With door-knocker earrings showing up on the lobes of everyone from Lily Allen to Fergie, no one can really lay claim to the second coming of the tacky-chic eighties mainstay—except possibly Santi White, a.k.a. Santogold, whose childhood nickname is actually a tribute to what has been part of the singer/composer’s personal style since she was a kid. “I used to wear these really huge cheap gold earrings—still do—and there was a really funny infomercial when I was growing up for this cheap gold called Santogold, so my friends started calling me that,” she explains. White has been honing her self-described “mash-up style, with elements of dub, new wave, punk rock, and electro,” for years (exactly how many is unclear, since she’s notorious for dodging the question of age in interviews, this one being no exception). And while she continues to rack up the accolades from MySpace music aficionados—not to mention Björk and producer extraordinaire Mark Ronson—the Philly-born, Wesleyan-educated Brooklyn resident is taking her burgeoning fame in stride. “I’m ready for my music to be heard by as many people as possible,” she says. “And whatever comes with that, I’ll brace myself for.”
What kinds of artists and experiences have influenced your music?
My father was really into music and exposed me to artists like Nina Simone, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Aretha, the Temptations, Fela Kuti, and Coltrane at a really early age. Hip-hop was a huge influence on me as well. I started writing raps at age 9, and never really stopped writing songs since then. Plus, my family used to take trips to Jamaica every year, so I was exposed to Jamaican music and culture early on, and it had a huge influence on me.
How did you come to tour with Björk this past fall? Are you a fan?
I’ve always been a big Björk fan, and was really surprised and excited when she invited me to do shows with her. I performed with a full band so that I could do some of my more live material, and then we’d have these amazing post-show dance parties backstage, which were even more fun than the shows! It was also really inspiring to get to watch her every night. She’s definitely in a category of her own.
You write, sing, and play instruments. Do you feel more passionately about one thing than the others?
Just for clarification, I am probably the worst instrument player there is! I consider myself an artist first, and all the other stuff is just a way to get out what’s in my head. The writing is engaging in a more intimate way, and the performance is more of a physical outlet.
A lot of people have been comparing you to M.I.A. What do you think of that?
I think people need reference points and it’s an easy one. We’re friends, have similar tastes and influences, and share some of the same producers. I think we’re different artists, though, and the ways we implement those things are very different. I think most people who make the comparison haven’t heard many of my songs. But it’s not really worth all the discussion. The music will speak for itself.
Celebrities’ hot bodies and the incendiary scandals that surround them inspire fiery passion in their fans, but few artists address our destructive desires toward them as directly as Douglas Gordon. In "Rock Stars," Gordon’s current exhibition at the Galerie Medium in St. Barthélemy, the Scottish artist creates a painfully funny portrait of our tortured love for famous faces. Emerging from his residency at Medium St. Barth, "Rock Stars" is a series of 18 classic head-shot photographs that Gordon has torched with matches. Ranging through eras and significance, the portraits include icons such as Brigitte Bardot, the Beatles, Gene Simmons, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Madonna, and Michael Jackson. The gallery archly asks viewers to consider the meaning of famous faces touched by fire: "Is this a verdict on Bardot’s scandalous flirtations or on Cat Stevens’ conversion to Islam? Has the devil struck Gene Simmons or have voodoo spirits caught up with Jimi Hendrix?" But really their message is more consuming. The charred remains of the press shots and publicity stills tell us that fans love the stars to death, and like real stars our celebrities burn brightest as they’re being snuffed out.
Rags-to-riches stories touch everyone’s heart, but rags-to-riches-to-rags are our real passion. Few rise-and-fall tales are as salacious or glamorous as that of Harry Gordon Selfridge, the American entrepreneur whose irreverent upheaval of shopping conventions made London’s Oxford Street a tourist destination and a national institution on par with Big Ben or the Tower of London. As deliciously disclosed by Lindy Woodhead in “Shopping, Seduction & Mr. Selfridge,” Selfridge was a maverick who adopted some of his competition’s innovations, invented many of his own, and inadvertently drove women’s emancipation forward in his quest to revolutionize consumer culture. Along the way, he squandered his wealth on gambling, extravagant living, and a stream of femmes fatales, dying a virtual pauper. It’s a cautionary tale worth contemplating when considering a splurge at Selfridges’ legendary sales counters.
Do you think shopping or consumer culture has radically changed since Mr. Selfridge’s day?
Consumer culture has changed enormously, because there is a much wider choice of goods. Shopping as a practice has hardly changed in the sense that you want something—or need something—so you go out and buy something. There is no mystique to shopping; it isn’t rocket science. What hasn’t changed—but is often forgotten by retailers—since Harry Gordon Selfridge’s day is that the key thing about shopping is to enjoy the experience. He believed that pleasure and entertainment were part of the shopping culture he created in the store.
With the Internet offering everything, always, do you think department stores are an endangered species?
Department stores have been an endangered species for such a long time now, and yet—sometimes, given the right location and the right attitude—they continue to flourish. Yes, the Internet, along with malls, outlet shopping, individual designer-brand shops, and now the revival of the mixed- and multi-brand specialty store, means the threat continues. Those big stores (like Selfridges) that survive do so because they offer drama/theater/art/entertainment/quality and a vast choice of services. Without the money to put those in place, they will die, as many have done so.
In your studies of fashion entrepreneurs, are there larger lessons you can extrapolate about the way we shop and what shopping means to us?
It has been said that shopping defines our lives today. In one sense, I find that quite sad. Shopping means such a huge amount to us that we tend to forget how to live life without it: to mend things, to recycle things, to cherish things. However, as shopping is never going to go away, the lessons to be learned about how to lock into its heartbeat are all those laid down by Harry Gordon Selfridge: Cherish your customers, don’t take them for granted, give them cracking good service, be egalitarian in your mix, entertain them, spoil them, and give them fair prices but a large dollop of luxury.
Did Harry Selfridge, as he wished to be remembered, ‘dignify and ennoble commerce’?
I like to think he did. He certainly left a dignified and noble building. The owners today cherish his heritage. London is lucky to have them.
One of the most absurd things about surrealism and Dada is that they’ve retained their strength while the social, political, and intellectual ideas that engendered them have became obsolete. We might live in a postmodern era, but some of our hippest artists are busily wrangling with modernism’s signature art movements. In “Ballet Mécanique,” Emma Dexter, the new director of exhibitions at the Timothy Taylor Gallery in London and formerly senior curator at the Tate, has gathered work by 16 figures whose art moves modernism into the postmodern age. The show is named after Fernand Léger’s 1924 lyrical Dadaist film, and includes work by Léger and rare pieces by modernist masters Oskar Schlemmer and Robert Delaunay, along with art in all media by their young disciples. And there can be little doubt that the historic artists would be proud to see Thomas Zipp’s witty revival of surrealist references, Jan Albers’ trompe l’oeil portraits, and Hansjörg Dobliar’s fresh, lively, colorful Constructivist drawings. For more information on the show, see www.timothytaylorgallery.com.
The tree at Rockefeller Center has been lit, Broadway is back in business, and Santa is at the mall: Christmas is here. In a nod to the most overfetishized of holidays, BravinLee Programs asked artists to create pieces inspired by the season’s ubiquitous ornaments. The result, “Ornament: Ho Hum All Ye Faithful,” is predictably cheeky. A paper garland is made up of hairy nudes holding hands, and a crushed Miller High Life hangs from a tree. Ornaments range in price from $5 to $12,000 and can be taken home in time for Christmas, just in case you thought there was any true holiday hatin’ going on here. The exhibit opens today and runs through January 12. For more information, see www.bravinlee.com.