It appears that the divergence in the trajectory between the common definition of pop music (i.e. music that is popular) and music with immense promise of commercial viability started as early as the late 90s and become one of the catalysts for us launching our 24/7 online music radio broadcast in early 2007. Our station was founded on the idea that there was a lot of very commercially viable music that was being shunned by American’s most powerful tastemakers (i.e. terrestrial radio). Sadly, over a 11 years later, this dynamic has not changed. The American mainstream still appears to be geographically isolated from some of other key major music markets in the world. There is an overwhelming ageist bias that relegates veteran artists from yesteryear to a corner of relative obscurity. Furthermore, there appears to be a celebration of excessive homogeneity in the American mainstream. The collective absence of some fantastic artists/bands (that we feature on our playlists) from the musical mainstream is a glaring symptom of a longstanding issue that has continued to plague the American pop music mainstream. Of late, the most noteworthy absence on the Billboard Top 40 singles chart is that of Canadian debutante pop artist Ralph (aka Raffa Weyman).
Last year, we touted “Tease” by Ralph as the first great pop single of 2017. The song is a reasonably good indication of some of the defining elements of her self-titled debut EP – hook-laden melodies, clever songwriting, subtle but effective use of beautiful harmonies, and a great uptempo vibe which borrows elements from music from the 80s but is very current and fresh. The EP featured on multiple “overlooked albums of 2017” lists by some of pop music’s premier blogs. On Ralph’s twitter profile, she describes herself as the musical lovechild of Sade & Stevie Nicks & Donna Summer. This is what pop music in 2018 ought to sound like. We applaud artists such as Ralph that have the tenacity to persevere and continue to churn out great music (her latest single “September Fades” saw the light of day on March 7, 2018) despite being in a world of music that looks increasingly less like a meritocracy with every passing year.
On March 10, 2018, Ralph performed at the “New Colossus” – an inaugural event that welcomes international artists to New York on their way to Austin for the annual SXSW festival. The event was held at “Pianos” – a multi-level bar in the Lower East Side of Manahattan (New York City). The venue is a sanctuary for hipsters that want to enjoy watching their favorite Indie live acts and DJs. The performance area resembles a large but dimly lit living room. One of the greatest attributes of a venue of this sort is that it forces the focus of the audience entirely on the music and does not leave any room for stage theatrics that can sometimes be an effective compensatory measure for musical lulls. It sets the atmosphere for an authentic and unadulterated representation of the artist. Performing at a venue like this could be a daunting prospect for many artists but Ralph most certainly rose to the occasion.
Accompanied by a drummer and bass player, she opened with the incredibly addictive “Something More” and then flitted between singles (“Tease“, “Cold to the touch“) and lesser known tracks (“Crocodile Tears“, “Busy Man“) from her EP. Many of these singles have been released over the course of a couple of years this shielding her from the “out of the sight, out of mind” phenomenon. It is a strategy that has served her well. She also performed a cover of Kym Mazelle’s “Young Hearts Run Free”. The song was featured on the motion picture soundtrack for “Romeo and Juliet” (which oddly enough, no on in the audience admitted to having watched when Ralph asked the audience about it during her introduction to the song). That being said, the highlights of her setlist were as follows:
“September Fades”: This is Ralph’s most recent single (released on March 7, 2018). If I wasn’t as hooked onto this track after my first listen, I most definitely was won over with her performance of the song.
“Bedroom Eyes”: This uptempo unreleased track was inspired by Ralph’s roommate. For those that think songs like “Tease” and “Something More” represent a zenith for Ralph, one listen of this song is likely to challenge that assumption. This song is the catalyst that paved the way for the audience to graduate from tapping their feet to dancing.
“Tease“: Ralph’s sonic unveiling of the deception of a local Lothario has not lost its luster even a year after its release. The song is instant but not ephemeral in its appeal.
The 8-song setlist had absolutely no musical lulls. The eyes of the audience remained glued in the direction of Ralph. Given that the venue was sparsely populated before Ralph started her performance and thinned out soon after she concluded her performance offers more than a hint of who the audience thinks has the most promising prospects as a popstar.
Ralph’s short but exhilarating performance revealed a fascinating incongruity between her music/persona and her reality. Her music has the polished sound associated with a seasoned veteran. She performs with a confidence not associated with debutantes. Yet, she made a comment about how cold her AirBNB in Brooklyn (one of New York City’s five boroughs) was (something that is more suggestive of a musician on a thorny path to stardom).
One thing is crystal clear. It is just a matter of time before Ralph ceases to be pop music’s best-kept secret. It is very likely that the next time I have the opportunity to see her in concert, she will be performing in an arena. At that time, I can look back at the performance at Pianos with a pride that one feels when he is in on a secret long before the rest of the world is.
Here is two-minute snippet of the performance:
STAR RATING: 5 out of 5 stars
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