The Kimbra hype

23:07, May 30 2012

I hadn't heard the Kimbra album - I don't know if it's a problem with me and the record label or maybe it was somebody that I used to know who worked there, but I remember asking for the album and being told no. No chance. Seemed odd: new Kiwi artist (or Kiwi-born at least) and I wanted to do my bit - have a listen, report back. But I was told to sod off.

That changed the other week - there's a new Deluxe Edition - and a global market to chase on the back of that Gotye song. Now they'll take comment from anyone, a bunch of new review copies heading out the door to whoever asks - even me.

So I had my first listen to Vows.

It's pretty good. But the hyperbole has well kicked in - some dude in America (a record label guy) has been quoted as saying she's "the next Prince". High praise indeed, a touchstone to suggest she's a clever writer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist and some pop wunderkind/some kind of visionary.

Comparisons are made as a shortcut - most often to pay tribute, as a compliment, you're supposed to fill in the blanks and understand the grey area around the subject. In this case there is no way that a person working for whatever is left of a record label could really feel good calling somebody the new Prince.

Prince signed a unique deal at a young age giving him close to unprecedented control.


Kimbra has had her debut album sent straight back out with a bonus EP.

One example rewarded utmost creativity. One suggests the most obvious, lazy and desperate saturation-marketing.

But it's been interesting travelling around America while hearing that Kimbra stands to take off in America. The hype had kicked in before I left New Zealand. And I'm following it still while holidaying in the United States. There is certainly something behind the stories of hype. I read the big rave in the New York Times. She was mentioned in the San Francisco paper too - and in the free street press. Gushing raves.

And there is - I think - something behind the claims and the marketing.

I'm still new to the music of course - when I wanted to hear it, when I could have got on board early, away from the hype, I wasn't allowed. I wasn't deemed worthy. Now I'm just another person lining up to say something obvious, to spread the word in whatever way.

So all I'll say is that I can hear talent.

Kimbra has - for what(ever) it is worth - talent.

Will I keep listening to Vows? It's hard to know. Probably not. I think I'll always hear more in Feist's Metals or Kate Bush's 50 Words for Snow - but that's me. And you know that. You know about my terrible taste already. What I'm interested in is what you think.

Is Kimbra the real deal and worth the hype? Or is she simply the "pretty one" from that song (which is to say - the more obvious one to market when it comes down to a competition between her and Gotye) and so she's getting the easy/obvious push?

She will never, ever be the next Prince. And beyond the easy grab for a column inch or two, that comment was almost as insultingly career-crushing as it was intended to be a praise-filled acknowledgment of creative pop flair. We live in different times. The industry works in a different way.

I've heard enough in Vows to know that Kimbra has something - something that you don't always hear. Her success is probably deserved/justified - but it will (most likely) be fleeting. Because that is the way of this world.

They should really be preparing her for that.

Prince is a legend who has lasted 35 years by (mostly) doing things his own way. You can't work that way and be a pop star today.

Oh and that Gotye song is everywhere here. I keep hearing it in the airport, in cafes, bars and shops around San Francisco. Still. I called it the song of 2011 or whatever. And it's never been clearer hearing it now that it is in fact 2012, nearly midway through even. Time for a new song. But I still think it was a clever wee slice of pop music for the time.

So was that right time/right place for Kimbra? Clever opportunism? Or will she be a bit-part in a one-hit-wonder ultimately? It's probably a bit of both - but I'd still recommend people take a listen to her album.

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