Fergie’s album Double Dutchess dropped last month. It is, for whatever reason, a visual album. Sam Brooks dove deep.
Fergie occupies a strange place in our pop culture. After a girl group stint few people remember, she became famous as the most recognisable voice of one of the biggest bands of the 21st century thus far (Black-Eyed Peas may now be maligned, but you were all fans of ‘I Gotta Feeling’ when it came out – don’t even try to deny it) while also being sharply and pointedly recognised as just the voice. Her solo career was bizarrely successful and bizarrely brief, with three massive hit singles (‘London Bridge’, ‘Glamorous’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, which all hold up) and nothing in the almost ten years since.
I myself quite like Fergie. There’s something honest about how constructed she is as a performer. She seems engineered to be a popstar, as engineered as any part of The Black-Eyed Peas was from about 2004 onwards, but there’s enough genuine talent and charisma that the engineering is an asset. For all the shade you can throw at Fergie, if you were in a club in 2009 you sure as hell stood still and listened when the beat stopped in ‘Boom Boom Pow’ and she wailed, “will.i.am, drop the beat now.” She’s got pipes.
She’s also got presence. I use every opportunity I can to bring up 2009 Oscar-bait-bomb Nine, but Fergie’s one scene in that is the best part. She sings, she dances, she gets dirty. She rises to the occasion, which is the best thing I can say about Fergie: She rises to whatever occasion, and she’s got enough talent and personality to do so.
Which brings me to Double Dutchess. Maybe nobody expected Fergie to release another solo album. Definitely, nobody expected her to release a visual album in 2017 that is clearly modelled on and intended to replicate Lemonade in scope and scale.
It’s not revolutionary to say that Fergie is not Beyoncé. Beyoncé is barely Beyoncé. Lemonade is an era-defining achievement; it’s a pop album turned visual album turned art film, with the best talents across music and film working together towards one cohesive statement. Very few of those words can be associated with Fergie, among them ‘art’, ‘best’ and especially ‘cohesive’.
Double Dutchess is no Lemonade, but it’s fascinating how it tries, how it gives up and how it falls somewhere between those two poles. And because I am a serious journalist, a pop music fan and a reserved Fergie enthusiast I decided to experience Double Dutchess in all its glory. (You can too! It’s on YouTube for your viewing pleasure.)
So let us get into a track-by-track/video-by-video analysis of Double Dutchess. It’s like watching David take aim at Goliath without a slingshot.
Hungry ft. Rick Ross
“They know that I’m a problem that’s why everybody’s scared.”
Double Dutchess starts off promisingly. It’s arty – there’s a Dead Can Dance sample in the year of our lord 2017 for some reason. It’s aiming at grandeur, it’s aiming at something ‘ambitious’, as Fergie says.
Hungry is also a reminder that Fergie can and does rap. As we will find out during our Double Dutchess Deep Dive, Fergie raps with wildly varying quality. Depending on the song, she raps like someone who has been doing this for years (which she has!) or like someone who just stepped into the studio for the first time and is having fun.
This is a good video, but the visuals (and Fergie’s rapping) do not save a song that lacks a melody and a Rick Ross verse that sounds like it comes from any other song.
Like It Ain’t Nuttin’
“Bet you everybody gonna rock to the bass, like it ain’t nuttin’ nuttin’ nuttin’.”
This is a big nothing of a song, it’s merely a waste of a good ‘Top Billin’ sample, two valuable commas and this robot costume:
This is where the fault of a ‘visual album’ first shows up (spoiler alert: it will not be the last one). If you don’t have songs worthy of a video, you’re stuck having to assign some kind of visual to a song that might not deserve or warrant one. In this case, we’ve got Fergie in a lot of wigs (she wears many wigs across the course of this album, of which I highly approve) dancing in a few clubs and performing for people.
