, black-rimmed eyes, she emanates a stereotypical heroin chic vibe).
Further uproar greeted the arrival, following a delay of five years, of Ferreira's debut album Night Time, My Time. The furore centred on the cover shot of the 21-year-old, topless and haunted looking, staring at us from the shower. Haters (there are many) asserted she'd been "raped by the camera", branding her a gender traitor (the oldest put-down in pop).
Neither outrage exactly caused the world to tilt on its axis – it is possible you weren't aware of them or, indeed, of Ferreira.
Nonetheless, something about her pronounced feistiness, her determination not to sway to someone else's tempo, marks Ferreira out as a different sort of pop star, or, at any rate, an "older" sort. That she should be likened to Madonna is at, one level, tiresome and predictable. What female singer with a curled lip and a raggedly sultry voice hasn't, over the past three decades? But for once, the comparison may be valid. As with Madge, Ferreira is a self-created phenomenon who hauled herself, bootstrap by bootstrap into the spotlight.
She also reminds us just how revolutionary a figure Madonna was back in the day – a fact easily forgotten in the unshockable now. A strong woman, visibly in command of her career, comfortably singing about sex, money, religion, she was a bolt from nowhere. Popular culture, one can confidently assert, hasn't been the same since.
Indeed, it may be argued that her importance is much underplayed. Over the past month, it seemed every music journalist in creation was scuttling to explain just how profoundly Kurt Cobain (20 years dead) changed music with his angst and his cardigans. And yet Madonna was, in her way, far more revolutionary (and certainly influenced a far wider segment of society). It's just that, having refused to do what women in showbusiness are supposed to, and fade away as middle age claimed her, her present overshadows and devalues her past.
Superficial physical resemblance aside, Ferreira also reminds you of Madonna to the extent that she has refused to be pushed into a career she doesn't want. When Capitol Records signed her as a 15-year-old, they believed they were dealing with a spikier Britney Spears. Later, they tried remoulding her as a SoCal Avril Lavigne. Then, someone had the bright notion of styling her as a West Coast PJ Harvey.
Each time, she dug in and said no. She wanted to be a pop star on her terms, not theirs. She was growing as an artist, writing her own material. However, the songs were dark, edgy – Cyndi Lauper inside a Nine Inch Nails instrumental breakdown. The label blanched. "I was treated as if I was dumb," she said in a recent UK interview. "I signed a record deal to get out of high school and ended up in a really big version of it."
Ferreira figured a way out. Using her catwalk earnings to bankroll studio time with engineer Ariel Rechtshaid (producer of Haim's Days Are Gone), last year the singer recorded Night Time, My Time.
She presented Capitol with the masters and insisted they release the album. They huffed and hummed before finally relenting. To their (presumed) surprise, the record was duly showered in glowing write-ups. Her profile soaring, Ferreira was soon afterwards announced as support on Miley Cyrus's forthcoming world tour
For pop fans, the very recent past has been a sobering time. Gaga, slopping about in self-parody, has stopped producing catchy, interesting music, Beyoncé appears to have forgotten what constitutes a killer single. Buxom girl scout Katy Perry is princess of all she surveys. Can Ferreira save the genre from its worst inclinations? You will have an opportunity to decide for yourself when Cyrus's Wrecking Ball show reaches Dublin in May.
THE ALBUM NIGHT TIME, MY TIME IS OUT NOW.