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Thursday, February 05, 2004  
Pop Playground

The audacity, not to mention ludicrous improbability, of “Your Woman” is astounding in retrospect; a self-confessed “fat Asian guy” with a dubious past playing keyboards in no-hope indie bands and supporting the pre-dance Primal Scream, role-playing the part of a wronged girlfriend in a Karl Marx-name-checking electro-pop vignette inspired by a teenage crush on a lesbian friend and based around samples of a 1932 jazz hit by Lou Stone and the static that opens Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star”, that somehow found its way to number one across the globe during 1997, officially The Year That Rock Died (rock being killed in a car crash involving a fast German car in a Paris underpass, obviously, because all those people faux-weeping in Hyde Park for some crazy woman they never knew fully established the ultimate goal of postmodernism which is that nothing is ever allowed to mean anything ever again ever, obviously).

The ontology of the song is as preposterous as the tune itself is compelling. Which is to say that it really, really shouldn’t work but it undeniably does. Those crappy, weedy little horns or strings or whatever they are (the sample being so knackered and thin that it’s hard to tell) and that tiny, tinny electro-bass played on something made by Casio and designed to be worn rather than played, no doubt. And then there’s the lazy, hazy, silly-simple beat, working up a touch of jaunt when coupled (fumbling, inexperienced, behind a bike shed maybe) with a plinky-plink piano. And Jyoti’s voice! It’s not a voice. You can barely hear it, and with good reason, “well I guess what they say is true / I could never be the right kind of girl for you / I could never be your woman” being limply intoned by some asthmatic loser who’d much rather be programming or eating toast than singing. There is only one word for it, and that word is not ‘crap’. It is ‘inspired’.

The genius is in the timelessness of it. “Your Woman” went to number one in 1997, but could just as easily have been a hit in the early 80s, or right now for that matter. Insouciant odd-pop is always a winner, especially when it’s riding a tune as good as this, hummable by music snobs and soccer mums alike. Actually, the real genius of it is in the way it deals with ‘the body’ (you know, that thing you dance with). Anything that gets to number one, especially in England, is going to find itself being sung by rowdy rugby lads in bad student nightclubs at some stage, especially if it’s got a beat and a halfway decent hook, and the mental image of 15 beered-up scrum-halves and prop-forwards and whatnot hollering along (only it’s not ‘hollering along’, is it, it’s ‘hollering over’ because Jyoti can barely manage a whimper himself) with a fat Asian guy pretending to be a woman is too astounding for words. This is what great pop does; it transports. Whether it’s to a cocktail bar where you were working as a waitress, or to Club Tropicana, or to the night you lost your virginity. Or to being a spurned lesbian. But of course the song’s key lyric refutes the testosterone-fuelled lesbian fantasies by describing the object explicitly as a “charming handsome man”, meaning that a; “Your Woman” is the biggest gay number one since Right Said Fred, and b; it’s much more ideologically subversive than t.A.T.u., who seem like a clumsy Razzle spread by comparison, targeted for titillation and little else. “Your Woman” is almost completely bereft of dramatics and overt sexuality, it’s the opposite of Britney & Madonna’s Sapphic snog for the cameras. The fact that few people know (and fewer care) who White Town or Jyoti Mishra are adds to the decentred allure of the tune; it exists on its own terms, totally unencumbered by image or context.

Sadly Jyoti failed to properly clear the samples that made up parts of “You Woman”, hence 30% of the royalties from this (pretty massive) hit still go direct to the original publishing companies rather than Mishra himself. Meaning, of course, that its success reaped him neither fame, fornication nor finance.

This column was originally published on Stylus earlier today.

Thanks to Todd for the lovely graphic!


2/05/2004 01:47:00 pm


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Nick Southall is Contributing Editor at Stylus Magazine and occasionally writes for various other places on and offline. You can contact him by emailing auspiciousfishNO@SPAMgmail.com

All material © Nick Southall, 2003/2004/2005