Here the other fault of a visual album comes up: If your songs aren’t cohesive, in style or at the very least in theme, then it’s hard for the visuals based on those songs to work together. I think Fergie is a talented popstar, but talent and genuine artistry don’t always inform each other, and here the single-minded vision of a Beyoncé is sorely needed and sorely lacking.
However! Onwards and upwards.
You Already Know ft. Nicki Minaj
“Put my little noodle on the problem, then I drink about it, drink a little, swig a little, sip a little, spill a little, feel a little loopy when I get a little tipsy.”
The above looks like nonsense, because it is, but Fergie puts meaning and swagger into nonsense better than anybody, even now. Imagine giving Katy Perry that series of syllables.
This is the best song on the album. It’s lean, it’s one of the few songs that feels like only Fergie could pull it off, and it has a genuinely great and catchy chorus; Fergie’s huskiness and tendency to slide into strange accents put to their best use. And Nicki Minaj actually puts a dose of energy into the song, rather than dragging it down.
The video is also one of the better ones on the album. It feels high fashion (or at least what high fashion was in the ’90s, which is technically retro but feels progressive now because the ’90s have been back forever, time is a flat circle and pop culture exists to absorb itself), it puts Fergie front and centre, and it doesn’t dilute her essential Fergieness with a pointless concept. Fergie is a damn compelling performer; she has that infuriatingly undefiniable X-Factor. When she looks in a camera, it’s electric. When she moves, you watch her.
One of the biggest dings you can put against this album, visually and aurally (and to be honest this applies to a lot of the latter-day Black-Eyed Peas output) is that it doesn’t use Fergie where she’s best: up front. She needs to draw you in immediately, not hide behind big concepts and costumes.
Just Like You
“Oops, look what you made me do, I’m crazy just like you, I’m tainted just like you.”
This is a notably more successful integration of one of the worst phrases in the English language, ‘look what you made me do’ than the other integration of that phrase into pop music this year. (Hi, Taylor!)
It’s our first ballad on the album, and ballad-Fergie is never my favourite Fergie, but she acquits herself well. It’s a nice enough song that won’t stick in your mind. It lets her belt a bit in the choruses and rap-sing softly in the verses, and you’ll forget it halfway through the next song.
This video has a strange concept that kind of links to the next one (Fergie in a leather coat walks around, find a dude and has feelings), but it’s simple. Lots of smoke machines and Fergie singing into the camera, with some strange contemporary dance and messing around with film speed to make it look artier than it actually is.
The best special effect is, as ever, Fergie herself.
A Little Work
“We’re all just a little bit broken, we’re all just a little bit hurt, we’ve got wounds half-open, we all can use a little work.”
This video is eleven minutes and thirty-three seconds long. That’s half an episode of Friends.
The song is about Fergie’s well-documented and surprisingly open struggles with crystal meth addiction, and there is a monologue interspersed throughout the song where she talks about… something… that might be related to that?
A lot of things happen in it. There’s a lot of ideas thrown into this video, more than on the rest of the visual album combined. It’s directed by Jonas Akerlund, who is most famous probably for directing some of Lady GaGa’s best videos (‘Paparazzi’, ‘Telephone’) and in an unfortunate link to Lemonade, he also directed ‘Hold Up’ aka the video where Beyoncé smashes things with a baseball bat.
This video is… not good. It is fascinating. I have seen it four times. I will probably watch it a fifth. It is affecting, there are affecting images, but there are a lot of… competing ideas trying to be shoved into a milquetoast four-minute ballad.
Here is my attempt at a plot summary of this song:
1. Fergie finds a church
2. Fergie breaks into the church
3. Fergie is tied to a bed by a Fergie nurse, potentially a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest reference?
4. Fergie as a single mother who can’t pay her bills
5. Fergie with an army
6. Fergie at a funeral in church
7. Fergie at the same church in a light-up dress
There are gorgeous images in this and it’s obvious a lot of work went into it. Fergie’s monologue, even cut up, is equal parts affecting and bonkers. It is a bad video, and it stands out from the rest of these because it’s clear Akerlund or Ferguson or some combination of the two had a lot of ideas and put them all in, and none of the other videos have anywhere near this many ideas, and even more crucial, nothing else on the album looks, sounds or feels like this.
