[12 September 2011]
Like many a UK talent before her, Katy B (the B stands for Brien) attended the superstar academy the BRIT School, known for supplying the likes of Adele and Jessie J with the skills needed to navigate the performing arts world. Unlike some alumni, however, Katy B rose to stardom in the UK through use of a fairly new sound and a refreshingly ordinary image. Katy has earned scads of acclaim for integrating UK club beats into fairly straightforward pop songs, and has been pegged as both the queen of dubstep and one of the best and brightest of the new bunch of UK pop divas. At just 22, such praise is heavy to handle, but her debut, On a Mission makes a convincing enough case for it.
In keeping with her regular girl persona, On a Mission‘s songs largely deal with the normal young adult concerns: potential male suitors are frequently called out and the dance floor is seen as a sanctuary. In the case of the former theme, “Easy Please Me” is the standout track, thanks in no small part to Katy stating, “Now I won’t call you 20 times a day / ‘Cause I’ve got my own shit to do.” Ms. Dynamite pops up on one of the album’s strongest dance floor tracks, “Lights On”, making Katy B an average girl who just so happens to have Ms. Dynamite at her beck and call. In a way, “Lights On” seems like a more genuine version of “Telephone” by Lady Gaga; the way Katy declares “I keep on movin’ with the lights on” feels more emotionally pure and unique than “I left my head and my heart on the dance floor.” Katy’s voice is capable but devoid of showy flourishes, yet when she sings of her love for clubbing, it is with a passion barely glossed over by the high-quality production values that often water down pop music emotions.
Even when On a Mission gets a little showier, it safely stays at a Kylie Minogue level of gaudiness. “Witches Brew” has keyboard blips galore and Katy’s voice sounds a little too digitized on the verses. It feels vaguely out of place, but a Minogue evocation is more than a welcome one. For the most part, such showiness is subtle. Where the album really succeeds is in its excellent incorporation of beats and the use of hooky choruses as secret weapons. The album closes on a touchingly modest note, with Katy thanking everyone who got her where she is over the closing trumpets and keys of “Hard to Get.”
Due to On a Mission‘s casualness, it is difficult to tell what Katy B is referring to in the album title. If she is on a mission to prove that pop divas can reign based on true talent rather than sexuality or theatrics, then she has nearly succeeded. It would be nice if she opted for less tried and true subject matter, but there is plenty of time for Katy to become more lyrically adventurous. America may not take as quickly to an album filled with so many UK-specific dance flavors, but Katy B is the type of girl one can’t help but root for.