Natalia Kills - an Introduction by Guest Writer Michel Ajjan
It all started in May 2012 during a car ride around Hamburg, Germany. A song plays on the radio and it gets my attention. The instrumental was well done, the chorus was catchy; the works of a good radio song. I enjoyed it enough to take note of it. The display on the dashboard read "Free – Natalia Kills". Little did I know then that I would develop an admiration for that song and a deep musical interest in Natalia.
If you ask people who Natalia Kills is, most would probably give you blank stares. Kills is not what you would call a pop star. Her music doesn't top Billboard's Hot 100, her videos don't amass 100 million views on YouTube, and her singles get little airtime on major radio stations. That, however, does not properly reflect the quality of her music.
At the surface, "Free" is a great pop song. An instrumental produced by Jeff Bhasker starts off with a catchy piano loop backed up by a matching kick that leads to the chorus, where a mid-tempo synth and beautiful array of 808 drums enter the mix. It is at this point where the musical style of Kills emerges. The deeper, slowed-down electric synth offers a dark pop kind of vibe from Kills, while the piano and drums combine to generate an “aural niche of riot-girl chic meets acid-trip pop.”
A closer listen to "Free" reveals a larger, underlying message, offering a jab at consumerism and the materialistic lifestyle that has taken over much of today's social sphere. In the video, brief flashes of the phrases "You Are What You Wear" and "Money is Everything" illustrate the devastating power that materialism has over society, and reflect the influential hidden messages in advertisements that people in society face daily. In what some may view as odd, Kills has some interesting characters in the video that only further illustrate the uniqueness of her work. One interpretation of the song argues that as a slave to consumerism, Natalia is finally 'free' when she spends all of her money. "Free" is featured on Natalia's debut album, Perfectionist, which was released in 2011.
In September, Natalia released her sophomore album, titled Trouble. There's something remarkable about Trouble. The album could be marked off as another rebel anthem, another 'something that goes against the grain' type of work. It's so much more than that. There's character, intuition, and depth; an actual story if one takes a closer listen. And that's what makes it great: the album can be a representation of Natalia growing up. She was written off as just another troublemaker; someone who was always causing problems and had a bleak future ahead of her.
My favorite song on the album, "Saturday Night," demonstrates that point exactly. An ode to a lost childhood, "Saturday Night" illustrates the struggles Natalia went through as a child, dealing with exposure to domestic violence, drug abuse, and other battles with life that made her who she is today. The raw emotion, use of life experiences, and detailed thought that went into crafting this song is portrayed both lyrically and visually, with a music video that manifests Kills' childhood adversity.
The contrasting moods of the instrumentals and lyrics create a dichotomy between sound and song that somehow blends together magnificently. Kills and Bhasker partner up again to produce a song that creates a nostalgic pop feel, with a synth that takes you back to the 80s within an energetic atmosphere. However, the lyrics describe a story of pain and hardship where Kills seems to be left unable to help her situation. The song begins on a bleak note with the words, “Momma you’re beautiful tonight/Movie star hair and that black eye/I can’t even notice it/When you smile so hard through a heartfelt lie,” that serve as the start of a musical autobiography of Kills. The song, however, also serves as a source of hope for Kills. She says that “the song is about carrying on, even though you feel like you can't. It's about feeling OK when everything is not.”
Watch "Saturday Night"
I could continue to write an entire essay on how great this album is (at least in my opinion). Fashion Creative, Nik Thakkar wrote in his column on The Huffington Post:
"…Natalia Kills has poured 27 years of struggle, emotion and pain into what can easily be classed as the most chronologically cohesive album of 2013 where she far outshines many of her contemporaries."
In his article Nik discusses the supposed correlation (or lack thereof) between fame and talent. What are the reasons that some artists do not receive the recognition that other musicians do, despite being of the same or even greater caliber? In many cases, we've seen artists sell-out in an effort to sustain popularity, often at the hands of the music execs or other uncontrollable factors. The quality of Natalia Kills' work is clearly of a high standard, even if there aren't album sales or radio plays to reflect that. Unfortunately in today's society, a successful song needs to tailor to the needs of the listeners. Mass media is a business, in the end. Works of art people admire in museums today were written off by critics during the time of the artist, only to be appreciated by the masses too late for its creator to enjoy. Ultimately, I am optimistic about the reception of the work of Kills. Her work is understood, enjoyed, and, most of all, valued.
Read Nik's open letter here
Kills cannot be categorized in a genre nor be compared to another artist. Kills has taken pop into a new direction, and although her music could be reminiscent of the work of others, there is nothing out there that sounds quite close to the music of Natalia Kills. Natalia presents her music as a gift to herself, her struggle, and most importantly, to all of us. Similar to the experiences of other youth, Natalia didn't get to have the childhood that others sometimes take for granted. She moved out at the age of 14 and struggled to live on her own, in hopes of finding that one opportunity that we in society all strive for. Her work now reflects about her past, in hopes of getting to her future dream.
"Trouble isn’t Natalia Kills’ submission to salvation. It’s a victory cry for a broken generation."
By Michel Ajjan
A special thank you goes to Nik Thakkar and Maddie Seymour for their help in making this piece possible.
Image source: http://www.caesarlivenloud.com/2013/03/song-premiere-problem-natalia-kills.html