A debutante is typically a young upper class woman making her entrance into the world, usually at a meeting of high society. The opener to London alt-pop singer FEMME‘s debut record, ‘Your Poptarts Are Ready,‘ certainly plays with the idea of grandeur, mixing dramatic strings and drums with spoken word elements. But as the music reaches its climactic peak and abruptly stops, FEMME cheekily exclaims the Toy Story line “poptarts are ready” in a thick London accent, shaking off the false sense of drama with one manic laugh.
Debutante takes some well-known Cyndi Lauper lyrics to heart in this sense. Unlike what its title suggests, it’s not an album about fame and fortune. Instead, it focuses on normal girls having fun at the end of the working day, falling in and out of love, and feeling self-empowered. And, most of the time, it’s all done with tonnes of wit. The astute and funny observations of modern life FEMME injects into ‘Fever Boy’ (“I’m looking at the girl with the Afghan coat/ And wondering if she’s naked underneath it“) and ‘Romeo’ (“Jackie’s looking fine/ She’s got her platform shoes on/ And a bucket of wine“) provide a one-two punch that introduces you to a lyrically colourful and entertaining world that you never leave.
However, Debutante doesn’t just shine with its words and proves to be a musically glittering, bass-laden, yet diverse record. At first ‘Light Me Up’ seems like a reggae-tinged jam but throws a curveball in the chorus with electronic strings and 8-bit arpeggiated bleeps reminiscent of the Final Fantasy theme. ‘Calling All Stars’ is a brief interlude where FEMME sounds her most vulnerable. Backed only by a muted organ, the lines “I’m just a girl on the water’s edge/ And I don’t know if I want to jump in yet” echo Bjork‘s ‘Anchor Song.’ The single ‘Gold’ is an anti-love song inspired by watching ABBA videos on repeat, and it shows; ‘Gold’ shimmers with a ridiculously catchy hook that you’ll find singing for days to come. But the undoubted highlight of Debutante is ‘Locoluvva,’ a song that Gwen Stefani would probably kill for right now. The beats and synths are relatively minimalist but swell and fizz in all the right places, letting FEMME shine in her most vocally confident performance. It’s almost the perfect pop song.
Debutante does have flaws though. ‘Romeo’ utilises a squalling synth not too dissimilar to Jack U that can become grating on the ears, while ‘Bring It Back Round’ has flat production that leaves it feeling tired and uninspired. Elsewhere, ‘S.O.S’ aims for drama but falls short of the mark, especially when FEMME attempts some slacker rapping that’s just a bit questionable. It leaves you feeling like you’d rather have listened to Rihanna‘s song of the same name.
Like a debutante in a Jane Austen novel, FEMME’s first record is occasionally a bit too shy and restrained musically to really shine. Still, the sly wit, wisdom and sheer amount of fun that she peddles certainly sets her up for being a future alt-pop superstar.