Image: The Cobra Snake
From the time Daft Punk released Discovery in 2001 until Justice dropped Cross in 2007, Parisian label Ed Banger made it their mission to soundtrack the stickiest, prettiest, neon glow-iest club nights Around The World. Somewhere in the middle of this vortex was Uffie.
For those who came late: Uffie was a fashion student turned rapper. Indie boys wanted to get with her, indie girls wanted to get with her too. And once the messageboard misogyny receded for a second, the alt kids realised they’d already scrobbled her track “Pop The Glock” 3000 times.
Born Anna-Catherine Hartley in Miami in 1987, Uffie moved to Hong Kong with her family at the age of four before landing in Paris to study fashion. It was here she hooked up with DJ Feadz, and released “Pop The Glock” in February 2006.
The pull was immediate. Lyrics bigging up her sex appeal while shooting down the chances of dreamlusting indie boys, vocoderized vocals, a slightly narcotic tempo– it was magnetizing. MySpace was peaking, and “Pop The Glock” travelled the world on bloghouse buzz alone. Overnight she’d become contender for Next Big Thing.
And then four whole years went by. In that time MySpace went, Facebook came, and anything not held above the tectonic shifts fell into the abyss. “Pop The Glock” faded from relevance, used only as a nostalgic reference to the immediate past.
Meanwhile, besides a few tracks that failed to stick, Uffie was busy with the rest of her life. After the release of “Pop The Glock” she broke up with Feadz. Then a marriage to a photographer ended just before the birth of their child. Those four years were occupied with challenges that make any baying about failed expectations seem childish.
Listen to Uffie now and you hear stuff that should’ve made her an icon. There is the chirpy British vocals of SOPHIE, the rambunctious and highly vocoderized white girl rap of Ke$ha, the hip samples and collaborators like Giorgio Moroder and Pharrell. If her long-awaited album had come a couple years earlier, it would’ve predicted the next five years of pop music.
As it happened 2010's Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans landed dying – but not quite dead - on arrival.
The main hurdle, as every review at the time mentioned, was Ke$ha. “Pop The Glock” was reissued as a single in October 2009 to start the press cycle for the album, which meant that for many, it was the first time they were hearing it.
It was horrible timing: Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok’ had come out two months earlier and was already ubiquitous. Lyrics bigging up her sex appeal while shooting down the chances of any dreamlusting indie boys, vocoderized vocals, rapped verses – Ke$ha seemed like the scrappy and realer alternative to mainstream pop’s existing monarchs. Where did Uffie fit? If you’d heard “Tik Tok” in August, and then heard “Pop The Glock” for the first time in October, you’d hear something which felt like it was trying (and failing abysmally) to do the same thing.
It sounded pale and sickly next to the huge choruses and maximalist synthpop Ke$ha was working with.
Nevertheless the album reviews were mostly positive. Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans skips between styles and genres while Uffie’s distinctive vocals tie the whole thing together.
There are forgettable moments, tracks which fade against the indomitable power of the record’s stronger bits, but that also speaks to how memorable those bits are. The people who turned out for Uffie showed that she hadn’t been forgotten just yet. Pharrell featured on “ADD SUV”, which was later remixed by Hudson Mohawke before anyone had heard of them. The Rapture’s Mattie Safer featured on another. And Beastie Boys’ Mike D did a (risible, abhorrent) remix of “MCs Can Kiss”, the album’s strongest track.
“MCs Can Kiss” was the record’s most convincing argument that Uffie still had much to give. Unlike “Pop The Glock’s” understated bravado, it comes off like a screaming, in-your-face brag-rap, but reveals more of Uffie’s vulnerability. “I left school too early ‘cos I was on the rush / Of making my own dough, of doing my homework / To travel the whole world, to try all kinds of stuff / I even tried out to play the saxophone / And you’ll be the first one to hear how it sounds.” It ends with her playing sax.
It’s goofy and honest and not entirely carefree – there’s a hint of a shadow of a doubt – but enough to put any handwringing to bed: whether Uffie got scooped or not, she’s not miserable. And this is ultimately the point that has to satisfy anyone who really wants a follow-up to Sex Dreams, while knowing it’ll never come, while knowing if it did it’d be superfluous. Uffie got in, left her mark, and got out. She retired from music in 2013.
Even so, nobody is more fun to dream about; not as the bulletin board fantasy that got the bros first hooked, but how that mark could’ve been different. Sex Dreams probably couldn’t have come out any sooner, and it’s not like Uffie was lounging around her Parisian duplex sitting on a groundbreaking record while the novelty of it was chipped away by American Top 40 and the alt-mainstream.
But what would music look like now if Uffie had been able to wrangle the momentum of that debut single? Would T.I. have signed her and left Iggy Azalea to dry out in the Mullumbimby sun? Would she have shut down Macklemore before he’d ever had a chance to find an op shop? Could she have dragged electroclash along in her wake for its long-awaited comeback?
Would she have made it into Random Access Memories? And how much of Kreayshawn could we have avoided? These all seem delusional now, but after “Pop The Glock” the expectation was so high you’d be justified for believing them. And that’s what gets a precious few people so upset about Uffie: it couldn’t have happened any other way, but hoo boy, if only it had.
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