Originally Published: October 2nd, 2013; Updated: June 24th, 2014
In September of 2013, the #powerhouse #popstar that NOBODY FUCKING KNOWS ABOUT, Natalia Kills, released her second album: Trouble.
And this is a goddamn problem because this album is pure pop perfection (#alliteration) and everyone I express this sentiment to says: “Who is Natalia Kills?”
And to that, I scoff: “WHO IS NATALIA KILLS?!?!”*
Then I realize, my baby gurl Natalia is not-too-often played on mainstream pop radio, despite her music being poised and polished for mainstream pop radio. By all accounts, she should be huge; she’s lyrically sassy and edgy, while still being relatable — all of the songs off of Trouble are windows into her personal life, struggles, and oft-warped viewpoint on love, life, family, and sex, yet despite never having experienced the same disillusioned childhood that she presents throughout the albums perfect track-listing, I can relate to something in every single one of the songs. It’s a strange dichotomy between art and pop music that even Mother Monster would be proud of and long to achieve (y’all know I love GaGa, but whether or not she gets extremely personal in her lyrics on ARTPOP remains to be seen as the album still has nearly two months before it’s released.)
THIS is high-impact pop music.
It hits hard. And it’s delicious.
The bottom-line is that Natalia Kills should be played all over pop radio. I shouldn’t turn on a radio without hearing one of her songs because they’re crafted to be played, to reach millions of people all over the world; isn’t the point of pop music to not only infect the ears of listeners and encourage various eargasms, but to also say something.
We live in an age where so much of what’s played on the radio or tops the iTunes/Billboard Charts isn’t concerned with saying much of anything. We’re ok with mindlessly listening to Flo Rida and Pitbull rap-sing about girls and grinding on the dance-floor while name-dropping the latest popular alcohol brand. We’re ok with listening to Rihanna “sing” about how much she loves to have sex, but she never actually comments on the act itself: is sex really that emotion-less? Is all sex no-strings-attached? Is sex all about writhing on top of a hot body and fucking like porn stars? If you listen to pop music, yes.
Sex sells. But what exactly is it selling?
I don’t know about you, but sex is not emotionless. I don’t fuck like a porn star. I don’t dribble vodka down my chest mid-act. It’s not glamorous. It’s about human connection, and there are feelings behind it. And whether good or bad, there is always something beneath the shiny-laquered surface of “sex,” and that’s a lot of what I get when I listen to the songs off of Trouble.
Beneath the shiny pink exterior, there is an ocean of hurt, confusion, and a general trying-to-make-sensedness to Natalia Kills’ exceptional album.
The album opens with “Television,” which is a bold critique on those who use the television, specifically the glorification of media violence and the idea of celebrities being able to get away with “murder” because of their status.
She becomes very introspective in the first verse when it’s clear that she’s speaking from person experience, and the television ends up being both an excuse for her behavior and a way to escape to her life. In the chorus, she sings:
“‘Cause men will fight / And girls will lie / Just like on the television / So don’t tell us / That this ain’t right / It’s just like on the television / The silence / The violence / We don’t need to be forgiven / Your business, go mind it / Cause this ain’t fucking Jerry Springer / We say our lines / We do the time / We’re just like on the television.”
And the final chorus:
“Where I’m from / It all goes wrong / It’s not like on the television / The darkest days / Don’t fade away / Can’t turn it off like television / They laugh and they wave / Behind the glass they’re there to stay / But our script, it don’t fit / You know bad guy always pays / Now I’m alone / There’s no one home / So I turn on my television.”
It’s the perfect commentary on the value we place on television as an escape from reality turning into reality itself, all wrapped up in a perfectly produced pop track with a punchy beat and a great hook.
The second track is the album’s lead single “Problem,” which opens with sirens and a hard garage beat. It’s an insanely aggressive beat and even more aggressively sexual lyrics. It’s reminiscent of a rebellious teenage girl.
The bridge is a startling commentary on other’s prejudgements:
“We’re Hell raising / And we don’t need saving / Cause there’s no salvation for a bad girl bad girl / We’re rock bottom / But there ain’t no stopping / Cause they don’t know nothing about love”
What’s even more startling is if you listen to “Television,” “Problem,” and the album’s third track, “Stop Me” back to back; with each song, we see her becoming more unraveled, and more of her insecurities are spotlighted as the album progresses. “I put my high heels on so I’m closer to God,” she screams on the “Stop Me.” You can hear her pain and her struggle to find someone who will her save her from herself.
