by Jessie J feat. B.o.B.
"Who is that?" my roommate asked midway through this British moppet and her two-bit rent-a-rapper's appearance on Saturday Night Live. "She's seriously annoying." In the moment—to that point, I only knew Jessie J's name and hadn't heard a note—the best I could come up with was Lily Allen with a hefty dose of Ke$ha. Pop math of this sort is fun to do, but immediate impressions deceive (I heard an accent, I saw dark bangs, I thought of Lily Allen), especially when they overlook the bleedin' obvious. At long last, or something, England has coughed up its very own Katy Perry.
I don't simply mean that Jessie J emerged with what English critic Tom Ewing bull's-eyed as "the 'I Kissed a Girl' of gender essentialism." Exactly how many dudes spend their videos crotch-dancing in a designer onesie while also wearing tiny leather-jacket studs on their lips has yet to be determined, but it probably has something to do with why Ke$ha came so immediately to mind. Still, give Ke$ha credit for seeming to buy into her own I'm-ka-ray-zee shtick, which in pop counts for something—believability, you could call it. Jessie J comes off like she believes in the almighty Euro—as well as the theater training she received as a student.
As everything from Jennifer Holliday to Glee has taught us, musical-theater-style ostentation brands pretty much everything it touches as deeply phony. (It's my biggest stumbling block with Janelle Monáe, for example.) "Price Tag" ups the ante considerably by being about, that's right, how money doesn't matter: "Can we all slow down and enjoy right now?/Guarantee we'll be feeling all right." You don't have to be worried sick about the cornucopia of horror with which "Price Tag" shares airtime (Japanese earthquake and nuclear leakage, Wisconsin union-busting, our old friend the Middle East) for those lines to make you want to hawk a loogie in the song's general direction, because just like her American counterpart, Jessie J can out-obnoxious just about anything in her path. Perry's pop-eyed-sexpot-in-a-David-LaChappelle-world bit has the dignity of George Jones singing "He Stopped Loving Her Today" by comparison to J's nonstop gesticulation parade. Every overdone moue and double take (meaning every moue and double take) evokes Carol Burnett playing Norma Desmond, only this time it isn't funny anymore.