I could take the easy route — adhere to the standard masculine mode of criticism, of music in general, but more specifically, of female artists — and describe Sky Ferreira as a product of influences and partnerships, explain how she matches up with them and why she often falls short of their marks, as if she herself plays a supporting role in the work that bears her name; in fact, I will do this, in brief. Call it a venting, a purge.
There’s an inevitability to this sort of comparison. Knowing that Jon Brion is involved on “Sad Dream” forces you to consider Ferreira’s vocal choices, the way her pitch rises, then falls as she finishes the chorus. Is that a hint of Aimee Mann you hear, or are you just imagining things? “Red Lips” makes more sense once you learn that Shirley Manson wrote it, but really, it sounds more like a weak-tea version of Celebrity Skin-era Hole — if not something more wan and ghastly, an Avril Lavigne or Fefe Dobson imitation of the same — than vintage Garbage. It’s not that Ferreira lacks the prowess or conviction to sell the song, but rather that the song itself is rote, rock music in air quotes. How could she do anything but come off as a pale imitation, Courtney Love without the heroin or the history?
The latter of those is the main issue with Ferreira. Just beyond her teenage years, she is still clearly undefined as an artist. There’s something inherently adolescent about an EP that veers sharply from genre to genre, each song an island, completely separate from those that precede and those that follow. I’ll resist calling Ferreira a dilettante, not only because the neutral word feels nevertheless gendered, but also because there’s nothing amateurish at all about Ghost. Quite the contrary, Ghost is professional to a fault, polished and clean, the divergences in styles feeling as much like bets hedged to maximize a return on the considerable investment as a testing of artistic waters.
On the other hand, although this is commercial product, funded by major label money, who could fault Ferreira for trying out different styles and seeing which fit best? Even when such explorations come up lacking, why should they be dismissed? And, in this case, the end justifies the means. Literally. The final track on the EP, “Everything is Embarrassing,” is Ferreira’s breakout hit. If you don’t know it yet, don’t worry; you will. If not through YouTube or the radio or a soundtrack for some MTV show, then maybe you’ll discover it on some yet-to-be-curated compilation or at a future 10s nostalgia night, dancing on your own. “Embarrassing” is so perfect, so potent, that for once you don’t fear over-exposure. Whereas the other four songs on Ghost feel dated on arrival, the sullen funk of “Everything is Embarrassing” is contemporary in the best way: it transcends the present moment, not in a “post-internet” sense, but in the way that it will soundtrack, for many people, memories of 2012.
What comes next for Ferreira, who knows? Her future sure seems bright from here. All I can say is that we’re living in a goddamned golden age of girl-pop. Jessie Ware, Bat For Lashes, Solange, Carly Rae Jepsen, Fiona Apple, Charli XCX, Lana Del Rey (no matter what you have to say about her), Grimes, Taken By Trees, Taylor Swift, Cassie, Niki and the Dove, Dawn Richard; nearly every corner of popular music has been staked out, claimed by women of talent and achievement. I’m half convinced that the EOY, best-of 2012 lists will read like music-crit support for Hanna Rosin’s thesis. It doesn’t matter that the majority of Ghost is bland or derivative; Sky Ferreira, on the merits of “Everything is Embarrassing” alone, deserves a spot at the head of the class of 2012.