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Fairy Tale Fest: Ten Postmodern Pop Fairytales For Your iPod, Part One!

2011 May 5

On the morning of the Royal Wedding, the street outside BadRep Towers was saturated with grown women wearing plastic tiaras. Rob and I became vaguely concerned we might get turned into pumpkins or something, and decided to take refuge in the (weirdly, wonderfully empty) British Museum for the day to regain a sense of perspective.

But it seems we’re all in the pink plastic grip of fantasy princesshood, so I’ve decided to give in for a moment and take a look at some fairytale-themed pop music – but with a little bit of smarts and sass thrown in. Songs that turn tropes upside down or inside out, or give the princesses unexpected vigourous voice. In this post-Shrek epoch we’re living in, it’s a pretty well-travelled road, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun.

The reliably-entertaining folks over at Comics Alliance are also having a Princess Moment, which this post is intended as a sort of humorous companion to. It’s not really an Order of Preference so much as a Pile of Stuff, because I’m not in the mood today to be ranking things in a heirarchy. A Pile of Stuff is way better.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This isn’t, of course, the be-all and end-all of anything – just a personal take – so I’d love to hear your own suggestions in the comments, with no rules on style! The only rules were 1) fairytale themed; and 2) attempting (if not always succeeding) to do something interesting.


10. Janelle Monae: Sir Greendown

I throw up my hands here – this is a flagrant excuse for me to talk about Janelle Monae. Her image is more robot warrior rock star than princess. This track is one of her dreamier moments, and I admit that aside from a faintly Angela Carter-esque meet me at the tower/the dragon wants a bite/of our love moment, it’s actually pretty straightforward prince-awaitin’ fare – but actually that makes it a funny little island in the context of the rest of her work (check out the bolshy Motown-tinged slice of pure aural glory that is Violet Stars Happy Hunting! and you’ll see what I mean). Monae is fond of her concept albums, and combines a sci-fi android alter-ego with a deep- seated love for The Wizard of Oz. But the forbidden love of her android persona Cyndi Mayweather and the human millionaire Greendown (the storyline of her album and EPs) kinda is a space-age fairytale. (Oh, and go and listen to Wondaland, too.)

9. Kate Bush: The Red Shoes

Because it’s good to be obvious. For the unfamiliar, Kate made an entire album based on both the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale of the same name (as well as the 1948 film, which also drew on the same text). The story itself is unrivalled, if nightmarish, lecturing Victoriana is your thing – read Anderson’s text here and cringe! – but for Bush it proved fertile songwriting ground. The story’s about a girl whose vain attraction to a pair of red shoes (RED! IN CHURCH! SCANDAL) is punished by an angel – she finds she is unable to take the shoes off, or stop dancing, and ends up having to ask the local executioner to cut off her feet. Which then chase her around. Yeah, her disembodied feet, still dancing, follow her around and haunt her. In the end she repents thoroughly …and dies. As you do. Kate Bush’s version, on the other hand, is a hymn to dancing the dream and making the dream come true and enjoying your desires, even so-called dangerous ones. Or as Prof Bonnie Gordon puts it in this essay, “by singing and reclaiming this story meant to constrain women’s bodies and their erotic potential, Bush confronts and overturns its original inherent violence.”

8. Emilie Autumn: Shallott

Ah, Madame Autumn. Prone to self-indulgence on occasion she may be (The Art of Suicide just bores me, for example) but when she’s on form, she’s good fun. I much prefer her when she’s interacting with a story or old folk tale trope that already exists, like, say, with Rose Red from her debut album Enchant, as opposed to when she’s languidly drawling about how Dead Is The New Alive on far less ethereal later LP Opheliac. Here’s Shallott, in which the famous tragic lady of Arthurian legend and Tennyson’s poem gets a soapbox of her own. Driven to distraction by sheer boredom, preternaturally aware that her life story’s already been written for her, archly quoting her own poem, and almost determined to die as flamboyantly as possible, Autumn’s take on the Lady may be angsty, but she’s also deliciously sarcastic – now some drama queen is gonna write a song for me!, she spits. Worth braving the gothic-girl-lost frills and flounces for.

7. CocoRosie: Werewolf

When I saw CocoRosie live a year or two ago, they took the stage in fake moustaches and proceeded to blow me away. Lyrically, only they know what Werewolf is really about, but I love the sudden changes of direction, the stream-of-consciousness narratives, and the thoughtful melancholy that hangs around my speakers in clouds after the music’s stopped playing. Corny movies make me reminisce / They break me down easy on this generic love shit / First kiss frog and princess … I’m-a shake you off though, get up on that horse and / Ride into the sunset, look back with no remorse…

6. Skye Sweetnam: Part Of Your World

I wanted to include a Disney cover- something done as a pop-punk number with a gutsy, bouncy female vocal. In my head, with a change of context, some spit and elbow grease, the song might come out kinda like the Disney Princess version of No Doubt’s Just A Girl.

A survey of YouTube’s trove of punk/rock Disney covers reveals a really male-heavy bunch of bands. (Ladies, where are you? Where’s my hardcore cover of Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo, eh?) This was the closest match for a female-voxed attempt at this song (Ariel’s big ballady number from The Little Mermaid) that YouTube could offer me – I’d have preferred something rougher round the edges, but it’s still good fun. Avril-esque Skye Sweetnam, then: she’s supported Britney live, provided Barbie’s singing voice on a Mattel DVD, fronts metal band Sumo Cyco – VARIED CAREER TRAJECTORY – and overall sounds like Bif Naked on a sugar high (no bad thing in my book). Album B-side Wolves and Witches is also sugary fun, if lyrically a bit join-the-dots.

Haters should note that Miley Cyrus has also had a crack at this song, and by God, she phones it in like nobody’s business, making Skye’s effort sound edgier than Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring by comparison.

SO! Readers. Could you do better than Skye? Dust off your Fender. Record it. Get in touch. And I will lavish THE FAME OF BADREP upon you. Provided you don’t sound like a cat in a tumble dryer. (Possibly even if you do.) Extra points if you do Gaston from Beauty and the Beast as a B-side. No wildly feminism-relevant reason. I just like it. (I use antlers in all of my DECCCC-o-rating…)

On that note, come back tomorrow morning for Part Two, in which we discover why Nicki Minaj, Paramore, and … Benjamin Zephaniah (trust me, he’s relevant) are rubbing shoulders.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Russell permalink
    May 5, 2011


    I’d do a Disney cover but my voice is a bit low, even for the male parts in Disney.

    • Miranda permalink*
      May 5, 2011

      Phew, I’m glad someone likes!

      There’s a lot of “faintly gothic piano ladies” or “angry grunge doll image” type artists doing a “twisted fairytale” thing – The Birthday Massacre, Emilie Autumn, Hannah Fury – and much as I like them, I didn’t just want these posts to be on that approach only. Hoping part 2 will have more variety…

  2. Pet Jeffery permalink
    May 5, 2011

    I hear what you mean about Bif Naked.

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