Greatest Un-Hits: Porcelain Black’s “This Is What Rock n’ Roll Looks Like” (2011)
Being influenced by and being extremely similar to are two different things, separated by a thin line. The biggest musical success of the last few years has been Lady Gaga. While her music is mostly well-made albeit familiar dance pop, what made her enormously successful was her persona and look. She made being really stagey and fabulous and over the top not only okay for modern female pop singers, but required. Katy Perry didn’t have blue hair and sundae boobs before Lady Gaga. Rihanna was a pop diva before her gagafication into a Mardis Gras dominatrix. Britney Spears successfully sold a circus-themed act for a while. Nicki Minaj has pink hair, which is totally crazy, you guys.
And then there’s the fine pop tradition of ripoffery. Some acts are blatant ripoffs of other, more successful acts, while others got a chance to rise to prominence doing something they’ve been doing for years because somebody who did something similar to their thing got big doing it, and then everybody just thinks the former is a ripoffer. The Beatles begat the early Bee Gees, Garbage begat Joydrop, Alanis Morissette begat Leah Andreone, that sort of thing. Recent near-pop sensation Porcelain Black falls somewhere into this category, as she’d been signed and trying to get an album out for years but wasn’t able to release any music to the public until 2011, long after the rise of Gaga, but still soon enough that she can wear black lingerie in public, look drugged out, and paint herself half-black and half-white.
But ripoffs, or what have you, can usually talk their way into at least a few hit singles (as you’ve heard of Joydrop and Leah Andreone), so Porcelain Black’s debut single “This Is What Rock ‘n Roll Looks Like” should have been a hit. She even got Lil Wayne for a cameo, and he’s quite the popular rapping star. And the video is all weird and sinister, in a familiar and palatable Gaga-meets-Marilyn Manson by way of emulating all of the many, many, many “let’s storm the school as a sign of youth rebellion” videos that came before, particularly the Deftones’ “Back to School” and a little “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Porcelain Black, who looks like Abby Elliott and sounds like Tom Waits, gives us a dazzling presentation and she certainly looks like she put a lot of effort into her look and persona, because, like I said, looks matter. But so does music. “This Is What Rock n’ Roll Looks Like” hit #44 on the dance chart, and nowhere near the pop chart. It joins the canon of genre-naming not not genre-fulfilling songs, like “Disco Lady” or “Jingle Bell Rock.”