Rant over. We’re only halfway through.
Life Goes On
“Life goes on with or without you, it’s up to you what you’re gonna do, you could go or you could stay, who cares anyway?”
A massive whiplash from the previous gargantuan video, this is a chill and low-concept video. Fergie drives around and picks up people, then keeps driving. It’s a trop-house dullard of a track that will sound dated by the end of this sentence. Fergie’s singing is lovely and light here and her rapping ranges in the space of one middle-eight from sub-Iggy Azalea to catchy as all hell.
In saying all this, a killer remix of this song could be essential if people were remixing Fergie b-sides in this day and age.
“You got that, you got that, you got that milk money, I got that, I got that, I got that MILF money, you got that, you got that, you got that milk money, I got that, I got that, I got that MILF money, I got that MILF money, I got that MILF money, I got that MILF money, I got that MILF money.”
I love this song. I could listen to it fifty times and never get sick in it. I want to wrap myself in it and be warm in its embrace until the end of time. It is Shakespeare to me, it is Proust, it is Nigella Lawson. Sate me, MILF $ (pronounced MILF Money).
But really, this song is a weird moment of brilliance on an album that has been lacking in both weirdness and brilliance. One of the best things about Fergie is that in a pre-GaGa world she realised that the way to stand out was to do weird shit. In 2017, that doesn’t fly so much. You need to do more than pour milk on yourself to be a hit in 2017.
This song is basically K-Pop. It never settles on one hook or style, running through them like Usain Bolt at the Olympics. By the time it gets to Fergie power-belting the lyrics ‘I love it real woman, I’ll feed you this meal’, you have no idea what you’ve just heard. It’s also a song that was engineered to make people go ‘omg look at this’ on their various social media accounts and become a hit that way.
This song is also a year old at this point. It came out, hit #37 on the Billboard Top 100 and has never been heard from since. I cherish it deeply.
I cannot comment on the video. I am both not the intended audience for it and extremely the audience for it. It is either the best music video ever made or the worst. There is no middle ground. There is only M.I.L.F $.
Save It Til Morning
“It’s hard to scrape them off, like a barnacle, they stick to me, like a zombie’s eating my flesh.”
1. That is a bonkers and hilarious metaphor to have in your acoustic guitar ballad, and no vocalist could pull that off, not even Mariah in her prime.
2. If you told me Taylor Dayne sung this, I would believe you. (And on that point: Fergie’s voice is a 100% vocal doppelganger for a late-’80s/early-’90s Taylor Dayne. And if you don’t know who that is, google ‘Tell It To My Heart’.)
3. This is clearly trying to recreate ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, and it’s a reminder that Fergie can shift between a girlish vulnerability and a massive belt in a way that’s very effective. (See also: Black-Eyed Peas ‘Meet Me Halfway‘, a very good latter-day BEP track that samples Maps stupid well.)
4. This video has a narrative I cannot parse and shall not try to. I think it’s about a famous couple whose relationship is hard because of the fame, so should be highly relatable to me but somehow is not. Alas.
Enchanté feat. Axl Jack
“Enchanted, delighted to meet you, excited, the people, the music, I want you, consume it.”
The internet tells me that Axl Jack is Fergie’s four-year-old son, who coos and gargles over the opening of the track and also participates on the bridge. I have nothing nice to say about this, and I’m not about to start insulting a four-year-old on the internet anytime soon, so there you go.
What I can criticise, however, is that this track heavily processes Fergie’s vocals to the point where any trop-house rando on Spotify could’ve sung this track. However, they probably couldn’t get a Jenner-Kardashian prototype to lip-sync it on video, so this is what we’re left with.
“Ooh, your body got these moves, your body, ooh, your body, higher, ooh your body, yeah, I know it wants me, ooh, your body, is blowing my mind.”
