The Pussycat Dolls Throw A Hail Mary Pass

noah | July 31, 2009 10:00 am

Last night’s Critical Karaoke event was pretty rousing success, and thanks to everyone who came out. Apparently there will be video of the whole night online soon (which is a good thing, because everyone’s performances were stellar), but for now my piece—which looks at the Pussycat Dolls’ current attempt to recapture the zeitgeiest, “Hush Hush; Hush Hush”—is after the jump, with a video so you can listen to the song while reading along, as the performative nature of the evening dictated. Just imagine it being read by someone whose arms are flailing a lot.

In the middle of this decade, the Pussycat Dolls were flying high — spawned from a Los Angeles dance troupe, the six-member singing group quickly grabbed a chunk of the pop spotlight through a savvy combination of wall-to-wall marketing opportunities, strategic midriff-baring, and an “x” factor that came off to this observer as something resembling brute force. But like so many things that prospered during the Fabulous Life era, things went sour for the Dolls sometime in 2007. Lead Doll Nicole Scherzinger, who provided “all lead and backing vocals” for the ostensible group’s first full-length, recorded a solo album that went from music-industry sure thing to running joke that’s currently collecting dust in some Universal Music Group broom closet; a reality-show-sourced new recruit balked at joining the group almost immediately; another member departed in March 2008. And things didn’t get much better in time for the release of Doll Domination, the Dolls’ second album. It came out in the U.S. on Sept. 19, 2008 — right as the financial crisis was hitting the fan, a bit of timing that rendered the Dolls’ aggro sexuality-for-ancillary-revenue-streams’-sake attitude about as outdated as a subprime mortgage with a belly piercing. Sure, there was a pitched SoundScan battle involving the album’s first chart week, with Universal trying to find some hidden sales underneath a couch in order for Domination to debut higher than Kings Of Leon’s Only By The Night; and yes, the Dolls won. But the record’s chart position quickly wilted, and the ladies stumbled over their platform boots in other arenas: the profiles that read like YA novels about a bunch of frenemies whose parents had forced them to hang out; the non-Scherzinger members speaking out about frustration over their supporting roles while onstage at Britney Spears concerts; the talks of in-concert grind-offs with the Dolls’ European opening act, Lady GaGa; the ever-lessening impact of their singles, which even included a rework of this year’s Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire sensation “Jai Ho.” The Dolls, whose violent self-assurance was the essence of their brand, were starting to seem like a perilously weakened opponent, their collective swagger smashed to bits by abject panic over the weirder, shoutier newcomers assuming their position on the charts and merch tables. Doll Domination is now on its sixth single, which is called “Hush Hush Semicolon Hush Hush” and is officially credited to “The Pussycat Dolls Featuring Nicole Scherzinger.” In its original form, its title only contains two hush-es, and it’s an unspectacular dance-pop track with Scherzinger’s muscular gasps leading the way, rhyming straw-ng and law-ng. But a simple girl-power post-breakup anthem would not help the Dolls reclaim their strategic position in the Pop Wars; it would barely give radio listeners and gym rats a reason to wonder whose voice was warbling into their airspace. What could really make people want to listen to the song more closely, and maybe even relate to the impenetrable Scherzinger? (NB: By this point you should have reached the part where Nicole Scherzinger just busts out “I Will Survive.” Speaking of karaoke: Here, sutured right into the middle of a workhorse dance-pop song, is “I Will Survive,” a song that’s thematically similar to “Hush x 4” — but that has the trump advantage of being hardwired ito any radio-listening American’s DNA. It’s the dance-pop equivalent of alt-rockers trying to scale the charts with covers of New Wave hits in the 1990s. It’s the most blatant effort to get people to sing along with an artist they may not know, and might very well loathe, since Fred Durst screamed himself hoarse about having to have “Faith.” Now, you may have gathered from the past three minutes and change that I am no fan of the Dolls. I am not. In fact, there were times when I could have been said to be revelling in their missteps (particularly when it came to the non-starter Scherzinger solo album). But. Thanks to exposure during endorphin-flooded gym visits, I have slowly succumbed to this track’s shrewd combination of chutzpah and semi-suicidal tendencies, to the point where I’ve hummed it in odd hours. (Those strings help a lot, too.) Reconstituting the entirety of “Hush x 4” so Gloria Gaynor’s universally familiar pride anthem can be mashed up with it — it’s a kamikaze pop move, one that screeches “DOMINATION OR PERISH!” It may be the ballsiest thing the Dolls have done since they first slinked into the consciousness; letting people know that they’ll survive, but the only way they’ll know that they’re still alive is by receiving the love of listeners — or, at the very least, a minute and 20 seconds of their attention. The Pussycat Dolls – Hush Hush; Hush Hush [Dailymotion]