The Calm After "Brooklyn Girls": Catey Shaw Comes Home

"(we know)."

This was the parenthetical added to the subject line of an email sent out by Baby's All Right, the Brooklyn venue hosting the record release party for Catey Shaw, whose new single "Brooklyn Girls" briefly burned up the internet last week as "the anthem nobody wanted." Thanks to her Urban Outfitterized anthem to New York's most Urban Outfitterized borough, Shaw had inadvertently stumbled into instant viral infamy. So, by proxy, had Baby's All Right, which led the small club to distance itself from an artist no one had heard of before two days prior in a routine schedule announcement blasted out to its mailing list.

The Calm After "Brooklyn Girls": Catey Shaw Comes Home

Baby's All Right was happy to sell Shaw out by pleading innocence at the first available moment. Shaw, on the other hand, had no such option. But like the venue she also approached the sudden flurry of exasperated press with a knowing eye-roll: "How's everybody doing tonight... in Brooklyn," she said, letting those final two words dangle in the air. She had taken the stage promptly at 8:15 p.m., as Baby's All Right had a full night's schedule to churn through.

Though both Shaw and the club hosting her record release party readily acknowledged whatever newfound recognition she had unintentionally accrued, you would not have known anything was amiss had you wandered into Baby's All Right's back room from the bar. Standing before Shaw and her three-piece backing band were perhaps a hundred or so people, each of whom had ample space to move around. All the young people—mostly groups of women, or women with their boyfriends—looked perfectly unremarkable, just like most of the extras in the "Brooklyn Girls" video.

Looking around the room, I suspected that a decent slice of the audience knew Shaw or members of her band intimately, which turned out to be true. She was answered with enthusiastic screams after asking the crowd how many of us had been to a Catey Shaw show before, and later in the set she remarked that her family was "in the front screaming like a bunch of animals." Standing behind me along a wall was a group of middle aged folks who were both clearly proud to be watching their sons or daughters or nephews or nieces on stage but also a bit uneasy to be at a concert in Brooklyn.

Shaw played a brisk 45-minute set of completely uncool music. It struck me while watching her perform that perhaps what most inflamed people like New York's Allison P. Davis or Noisey's Dan Ozzi is that Shaw waves the flag of Brooklyn without even attempting to pay lip service to music preferred by the borough's most hip renters. The video—in which Shaw and her crew dance gleefully in front of Bushwick's technicolor graffiti walls—portrays Brooklyn in a sanitized, marketable sort of way that brands her as an outsider, and there is nothing in her music that signals to a certain type of listener that she might actually be on the "inside." (Nevermind that Brooklyn is, of course, being overrun by outsiders, a group that overlaps with most of Shaw's critics, including myself.)

Though the images of the "Brooklyn Girls" video are what drew the most ire from critics, they would be re-blogged and aggregated without incident if packaged together with a song that doesn't sound like "Brooklyn Girls." It's easy to imagine the portrait shots of random hipsters or footage of a backyard party being accepted wholesale if soundtracked by Parquet Court's slacker indie rock anthems or Kelela's steamy R&B minimalism or Charli XCX's purple-streaked pop music. Shaw's worst crime is not making a statement about Brooklyn, it's being corny. She was, in essence, pilloried for speaking the wrong language.

The Calm After "Brooklyn Girls": Catey Shaw Comes Home

On stage she kept a ukelele, perhaps Earth's least cool instrument, strapped to her gut, which she either strummed or patted on beat like a nervous tic. She played a mix of newer and older songs, but as a Catey Shaw dilettante I couldn't tell which were which unless she said so explicitly. It will serve her well that she seems to have long ago honed in on a sound, especially when that sound is the type of peppy, strummy busker-rock that often fills the air in America's coffee shops and minivans.

I left with the feeling that Shaw will find success in the music industry. She might become the new Ingrid Michaelson, writing bouncy pop songs for people who hate pop music. Or she might become the new Pomplamoose, with a song picked up by a car company and turned into an insidious jingle that gives you a real reason to hate her. (She announced on Thursday that a song of her's called "Revolution" had been picked up by Bono's RED organization for an upcoming campaign.) But, either way, Shaw is set up to succeed even after she's been shamed away from co-opting the idea of "Brooklyn" by people who wouldn't even like her music anyway.

By 9 p.m. she was off stage. There were two more shows following her, both of which charged $12 for entry. The two bands—The Mast and The Love Supreme—Catey Shaw made way for have exactly zero viral hits to their name, and time will soon tell who would wish which fate on the other.