The best thing I can say about this song is it sounds like a Kylie Minogue album track circa ‘Slow’, to the point where Fergie’s vocals are processed to sound almost exactly like Kylie Minogue’s silken purr. This works far better than it should for this low-key house track (and definitely better than Katy Perry’s attempts at the same).
I feel like the protagonists of the video are two Instagram people I don’t know, and there is a strange ‘comedy’ break in the music where they… talk and trade awkward lines. It is not great, and like all the other videos on this album, it matches up with neither the look, the sound or the style of anything that has come before or will come after it. It is almost as though the songs on this album were assembled originally without the intention that they would make a visual album. But that would be an insane thing for a popstar to do, right?
L.A.LOVE (la la) ft. YG (Remix)
“I just booked a Paris ticket, thinking Russia need a visit, I’ma run it to the limit, and be on my way to Venice.”
First, that’s a lot of obnoxious punctuation for one song. Second, this is yet another entry in the classic canon of ‘popstar flies around the world and names places’ (see also: ‘On the Floor’ and a lot of Pitbull songs).
The song, despite having a pretty great DJ Mustard beat, is three years old and I would bet a small amount of money that it was originally meant for an album that was planned and scrapped before this one. Fergie carries the song off pretty well, and YG, who I understand is a popular rapper, provides a serviceable rap.
The video is rife with product placement, features Fergie riding on a tram – perhaps the most unsuitable vehicle on which to travel the world – has a vocal cameo from Ryan Seacrest, and features many other celebrities. The video is, predictably, terrible. This song has also somehow sold one million copies. Miracles abound.
Love is Blind
I will not be discussing the video because it involves stop-motion dolls murdering each other, which is a very specific fear of mine. If you want to discuss it, go to the YouTube comments. I will not discuss this and will be spending the rest of my time on this mortal coil trying to scrub it from my memory. I have no idea why it exists and how many ideas were vetoed or developed before they decided to give this song the visuals of stop-motion dolls murdering each other, but it happened and it exists in the world now and cannot be unmade. (The video, of course, has no place on a visual album, relates to nothing else on the album, surely you get this by this point yeah?)
The song, however, is a deceptively upbeat song about a man belonging to you, and to quote Fergie circa 2017, ‘fuck those other hoes’. It is catchy, has a tropical beat, and I will forget it before the end of this sentence.
Love is Pain
“Just when I’ve had enough, your butane love fills me up, it’s fire we’re playing with, and I’m like a moth attracted to the flame.”
Okay, this video is goddamned beautiful, and I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been worn down by an album of them, but I love it. It’s Fergie singing into a camera and feeling emotions, and if Sinead O’Connor has taught me anything, it’s that I’m a sucker for a woman having feelings in a medium close-up. (There’s also arty dancing crap all throughout, which is quite beautiful, but the best part is just watching Fergie have feelings.)
It’s a ballad, and Fergie belts like hell enough to save it, the guitars give it energy, and even if it isn’t genuinely affecting or moving, it’s at least stirring, and it’s a good place to end the album. Or if it’s not a good place to end the album, at least it’s not murderous stop-motion dolls.
And that, friends and readers, is Double Dutchess. It is not Lemonade, it was never going to be. Despite that, it feels like exactly the album that Fergie would release in 2017. There are vague stabs at musical relevance (the trop-house, the features), there’s a few genuinely great songs (‘MILF $’, ‘You Already Know’) and a lot of forgettable filler.
Most of all, it reminds you that Fergie is a thing and Fergie is talented. And Fergie wouldn’t be Fergie if there wasn’t a lot of shit in her way (looking at you, api.de.ap) that she had to break through in order to show you she is both of these things.
The Spinoff’s music content is brought to you by our friends at Spark. Listen to all the music you love on Spotify Premium, it’s free on all Spark’s Pay Monthly Mobile plans. Sign up and start listening today.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.