One of my favorite songs on the album — and there are MANY — is the album’s second single, “Saturday Night,” which is anthemic and has hints of the synth-y pop of her debut album Perfectionist (which, for my taste was trying too hard to capitalize on Lady GaGa’s The Fame). The difference? Here the synth sounds are relegated to background noise, an added boost to the songs already booming melody and theme.
The song is all about dealing with domestic violence, and it’s almost sung from the point of view of a child. I say almost because she’s too aware in the intricacies of the lyrics and tone for this to be a total child’s POV.
As the song progresses, it’s clear that she’s speaking about her experiences as a teenager growing up with a drunk, abusive father, and watching her mother try to smile through the pain, all while Natalia herself is dealing with feeling completely disenchanted. It’s a song that captures the ultimate loss of innocence. She sings toward the end of the song:
“Pills fall like diamonds from my purse / Right out the hole in my fur coat / Straight down the gutter goes my antidote to a broken girl / I promise I’ll be the one you want / Don’t tell me I’m unfixable / You don’t know what its like to be 17 with no place to go / But give me just one night and I’ll be almost fine / Remind me one more time it’s the best days of my life.”
The video is an incredibly powerful companion to the song and pushes Natalia Kills past her contemporaries in the pop music race to achieve something that so few can achieve: honesty. Unlike Katy Perry, Natalia Kills can craft a shiny pop song about something real, something specific, and give much-needed depth to an otherwise shallow, hook-driven pop world. Unlike Lady Gaga, Natalia Kills can craft experimental pop without being wildly abstract.
In an interview with Digital Spy, she said:
“I wanted a song that is the story of my whole life. From what I’ve read, I’m always seen as the bad girl; the bitchy, sassy, cute bad girl. I’ve just assumed that everyone must know where it comes from. To act like that, you can’t just come from a good place. I realized that not even people who know me most know what I’ve gone through. I always put on a brave face when I was the most terrified, the most trapped and out of control. That’s what ‘Saturday Night’ is like. I wanted to make a confession of everything I am and all the stuff I’ve been through.”I left home at 15 to escape all the bulls**t, but I ran head first into much more trouble. I was taken away by the police for dangerous behavior, being sedated, almost being committed and sectioned – it was trouble after trouble after trouble. ‘Saturday Night’ is the way I can present that important part of myself.”
Another one of my favorites is “Controversy,” which, for the past two semester’s I’ve been using in a few of my writing courses where my students examine songs and lyrics dealing with controversial issues. This song has sparked a lot of debate within the discussions because, generally, my students don’t quite know what to make of this song. I tend to think it’s because the song is so packed with controversial ideas and the video as an accompaniment is so visceral that their minds just get blown. Watch the video and see what I mean:
“Controversy” was actually released last fall as a promo single for Trouble, and I was instantly hooked. I had loved “Wonderland,” “Kill My Boyfriend,” and “Zombie” from her debut album, but apart from that wasn’t such a fan. But this song hit me like a ton of bricks.
Like a crack addict, I instantly wanted more Natalia.
The repetition of the chorus, “Drink the Kool-Aid / Don’t drink the Kool-Aid,” is what allows this song to really make sense. “Drinking the Kool-Aid” is a metaphor for holding an unquestioned belief, being fed information and taking it without proper critical examination, which is something that we as a society do all the time. We believe what we read on blogs or see on television. We take in information rather than question it, and what Kills is doing here is urging us to question all of this crap we’re fed, to critically examine what’s going on around us.
It’s all about awareness.
And that’s why I love this bitch.
My favorite song on the album, however, is “Marlboro Lights.”
It’s a stripped down piano ballad, and it’s the album’s only real respite from the aggressive, angry beats. As a result, it’s the most vulnerable moment on an album chock full of vulnerable introspection.
The album closes with the title track “Trouble,” which is the perfect big-voiced, anthemic declaration of her bad girl image. She’s unabashedly unashamed of that part of her life. It’s a big ol’ “FUCK YOU” to her problems, and when you listen to it, you know that trouble is exactly what she needs to be.
This is an album. Trouble is a complete work, a masterpiece that tells a tragic story from beginning to end.
This is the whole point of music.
Honorable Mentions/Must Listens:
“Devils Don’t Fly,” “Daddy’s Girl,” and “Rabbit Hole”