A new video has appeared from Virgin/EMI's Iggy Azalea, a charismatic artist from Australia. Virgin has tried to break the rap beauty in the United States with two previous singles. Her debut album has been delayed (both of her own accord, and that of others) several times over the past 2.5 years or so, but Azalea has a keen sense that the time is right for her project to come to fruition.This is because Azalea's team are harnessing the power of viral videos. Specifically, it is the catnip-like powers of '90's nostalgia' that is powering their success in the US market.
Furthermore, pop and hip-hop fans loved her previous single, "Work," which made a respectable showing on the U.S. pop chart (coming in at the mid-30s). Now, as Azalea and Virgin/EMI prepare to launch her debut album, "The New Classic," on April 14, the third single (what they are apparently hoping to become the 'album-seller') is "Fancy." "Fancy" is a fun, bouncy, yet sassy hip-hop romp that totally encapsulates the persona that Iggy has constructed.
While "Fancy" is a fine song in and of itself, it is the very appealing video to the song that may actually break Iggy Azalea in the United States. In "Fancy," Iggy plays Cher Horowitz, the lead character and cult icon from the 1995 film Clueless. A stroke of genius. Azalea, both by being part of that cohort, and also being very perceptive, is playing upon a growing demand in entertainment media for "90's nostalgia".
Demographically speaking, the appeal for this sort of material will only grow as '90's babies' continue to progress through the life course, graduate from universities, and gain expendable income from careers. While it is perceived that 'adults' (generally speaking) spend less on music as they age, it is also true that an emotional or nostalgic identification with a product can convince a consumer to indulge when they otherwise would not.
Twenty-somethings are rising into the lower-rungs of our nation's corporate and governmental structures. They have enough separation from their experience of the "1990's" as to allow advertisers and content producers to repackage this emotional experience in different ways. Of course, Iggy Azalea and Virgin records are hardly the only entities jumping on this band-wagon. The Teen Nick cable channel devotes an entire overnight bloc of programming to "The 90's Are All That", which features animated programmes that twentysomethings grew up with. From a demographically deterministic perspective, the market for "90's nostalgia", or at least products that have some tangential sheen of 1990's, will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.
No nostalgic rendering is perfect, nor are they meant to be (nostalgia works often-times because of selective omission). But for the audience it is targeting, the fact that this is reflecting a generational past is simply irresistible. I can say this with certitude because I myself am of that cohort. The emotional appeal alone will drive views and, EMI/Virgin hopes, will drive sales as well. Being set in a high-school helps drive the nostalgia appeal as well, as pretty much anyone over a certain age can relate (Iggy herself dropped out of high school at 14, but I digress).
So far, online critics have received the video positively. Many of the comments and blog posts have remarked that "Fancy" is seen as contemporary and trendy while at the same time referencing the past (and specifically, a very marketable era). thatgrapejuice, one of the premiere gate-keepers for Rhythmic Pop and Urban music has called "Fancy" "engaging", praising Azalea as one of the"...arists who understand the importance of delivering visually in what is ultimately...the visual era."
And what a visual era it truly is. It is possible that many in the music industry (and probably many of the artists themselves) have discounted the powerful effect a smartly produced visual can have on a single. While it is true that labels are not willing to shell over hundreds of thousands of dollars for music videos, and that MTV devotes less time to music videos, Youtube, (as well as dedicated music video cable channels like MTV Hits and VH1 Soul) has changed the game, making music videos a viable promotional tool once again. This is exemplified here, and by most other artists, in the form of personalized "Vevo" artist channels on Youtube. These allow the labels to control revenues and ad-placements, while utilizing the broad-base audience of Youtube.
Vevo videos are heavily promoted and can get millions of views. Almost all major artists now have Vevo channels, and many obscure or even deceased artists are beginning to jump on the trend as well. Included on Vevo videos are links to download the song, as well as access to artist websites, related videos, and other content. In what is probably the most consequential piece of the music video's 'second wind' as a form is that, due to the new Billboard Hot 100 algorithm, streams on Vevo/Youtube videos count toward a singles chart placement. Music videos are back as an important promotional tool, and smart labels and artists should leverage this as much as possible in a time when it is harder than ever to convince music lovers to pay, not stream or download illegally.
As for "Fancy", the music video seems to have worked its magic. Comments under the youtube video included: "Loving the 90's theme and the 'Clueless' references...I didn't care for the song, mainly because of the beat but it has grown on me". Another viewer commented: "Im not a rap fan, but I like it." If you can sell rap music to those who don't like rap music, then you have performed something of a miracle (music executives take note!) Reviews on itunes were equally as positive, if not more effusive. Loganator 901 says, "This is easily Iggy's best track so far...she just keeps showing more reasons to be excited for "The New Classic." It sounds like EMI/Virgin will ride 90's nostalgia to the bank if music fans do turn out and actually purchase the album when it drops in droves, or if the digital buzz will remain just that.
The numbers are promising. On the morning of its debut , "Fancy" had hundreds of views. A few hours later, in the evening, it was over 200,000 views. "Fancy" also has made a nice dent at Itunes, debuting strongly at #113 after only a few hours; placing it above recent and still-hot hits like the Miley-Cyrus assisted "23" (#116), Lea Michele's latest single (#119), and Lady Gaga's "Applause" (#130). When one takes a look at Itunes' rap charts, the picture is even better for Iggy-- on that chart, "Fancy" comes in at #14 , above the over-hyped new release featuring Nicki Minaj (#21). Add that to a prime location on the 'Trending' feed of Facebook, and you have the makings of a digital-age hit.
"Fancy" will be serviced to Rhythmic formats in the the US on March 11, although early success on itunes and Youtube may cause that date to move up. Virgin/EMI would not want to blow a chance to really 'break' Iggy in the US market.
Impersonating a 20 year-old movie character might be one of the few ways to do that these days. Hip-Hop Wired may have hit it on the head: "This could be the hit record Iggy Azalea has been looking for".
Iggy Azalea's debut album "The New Classic" will be available in the US on digital download the 14th of April. "Fancy" is available as a digital single on Itunes, and the music video can be viewed on her Vevo account.