Back in 2005, Canadian post-Avril teen-pop bubblegrunger Fefe Dobson was set to put out her sophomore effort, Sunday Love, when Def Jam unexpectedly shelved it after releasing two singles, and unceremoniously dropped her from the label. It leaked, and was a surprisingly heady mix of guitars and grunge and disco and odd songs about hair dye and gender-play and lesbian flirtation and child molestation and aggressive female sexuality. Co-writers ostensibly included Tim Armstrong, Courtney Love, Cyndi Lauper, and Joan Jett. American Idol Jordin “No Air” Sparks just released a cover of the lead single on her new album, and the changes, lyrically and stylistically, are intriguing.
Don’t Let It Go to Your Head – Fefe Dobson
Embedding disabled, but the video is totally insane. Fishnets and guitars and broken toilets in heroin dens.
Don’t Let It Go to Your Head – Jordin Sparks
There’s a tendency in some strains of music writing to discredit R&B performers, remove their agency or suggest that pop music can’t be a setting in which strong, empowered women can exist. Suggestions to this effect are patently false, and I don’t want to be misread as making a broader statement about Jordin Sparks or R&B per se. (I quite like both!) That said, Jordin’s version softens the song, removes the guitars, and saps much of the desire and menace from it. The bridge in the original is all about Fefe’s ambiguity towards her own desire (had a porcelain doll / held onto it too tightly / but when it broke I swore / I’d never hold onto something so tightly again). While Jordin’s maintains a sense of agency and control, it’s a much more passive stance (well you think you can touch me / well I’m gonna let you). In media coverage of her early career, Dobson was very upfront about how as a woman of colour she felt pigeonholed by a set of expectations for her music and her image, grounded in both gendered and racial stereotypes – expectations that she consciously defied. Absent context, Jordin’s song is a passable pop power ballad. However, stacked up against the original, the softened, more submissive version backed by Stargate-esque drums feels like a surrender. Especially since four years on, Fefe’s career remains stalled.
Bonus: Take Me Away, Fefe’s only Billboard Top 100 charter.