Adventures in brief music criticism. Off-the cuff-rambling. One song, one performance. Studio or live, it matters not. Probably on Mondays.
"It's not the writer's job to tell us how somebody felt about something, it's to tell us how the world works." – Zadie Smith
"Fancy," the jam of the summer by Iggy Azalea, tells us how the world works. There's no real feeling in the song; Azalea oozes confidence, determination, etc., but it all hardens into plastic. Rap bragging goes back to the blues, to Robert Johnson singing "the stuff I got'll bust your brains out, baby," and whether it's performed by a man or a woman, the coolness of the boast is usually offset by layers of meaning in the singer's voice, flashes of anger, seduction, and by other lyrics, or the music. Something.
But there are no layers in "Fancy," just the sheen of being rich. You want to know how the world works? Money, the song says. Having it. You can boast about your poor background once you have the money, like Azalea does in the video for "Work". Until then, in the song's world, you can shut up about it.
I don't think everyone who listens to this song takes it at face value; they know it's a dream, the American dream gone global, transformed into the worship of things imagined as wealth in order to keep the dream within reach. Of course the chorus is catchy. That's marketing. In his argument against the kind of writing Zadie Smith and others were publishing in the early 2000s, the critic James Wood coined the term "hysterical realism." There's nothing hysterical about Azalea's music. "Fancy" is credit-card realism.
No one in this song performs under her real name; Azalea's been criticized for not singing or rapping with the natural Australian accent she ditched while working her career in the U.S. south; Azalea may or may not have written any of "Fancy". Those kinds of authenticity questions lead down a critical blind alley. While I'm all for women writing their own songs and being recognized for it, plenty of great songs have been written by teams. As for name and voice, well, art is always acting of some kind, no matter how vapid the play turns out to be. You dream up your identity. You want to replay Alicia Silverstone in Clueless, go ahead. (The video un-parodies a parody, drains out the joke.)
It's knocking your head against a wall, anyway, to argue for biographical authenticity in a song where dressing yourself up into someone else to the extent that nothing remains—new self, old self, whatever—is a good thing. You can become a pouting, sneering credit card. No one's going to complain. That's just how the world works.