Santogold would rather not be called the next M.I.A., even if she is flattered by the comparison.
SANTOGOLD at the Guvernment (132 Queens Quay East), Wednesday (September 24), 7 pm. $25. ticketmaster.ca.
Clouds of hype were thick and suffocating at SXSW in March for a nearly out-of-nowhere Brooklynite named Santogold (Santi White). The words "next M.I.A." were on everyone's lips as she previewed mini-sets of new wave and dub, slickly produced tracks that would eventually dot her divisive debut.
However, these industry fest glimpses were never make-or-break situations for White, and she knew it. As her cool stage demeanour suggested, it was going to be her year, and it was just a matter of time before everyone else was let in on the secret. And this is why Santogold has become a critical lightning rod.
When you're as well connected and set up industry-wise as she is, the question of whether your music is the force powering your momentum inevitably gets raised.
A recurring criticism of her debut is that it's too "calculated." That likely stems from her background as a major-label A&R rep and a songwriter who's worked with Lily Allen and the woefully talentless Jessica Simpson (a huge strike against her by all accounts). The fact that she comes to the table with credits name-checking hot indie producers like Diplo, Switch and Mark Ronson (a neighbour) doesn't exactly give her underdog status.
And don't bother assuming a rivalry with M.I.A., cuz they're tight also, despite the fact that White is following the trail M.I.A. blazed. A song like Creator, with its quick-paced dub fusion with hip-hop and melody, is undeniably derivative of Arular's best tracks. Then, this summer, she dropped Top Ranking, a Diplo-run mix tape that might as well have been called Piracy Funds Terrorism Redux. Most critics thought Top was a snore, lacking Piracy's mashup originality and M.I.A.'s political edge.
Her debut album, however, draws from many influences in addition to those mentioned above. In fact, Santogold refers to herself as a child of 80s new wave pop, as songs like Lights Out and L.E.S. Artiste, her scathing swipe at Lower East Side snobs, attest. They may sound incongruous among the dancehall tracks, but the songs are well-crafted windows on her pop songwriting talents.
Onstage, though, Santogold seems reluctant to assert her identity without her famous associates. One of her first tours as a solo artist was supporting Björk at Madison Square Garden - not bad for a then unknown singer without an album. Her only date thus far in Toronto has been opening for Coldplay, a move at odds with her attempts to infiltrate the world of indie electro and hip-hop.
This tour, her first ever as a headliner, will hopefully shed some light on who the real Santogold is and whether, as she sings on her record, she is truly Unstoppable.