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by Rachel Devitt

February 16, 2011

single-phile: Freaks, Monsters and Rebels

by Rachel Devitt  |  February 16, 2011

In case you hadn't heard, a little Lady we like to call Gaga dropped the Huge! New! First! Single! off her upcoming Huge! Sophomore! Album! Yes, the buzz around this one has been deafening and rightly so. Gaga has proven herself a trendsetter. In a very short amount of time, she dance-popified the charts. Now, as she puts her money where her mouth is by paying homage to her legions of gay fans, she is also clearly hoisting her own freak flag (think of "Born This Way" as the Little Monsters Creed, in other words). And once again, her fellow pop stars are right there with her. The pop world right now is full of songs and artists clearly invested in acts of rebellion, freakishness and monsterdom. So on this edition of single-phile, we take a walk on the wild side of the charts, analyzing the countercultural tendencies of your favorite mainstream pop stars.

Artist: Lady Gaga
Song: "Born This Way"
Album: From her upcoming and wildly anticipated second album
In 25 Words or Less: Monster Queen boils it down in modern-day "We Are Family": it's (dance-pop) DNA, dummy. Human decency = good (minus message-marring "Orient"). Think Scissor Sisters rather than Madonna.
Freak, Monster or Rebel? She's all three and then some, baby.
Countercultural Quotient: Think the Castro in the '70s, an avant-garde cross-dressing performance-art club in Berlin and maybe one of those strange-to-Westerners-but-wildly-popular-in-Japan-sex-trends (like those body pillow girlfriends, maybe?) all rolled up into one neighborhood block still mainstream enough to be on Sesame Street (or at least next door to it).

Artist: Ke$ha
Song: "Blow"
Album: The latest single from her Animal + Cannibal mega-album
In 25 Words or Less: Beglittered man-eater blows up club, sounds a bit dark/disillusioned about it. Club anthem or soundtrack for post-apocalyptic, post-vocalist, post-dumb world where boys are go-go dancing slaves?
Freak, Monster or Rebel? Eh, a little bit of each and not entirely any. Freak in a Hot Topic, high-school movie kind of way.
Countercultural Quotient: She says it best herself: "We're pretty and sick. We're young and we're bored." So, pretty much just your average American kid. That, or the second coming of the creepy, atonal German opera that birthed the singsongy Sprechstimme style Ke$ha so loves. If she starts rap-singing about the way blood flickers in the moon, we'll know things have gone south.

Artist: Rihanna
Song: "S&M"
Album: The latest single from Loud
In 25 Words or Less: Once-sunny Riri struts the line between pain and pleasure, makes us like it. Like Madonna always said, sex = power. (P.S. "S&M": "Human Nature" > "Born This Way":" Express Yourself.")
Freak, Monster or Rebel? Rihanna's last two albums have been all about reinventing herself as a kind of monstrously rebellious, dangerously sexual dark queen capable of withstanding any public scrutiny or pain. It still doesn't quite stick, but it's pretty sexy.
Countercultural Quotient: Crazy red hair, tattoos and slightly dom-y stance or no, Rihanna's a bona-fide pop diva through and through. Whereas Gaga makes freakiness the focus of her pop stardom, Riri's freak flag feels more like a stylistic choice that's ultimately secondary to her star wattage (though she cracks that flag like a fierce whip).

Artist: Nicki Minaj
Song: "The Creep"
Album: Collabo with Lonely Island from their upcoming new album
In 25 Words or Less: Minaj à quatre with bawdy boys on ode to being ... a creep. Nicki holds own in comic, creepy arenas, looks hot in nerd glasses.
Freak, Monster or Rebel? The Divine Ms. M has painted herself the quintessential superfreak of hip-hop, thank you very much.
Countercultural Quotient: A hip-hop emcee collaborating with a bunch of comics posing as fake (white) rappers on a song about stalking, peeping and creeping people out? Pretty weird and wild. Bonus points for the John Waters cameo!

Artist: Pink
Song: "F*ckn' Perfect"
Album: New track off her Greatest Hits ... So Far!!!
In 25 Words or Less: Pink abandons party anthem poseurdom, gets back to what she does best: singing the F out of rockin' relationship pathos.
Freak, Monster or Rebel? Rebel. Pink's like a good old boy who has a way with rock ballads.
Countercultural Quotient: F-bombs and dripping aerial acts aside, Pink's your basic tried-and-true American rock star. Unless enjoying a cold beer and a Springsteen album ever becomes (retro) avant-garde.

Artist: Panic! At the Disco
Song: "The Ballad of Mona Lisa"
Album: Vices and Virtues, the band's upcoming third album
In 25 Words or Less: Panic gets back to their pop-punk, emo-hued, heart-on-sleeve roots with slightly circusy, super-sensitive diary rock anthem.
Freak, Monster or Rebel? Um, maybe quirky-cute wanna-be circus freaks?
Countercultural Quotient: Pretty low. As alt-rock stars go, they're still rather wholesome suburban boys.

Artist: Lykke Li
Song: "I Follow Rivers"
Album: From her upcoming sophomore effort, Wounded Rhymes
In 25 Words or Less: Bathtub retro production + Li's flat (think: Lesley Gore hanging upside down) vocals + water metaphors = Mermaid girl group from another planet with infectious dance beats.
Freak, Monster or Rebel? A bit of a freak, albeit a totally adorable one you want to scoop up and carry around in your pocket.
Countercultural Quotient: Well, she's Swedish. Which means in her home country, she's a straight-up pop star, but in America, she's a quirky, indie-beloved weirdo.

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