Iggy Azalea's The New Classic is a peculiar contradiction. It's easy to dismiss (and impossible not to), but will be tough to avoid. That it exists at all is both totally expected—a successful white rapper, in 2014, you say?—and against-all-odds unlikely, depending on where you're standing. But the unexpected success of her latest single, the DJ Mustard-like "Fancy," sets Iggy into motion. That song is a smash, one that will transform her from an outsider primarily known for beefing with Azealia Banks on Twitter, her Complex cover (obviously), and releasing hipster dance singles that could only possibly blow in the U.K., into a fully-fledged star. The New Classic will accompany "Fancy," but as dead weight dragging alongside.
"Fancy" sounds like "now," and helpfully, its Clueless-derived video is like a BuzzFeed article in Vevo form. It is also a smash because she is white, and attractive, and makes great use of an unforgettable schoolyard hook from Charli XCX. These factors have all dovetailed nicely to give the song a nu-"Hollaback Girl" vibe, and to push her through on "Rhythmic" radio. The Rhythmic format plays non-rock top 40; a decade ago, it would have been entirely rap. Today, very little hip-hop seems to break through, unless performed by Pitbull or viral Vine heroes like Sage the Gemini. To Rhythmic stations, however, Iggy is an easy sales pitch, even though her music is hip-hop through and through.
Before lighting the torches in protest on behalf of, say, T-Pain (his incredible DJ Mustard-produced comeback single has spent 20 weeks on the charts without rising above No. 62), keep in mind that Azalea is affiliated with Grand Hustle. As her former boss and (as suggested by her rap style throughout the album) likely collaborator, T.I. is making a reasonably successful transition to "behind-the-scenes" exec in an industry even more dominated by white faces than the pop charts. (It's also worth pointing out that Billboard's methodology in measuring the popularity of R&B/Hip-Hop is flawed.) This is a multi-faceted situation, even if Tip's investment seems a bit cynical.
Cynicism does not preclude quality. "Fancy" is an undeniable jam. The New Classic, on the other hand, is quite deniable. Certain pieces are locked into place: Iggy Azalea has clearly put a lot of effort into her craft, but a craft it remains. Artfulness seems beyond her grasp; so does (again, "Fancy" aside) entertainment. Her verses are well-written, in terms of their shape, cadence, and structure, but their lyrics are so nonspecific as to be meaningless. Often, she aspires to inspirational, but the effect is numbing, leaving listeners in a fog of generalization.
I'm dedicated, flow elevated
Tell every hater I hope you never play it, said I'd never make it
Now I'm celebrating, I'm never quitting, no resignation
I'm the fresh face with no expiration
I know pressure make diamonds, so I threw them off in this chain
And when it's all on the line, I'm who you want in the game
It's all like this, enough to leave one begging for something to grasp onto: a specific reference, a personal detail, a hint at the human being beneath the motivational guru-slash-supermodel. T.I. was a rapper for whom reality and skill intersected, an artist whose biography informed the dramatic weight of his words. But his awareness of Iggy Azalea's story seems to begin and end with her having jumped a few puddles and struggled, with no specifics that might give us some kind of investment. The theatrics of struggle are there; the details of it are not.
For an oblivious Australian, obliviousness is authentic.
This isn't a matter of racial authenticity, either. Iggy Azalea has a fascinating story. "I grew up in Australia in a place called Mullumbimby," she told MTV late last year. "It's a small town. The population is 3,000 now. And I grew up in a very little house that my dad built out of mudbricks, by hand." She told Complex about getting a fake ID at age 13, and getting drunk at nightclubs and sleeping with older men. "I wanted to escape to America, and that was at 16," she told MTV. She moved to Miami, and spent the rest of her time "wandering around America."
These are the details that suggest she's an extraordinary person, one with an incredible story. Whether or not her specific words are ghostwritten is irrelevant, as is the accusations of her music being "manufactured," a criticism almost always targeted at popular female performers. It doesn't matter, in other words, who does the heavy lifting here, although one imagines that she's in the best position to do so. Her one-in-a-million story, and all of the implied drama of that MTV interview, could be captured in her music—whether by her on her own, by her and Tip collaborating, or by a pop music factory of soulless automatons.
Iggy Azalea's other weakness is her voice, which consistently strikes a jarringly inauthentic note. She raps with a tightly-wound drawl, one that, to American ears, feels tone-deaf not musically, but socially. Her voice, in essence, sounds like a put-on version of a particularly technical rapper from the American South. It's the kind of thing that would make Ke$ha cringe—and that's ultimately what makes it unique. It's another contradiction: her rap style begs to be taken seriously, but is instead vaguely silly. Someone from the States would never attempt to pull this off on such a large stage; it requires an outsider's audacity, a lack of awareness about racial dynamics in the States. The creative success of "Fancy" suggests this limitation is dependent on execution, rather than a fundamental flaw. For an oblivious Australian, obliviousness is authentic.
A few other things could improve The New Classic: a collaboration with "Crocodile Bun B," a "Skew It On the Bar-B" freestyle, a song about Wallabies, Roos, or any other shoe brand based on an Australian animal. But most importantly for her next album—and she'll almost certainly get one—she'll need a greater grasp of her reality. And another "Fancy" couldn't hurt.
Correction: Charli XCX's name was misspelled in the original version of this article as Charlie XCX. It has been corrected.