Valet Girls – 「WE NEVER HAD CTRL」
Artist: Valet Girls
Album: 「WE NEVER HAD CTRL」
Type: Full-length album (LP)
Release date: 7 October 2015
Label: Retrotech Sounds
- Digital download (Retrotech Sounds, 2015)
death’s dynamic shroud.wmv notably opened I’ll Try Living Like This with words from Kim Kardashian, but Valet Girls tops that with an entire album about Britney Spears. The fourth and final album to be released by Retrotech Sounds, 「WE NEVER HAD CTRL」 is a concept album that chronicles that pop diva’s stardom, from rise to
fall mental distress breakdown to rise again in a manner that mirrors the artist’s relationship to vaporwave circa-2016 – with a Jurassic Park reference to boot. Now that’s a pretty busy sentence, so let’s break it down a bit further with information from an interview conducted with Valet Girls in January 2018.
First and foremost, 「WE NEVER HAD CTRL」 is simply music that Valet Girls “like[s] to make”. He described his approach to music as “poptimist”, which means that pop music can be a positive influence on listeners both aesthetically and personally. Valet Girls describes being a big fan of R&B and pop music as demonstrated through sampling Britney Spears on every song except for “Dilettante Garden” – calling Spears the “nexus of the record”. Specifically, Valet Girls set to “abstractly chronicle the Britney epic” from 1998 to 2008 that also “mirrored some bad decisions” made in the artist’s life. Since Spears “really had no control in her life and thus had to act out in increasingly erratic and distinctive ways” Valet Girls had to “preserve my own pop sensibilities”.
The total lack of control is demonstrated in how much 「WE NEVER HAD CTRL」 switches between different flavors of plunderphonics, beats, and melodies within tracks rather than utilize the straightforward pop remixes that were found in most contemporaneous classic-style vaporwave. For example, “「DR. 데니스로드먼’S FORMICA SPEEDWAY」” incorporates elements of ambient and hip-hop by using chopped-and-screwed pop as the rhythmic foundation in a total subversion of the source material. Additionally, opening track “「CTRL.jnt」” utilizes a modern selection of samples rather than older pop, which also subverts contemporary vaporwave tropes in starting from the present.
Valet Girls specifically chose vaporwave as the medium by which to explore this personal topic due to the genre’s plunderphonics nature, which may be metaphorically interpreted as remixing and revisiting one’s own thoughts and memories in the light of new avenues of creation. This is especially important in the album’s sequencing; 「WE NEVER HAD CTRL」 should be experienced as a continual suite of music rather than something for a shuffled playlist. The first half the album is “aggressive”, with the second being “introspective” and a “comedown”, reflecting Valet Girls’ own change to more introspective music and attitudes further throughout his life. This “turning point” is most effectively demonstrated in the title of the eighth track – “「LE CABARET ONIKKUSUHOTERU 1998」” – which references The Onyx Hotel Tour that “as any loyal Brit fan would know was a big point in her career where she transitioned from teeny bopper to sex icon”.
Sex cannot be avoided in discussions of Britney Spears (right, Justin?), and Valet Girls chose to incorporate sex as fun in its own right. “「LE CABARET ONIKKUSUHOTERU 1998」” turns a “sexy cabaret version of ‘Baby One More Time’1 into a goofy and comical straight classic-style vaporwave version”. In this case, vaporwave serves to “flip sex into a joke”, but sans the awkward self-consciousness with which vaporwave is typically associated in its archetypical introversion. Valet Girls describes final track “「WAVE NEW WORLD」” as “desexualized but still out-of-control”, with the previous tracks acting as a “liminal space” that purposefully plays on the ambiguity between sex and control, or how acting on sexual impulses may be interpreted as lacking control by outside observers.2
Finally, Valet Girls described the choice to produce classic-style vaporwave music at the height of dreampunk’s influence on vaporwave as a purposeful reaction to the “dreampunk hegemony”. In stating that he “didn’t get into vaporwave just to listen to ambient”, the “contra-DC bent” through using subject matter as topically ridiculous as Britney-goshdarn-Spears plays on vaporwave concepts of absurdity, nostalgia, and fun. In a climate where it seemed like things were being taken oh so seriously, Valet Girls saw 「WE NEVER HAD CTRL」 as a way to bring back the fun of classic-style vaporwave while showing that classic-style tropes have plenty of room for literal and figurative subversion and inversion.
Whether appreciated as a musically successful classic-style release or as a form of artistic introspection (but not introversion), 「WE NEVER HAD CTRL」 is a hell of a vaporwave concept album.
1. 「CTRL.jnt」 – (5:20)
2. 「MAVIS BEACON TEACHES KAMASUTRA WINDOWSの’95」 – (3:11)
3. 「DR. 데니스로드먼’S FORMICA SPEEDWAY」 – (3:36)3
4. 「DEPARTMENT INSTRUCTIONAL AUDIO #86: DIGITAL MEGAFAUNA DISPLAY」 – (2:06)
5. 「EMPTY (AFTERMATH)」 – (2:25)
6. 「DILETTANTE GARDEN バラの香り」 – (4:38)4
7. 「オニキス PENTHOUSE (するために使用物事を手放します)」 – (1:59)5
8. 「LE CABARET ONIKKUSUHOTERU 1998」 – (4:11)
9. 「回廊」 – (1:46)6
10. 「WAVE NEW WORLD」 – (5:25)
1I really hope I don’t have to explain what that song is.
2The veracity of such a belief is left as an exercise to the reader.
3Korean translaton: “Dr. Dennis Rodman’s formica speedway”
4Japanese translation: “(Dilettante garden) The scent of roses”
5Japanese translation: “Onyx (Penthouse) To let go of the things I used to do”
6Japanese translation: “Corridor”