By Kevin Rutherford
You’ve got a lot of nerve calling your debut album The New Classic.
But then again, when your first single from that album shoots up the charts, puts the competition in a stranglehold and doesn’t let go for seven weeks in a row, there’s some room to brag. And boy, does Iggy Azalea‘s “Fancy” do just that.
America’s paramount introduction to the Australia-born female rapper arrived with sizzling swagger. Often, a brand-new artist scores the hit song but none of the fame that can accompany it; the music is the focal point and the creator is lost in the shuffle, becoming little more than a trivia answer a decade later.
“Fancy,” however, did at least what Vanilla Ice managed 14 years earlier on his own inescapable and No. 1-charting single: you remembered the name, I-g-g-y.
Then there’s the music video, which threw down an unabashed nostalgia card: an homage to the 1995 comedy Clueless. Those who didn’t know the name or even the genre flocked to the promise of a remake of the cult classic—and make no mistake, an amusing reference-filled video does not a lasting career make, but in the short-term, consider it a cheat code of sorts.
Plus, “Fancy” also barreled in with the intensity of a manifesto. Not only was Azalea’s name repeated ad nauseam, the song also awarded the rapper an infectious confidence, from the opening line: “First things first,” she raps, “I’m the realest.” A smattering of first person pronouns later, you feel like you know the gal.
Being a bit of an enigma—a female rapper in an age when radio is and has been playing very, very few of her ilk—helps, of course.
“That’s what I am, I’m a female rapper,” Azalea told Radio.com around the release of her debut LP earlier this year. “That’s always a weird situation, you never know how it’s going to be. It’s not the most popular kind of thing in the world. I never really expected [my career choice] to turn me into Katy Perry-level fame, because I know it’s not that popular with people. I think I’m pleasantly surprised that people seem to be interested [laughs]. That’s always good.”
And yet, Perry-tier attention is exactly what she received throughout 2014. The rise and subsequent reign of “Fancy” culminated in being named Billboard‘s 2014 song of the summer, topping the publication’s summer chart from start to finish. Second single “Black Widow” has been considerably impressive on its own, riding its steel drum-punctuated beat all the way to the top of the hip-hop charts as well. Plenty of exposure in the news—positive or otherwise—has sweetened the deal.
But it always comes back to the original hit, now a GRAMMY nominee for Record of the Year as well as Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.
Azalea certainly considers herself among the eccentric, those who don’t mind reaching for something that satisfies the creative spirit but might not connect with listeners. Luckily, with “Fancy,” she felt from the start she had a solid middle ground—a song that allowed her to be unmistakably Iggy, sans sacrifice, while still presenting something that could resonate on the radio.
“Obviously I’m creative, but I’m still running a business here,” she told Radio.com. “Of course, honestly—yes, it’s always going to be something to consider. I want the biggest audience. But I also don’t want to have to compromise everything to achieve that or I’m not going to be having fun. Then there’s just no point, doing it would be a job for me. It’s trying to find that middle ground, between running a business successfully and having people that are interested in buying tickets or liking a music video while also having it be enjoyable and something that I can take pride in still. You don’t want to have no pride or belief in what you’re doing.
“I think ‘Fancy’ is a great compromise. It’s a compromise that doesn’t feel like a compromise. It’s a good balance of something that you can all understand and I still love.”
Then chalk “Fancy” up as a victory, maybe not the war-winner but certainly an important battle. The brags have teeth and substance. The hook—’sup, Charli XCX, and thanks—is enormous. It’s introductory but has the distinct quality of making Azalea feel familiar a few listens in, establishing a new face and blasting her into the stratosphere.
“Remember my name,” Charli warns on the chorus. “‘Bout to blow.”
Sounds about right. A new classic, perhaps.
Watch the 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards on Sunday, Feb. 8 at 8 pm EST on CBS.
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