Whether performing with Red Blood Shoes’ Laura May-Carter as Shit Girlfriend or in the various punk outfits from her youth, Natalie Chahal has always mixed sugary sass with observant and often biting commentary about the world. Her past efforts were more direct in their message, but through her solo project Miss World she takes a tongue-and-cheek approach to her songwriting. The result is Keeping UP With Miss World, which is one of the year’s most entertaining and intelligent albums.
The record is the sonic equivalent to Mean Girls, Clueless, and Election, where she tackles gender norms and stereotypes with sly humor and amusing anecdotes. Opener “Diet Coke Head” commences with a grizzled guitar intro that quickly transitions into the sound of a pop can opening. The intro is giggle-worthy, but the track quickly progresses into a tale about young girls’ desires to conform to a specific image. Their decisions, as such, are not their own but determined by corporations, magazines, and commercials.
“I want to be free, but what does that mean?
I want to be perfect, and I’ll die trying.”
At the same time, people are their own their enemies, as they obsess over celebrities, the popular clique in class, and “likes” on social media. The perky “Don’t U Wanna Be Me Sometime” cleverly articulate our fanatical behavior while the methodical, melodramatic rocker “(U Watch My) Stories (But U Don’t Like My Posts)” addresses how social media has turned people into stalkers. The scary part is that some people like being watched.
This self-absorptive attitude is further described on “Buy Me Dinner”, where Chahal lightheartedly expresses her adoration for another. She doesn’t care if he’s an asshole to others as long as he “buys me dinner” and “pays my rent”. In return, she’ll love him forever. The off-kilter and bubbly garage-pop tune, “Oh Honey”, which echoes Caroline Rose, reiterates the message that love does have a price. On the flip side is a person who hasn’t bought into the “perfect woman” image, but instead she walks to the beat of her drum. Her tune is the jittery pop tune, “Not Quite a Lady”, which features a quirky, Mac DeMarco-esque jangle guitar line and Chahal’s vocals at its sassiest.
Chahal returns temporarily to her grimy punk roots with “Radio All My Bitches”, which, through the heavy static, features an awesome guitar riff. Reverb rifles through the rambunctious and sizzling “Carb Yr Enthusiasm”, on which Chahal further describes people’s obsession with their bodies and their tendency to follow trends. It’s not just the words where she’s imitating many similarly-aged people but also through her ditzy, valley-girl vocal delivery. She cleverly sings:
“I’m going gluten free for the summer.
I’m going vegetarian,
Yeah, it’s true.
I love animals, too.
Yeah, it’s true.”
The self-indulgence reaches its peak on the ’50s garage-pop tune, “Put Me In A Movie”. The bubble-gum approach is immensely addictive with the sputtering rhythms and Chahal’s cheery vocals. She takes on the persona of a young person whose life is just perfect and, therefore, she should be on the big screen. She is, in other words, Regina George from Mean Girls, who does not “care about no one else… because everything is groovy”.
While some want their 15-minutes of fame, others falling “in love on the internet”, which is depicted on the head-noodling, gritty pop-rock number, “Click And Yr Mine”. The track, however, isn’t not solely focused on hooking up. It is also a song about independence and avoiding the immature and overly opinionated guys who stalk at bars. As Chahal affirmatively states:
“I don’t need no boys
Telling me what is wrong in my life.
If I don’t have a choice,
I’ll buy that dress, wear it tonight.”
On the ’60s pop tune, “This Could Us But U Playin'”, Chahal tackles the popular theme of love and commitment. Although the theme is familiar, the bursting rhythms and sizzling guitar line along with Chahal’s saccharine vocals are worth listening. The album’s final song (the last track, “Modelling:Actressing” is straight dialogue), “Lip Job”, buzzes with the dark, melodic rock of Death Valley Girls. As the dissonant guitar throbs, Chahal acts as one’s conscience and deadpans about how plastic surgery is “worth it“. Furthermore, she proclaims that there is “no shame to change who you are” even though the sacrifice hurts on the inside and outside.
Despite almost everyone around her is chasing after fame, Natalie Chahal is keeping it real. Her image and the album art depict a young woman consumed with appearances and popularity, but never judge a book by its cover. With her solo debut album, the London-based singer-songwriter is opening eyes and ears to the superficial ills that plague many people. In addition, she reminds us that the world is forever judging us through an archaic prism. But with artists like Chahal delivering records like Keeping Up With Miss World, one day people will be judged for who they are and what they offer instead of how they appear or from the size of their bank account.
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