It’s difficult to introduce in passing a label on which infinitely more words have been written in pop criticism than by the artists themselves. 2014 saw PC Music emerge squealing into the music press as easily the most controversial set of acts in the decade so far — a vigorously ironic (or are they?) collective of London-based producers and personas pushing the boundaries of authenticity and bad taste. Inscrutably satirical or sincere, their experiments in hyper-glossed commercial pop infuriated at least as many as they delighted. In some circles, they were denounced as the emperor’s clothes for vacuous, art-school hipness. Elsewhere, they were lapped up gleefully, taken either at face value for their efficient pop excess, or as the most radical critique of the music industry since the KLF.
And watching gleefully over the carnage, creamy frappucino in hand, was Girlfriend Of The Year. Literally the voice of PC Music across their breakout 2014 mix for DISown (“I guess Red Bull really does give you wings”; “You know, it’s not for everyone — this one’s for Soundcloud!”; “I like hot guys, long walks with hot guys”), Polly-Louisa Salmon’s alter-ego preceded and epitomised the label’s sardonic flirtations with hyper-consumerist tropes. Like labelmate Hannah Diamond, GFOTY is a selfie-licious Vengaboys fan — but instead of airbrushed cuteness, her persona exaggerates the brunt of misogynistic jokes: unabashedly privileged, materialist, attention-seeking, dependent and promiscuous to the point of desperation.
GFOTYBUCKS’s closing track, 2012’s ‘Friday Night’, encapsulates this with high concept efficiency — Salmon’s home counties drawl concisely parodying the crassest collisions of poshness with cheap club culture: “Where’s the Bentley at? I’ve been waiting for like 20 minutes now”; “Get to the club at 2am, I’m gonna bang loads of men”; “DJ! DJ! DJ! Slow it down for an epic BJ!”. As I learned when PC Music affiliate SOPHIE’s remix of the song instantly repelled all the friends I’d dragged to his set, you’ll know quite quickly if GFOTY isn’t for you.
That said, this collection of (roughly speaking) ‘songs’, minute-long avant-gardist experiments and throwaway covers boasts a breadth and depth not just of button-pushing pranksterism, but also nuanced pop cultural critique — as well as impressive musical innovation.
Certain PC Music cornerstones return here after years. Opener ‘My Song’ is a GFOTY mission statement — a short, structureless explosion of rapid-fire trance stabs, twisted Ibiza synths and cryptic, pitch-shifted soundbites. ‘Red Silver Blue’, ‘Lover’ and ‘USA’ each perform similarly terse distillations of GFOTY’s brand, neatly arranging their breakneck collages of monotonous vocals and jagged production twists into something infectious — almost danceable. The much slower ‘Huge’, from GFOTY’s 2015 ‘Cake Mix’ also achieves rare coherence, its central euphemism made strangely emotive by a neat melodic progression and synth strings (here, for once, not detuned to unbearable levels).
GFOTY’s five years of releases are left mostly untouched, with the notable exception of the new ‘Bucks Mix’ of ‘Don’t Wanna / Let’s Do It’. The original exploded from within PC Music’s DISown mix, and this tweaked version intensifies the discordant fun that made the label stand out so vibrantly in the first place — eerily ambiguous, discordant and obnoxiously loud, yet strangely listenable. Unlike much of their more recent, super-sincere pop productions, the track was and is PC Music at its most punk — a thrilling, grating mess of spectacular musical tropes, but still bags of fun to listen to.
New addition ‘Tongue’ also continues in this vein, its gabberish thump hoisting up 2017’s least sexy lyrics — “Kiss me deep inside, like a wet, wet slide”; “I like it when we kiss with a tongue, muscle of fun inside my mouth” — proving that GFOTY’s not quite done yet.
Much of the success of these freeform, patchwork medleys is down to the production — masterfully oscillating between super-dry presets (see also PC Music’s madcap house joker Kane West) and rich, polished loudness (in the vein of SOPHIE). This is the magic of GFOTY, that much of her quite prolific output is enjoyable as more than an extended exercise in pop deconstructionism.
Unfortunately though, it’s not a lot more enjoyable. Unlike the far more sincere SOPHIE, Danny L. Harle, A.G. Cook and Hannah Diamond, GFOTY has always erred too far on the needling side of satire to produce genuinely catchy pop songs. With perhaps a couple of exceptions (‘Huge’ and ‘Poison’), there’s not much like a hook on offer in GFOTY’s catalogue. This is, of course, partly the point.
Nevertheless, the ear-abusing collected here reaches breaking point before too long. The inclusion of ‘Christmas Day’ (at three minutes, the longest track here) rings a little limp, the tactical seasonal release of this compilation not enough to redeem what was already barely more than a throwaway nod to PC Music fans back on Christmas Eve 2014. By the time the nightmare refrain on ‘Drown Her’ appears, all but the most detached listeners will probably be too knackered to keep laughing — if they were in the first place.
As PC Music’s edges seem to blur increasingly into the domain of mainstream pop, the decided edginess of GFOTY still stands out. Nevertheless, as GFOTYBUCKS exhibits neatly, this particular project’s shelf-life seems limited — both by the (hopeful) ephemerality of the pop cultural contexts it sets itself against, and by the listener’s patience. To those who still have an ear for it, set your Uggs on the coffee table, grab your caramel latte and enjoy.
Words: Callum McLean
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