The Epic debut of irritating viral duo Karmin, Hello, arrived this week to little fanfare. The only major music publication to have reviewed it is Rolling Stone – Jody Rosen's brief, one-and-a-half star review says it well: "Karmin can make you hate pop music." The New York Times finally got around to writing about it yesterday, and Jon Caramanica is equally dismissive if slightly less savage. On the group's assault on pop, which has found them racking up disgustingly massive numbers for covers of Chris Brown's "Look at Me Now" and Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass," Caramanica writes, "by delivering [these covers] in exaggerated styles more notable for their affectations than for their execution, it in effect renders its source material as a punch line, something not deserving of respect. It's the bad kind of irreverence."
Amen. Even before Karmin appeared on Saturday Night Live, acting at least 10 times more annoying than Lana Del Rey and getting about a hundredth of the backlash, they needed to go away. Lead singer/person who raps (calling her a rapper is like calling a rapist a lover) Amy Heidemann has a Judy Tenuta snarl that makes it sound like she's mocking all that she attempts. Her air-sucking, sense-smashing lyrics are no help either. "Outer-space melodies, every flavor jellybeans / Make me wiggle make me giggle sea anemones," is just really bad. "Come on, that's right, cheerio," feels like a kick in the bollocks — especially when she adopts an English accent for "cheerio." "Took a few years to surface, but now it's so bezerkus / And I'm ring-leadin' in this circus," confirms my disinterest in reproducing. Why bring a child into a world where that turn of phrase is legal?
Karmin also often adopts the already over trend of hashtag rap, except she doesn't know how to do it: "People say a lot of things, make you feel real small / Push them out the way, iced latte, tall." That she follows this up by informing us that she's "caffeinated up to my eyes, I swear" does little for logic. Her punctuation is fucking square.
And here is one final example of her lyrical evil, from "I Told You So," which has depth-creating, ricocheting sound beams similar to those of "Look at Me Now":
Is it time, green light
Egotistic, battle cry
I was right, you was wrong
Called you out, finished strong
Whiskey sour lemondade,
Fences at my barricade
I had heart, you had spades
I could see the color in your faces as it fades
That's how it is, ain't no riddle
Crunchy on the edge but soft in the middle
I got a lot, you got a little
I'mma play war drums, you play the fiddle
Play it real slow, lean on the bow
Everybody's sad when they miss a free throw
Lost your control, I'm on a roll
Right all along and I knew it in my soul.
Knew what? What is this even about other than wasting people's time?
It's understandable how we got to Karmin, who refer to their music as "swag pop" so shamelessly that Heidemann also brags about coining the phrase. It's no longer taboo for white people to rap at will, or consider black music to be a part of their culture (in the interview I just linked, Heidemann talks about using her allowance as a kid to buy Brandy, SWV and Brian McKnight albums, which I can completely relate to). There's little time and too little money to respect any musical ground as sacred, anyway. And self-conscious quirk has finally bubbled over into the pop mainstream thanks to people like Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, and Katy Perry. Karmin represent all that the current Top 40 suggests that we hold dear, just kicked up a notch too far. They're culture reflected in a slightly distorting fun house mirror, kind of like a ruthless CEO or a beauty pageant.
According to reliable record-sales tracker Hits Daily Double, Hello is on pace to sell up to 20,000 copies its first week out. While that will land it in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 chart, it's a fraction of what the last infuriating crossover viral sensation, Lana Del Rey, moved in her first week (77,000 copies). And Lana Del Rey didn't have a Top 40 single or anything – Hello's first single, "Brokenhearted" moves up to No. 26 on this week's Billboard Hot 100.
Karmin are moving some units, but not stirring emotions. The outrage that, just three months ago, made Max Read's "Hater's Guide to Karmin" essential reading, has seemingly dried up. Maybe it's that Hello is a seven-song EP, and so it feels less worthy of being taken seriously than, say a full-length album would. (That's optimistic in people's investment in full-length albums, by the way.) Maybe it's that in this case, justice is actually served — outrage is almost as good as love when it comes to commanding attention, and apathy, after all, is the most effective destroyer of pop music there is.
"It's kind of horrible, isn't it?" Max wrote back in February. "The way they're desperate for you to like them, and you're desperate to for the song to stop playing so you can set fire to the entire planet for having provided an opportunity for something like this to exist." On Hello, they're just as desperate, especially on the Guetta-like title track, in which Heidemann pleads, "I'mma bring it, bring it I'mma give it, give it / You gon' love me like you ain't love nobody before." Kudos to the world for proving her wrong.