Irony is great in music except when it isn’t.
Good Irony tends to be deployed strategically, to a pointed purpose: “Girlfriend in a Coma” by the Smiths; many lyrics in the collected works of Gucci’s Mane, cf the coy affect of “Crush On You”; CupcakKe’s social media output, ie an Instagram of her standing in front of Lake Michigan captioned “my pussy smells like the sea behind me.”
Bad Irony is mean spirited, but vacuous. Like irony generally, it draws a line between those who get it and those who don’t. But Bad Irony is imprecise; it cultivates a generalized Knowing sensation, its purpose diffused in a cloud of vague implication. It is unearned; rather than a byproduct of creativity or cleverness, it is generated cheaply. Say, through heavy-handed juxtaposition—don’t you see, Spooky Black is wearing a du rag…but he’s WHITE—or aesthetic half-steps, to avoid anything so risky as having fully embodied an idea or emotion.
It smothers with ubiquitous smugness. Like too much cilantro, it drowns out other flavors. It’s also difficult to criticize, slippery by nature—it’s an anti-stance. I don’t think you “get it,” bro. It relies on our fear of being out of the loop—of not having intuited that which is obvious to everyone else, or at least anyone who “matters.” Anyone who “matters,” of course, has power; Bad Irony pulls the drawbridge up on those who don’t.
(A common source of Bad Irony may be a thin emulation of the in-group/outward facing double-consciousness of, say, Black America’s relationship to White America. Not that Bad Irony is solely the domain of whites. But consider the need of Post Malone to cultivate an “ironic” shield for his audience in order to sell his version of Chief Keef’s melodic rap style. Keef’s hooks aimed universal, while his mumbled verses were opaque, dense with references to local gang life. Seductive and forbidding, many listeners felt themselves excluded and magnetized at once. Post Malone follows a parallel, if less convincing, in-group/outward dynamic—universal hooks and winks to those in the audience who “get it”—in this case, “get” the irony of his cultural costume.)
Ultimately, Bad Irony contradicts its intentions. In an effort to convey savviness, it telegraphs insecurity, letting the fear of looking foolish cripple aesthetic possibility.
This is not a problem for CupcakKe. Her new tape S.T.D.: Shelters to Deltas uses it confidently, prudently. (One might compare it with the one-note Ramriddlz tape from last year or whenever, which had a similar sexual fixation but winked so much you’d think he had a split contact lens or twitch.) There’s a good balance: her outward image, hidden behind sunglasses and grinning nonstop, promises a silly lightheartedness which is immediately contradicted by her bold, unfiltered vocals, technical abilities, lyrical creativity, and autobiographical depth. And this is in turn balanced by her carnal obsessions, at turns cartoonish and realistic and humorous and ironic.
Her debut Cum Cake may be better—it had more breadth, with better choruses, was more well-rounded. S.T.D. also has some strange mixing issues. But highlight “Doggy Style” is one of her best songs to date, something like a tropical house version of LL Cool J’s “Doin It” (which, full circle, sounds quite a bit like the Grace Jones original) with a chorus in which she barks like a dog. And despite the ridiculous conceit, it’s executed with total conviction, the kind of thing no Bad Ironist would ever allow—what if you look foolish? If Bad Irony is about fear and insecurity, safely fencing in its audience, CupcakKe’s boldness is a signal of profound self-belief. Rather than excluding outsiders, she dares them to come along; she leads.