Twenty-five years ago, Madonna climbed onstage at the first-annual MTV Video Music Awards and sang “Like a Virgin.” She began her performance perched demurely atop a giant wedding cake and concluded it writhing on the floor. In doing so, she destroyed the notion that girls should choose between tough and intellectual and soft and sexy, and set free every female performer since, including this fall’s bumper crop: Philly-based MC Amanda Blank, 26; Elly Jackson, the 21-year-old face of British synth-pop duo La Roux; and former Be Your Own Pet front woman Jemina Pearl, 22.
Amanda Blank first made a name for herself on Spank Rock’s 2006 hit “Bump” with astonishing boasts (“My rhymes are painful and fresh / My pussy’s tastin’ the best”). Blank is a white girl from the burbs who dresses, talks, and raps like Foxy Brown. She comes from the same tight-knit Philly hip-hop scene that nurtured Spank Rock and Diplo, both of whom get producing credit on I Love You, Blank’s just-released debut. She has opened for Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Matt & Kim, easily shifting from urban rapper to hipster. This has led some in the indie-rock press to dismiss her as a Peaches rip-off. “Peaches is a huge influence,” she acknowledges. “Just like Missy Elliott is. But I don’t get those comparisons because I’m not black. I’m just like, ‘Fuck you, 4-year-old white kid-writers, go cry to a Dinosaur Jr. album.’ ”
Compared to Blank, the group La Roux is family-appropriate entertainment. Jackson, the daughter of a well-known British TV actress, founded La Roux in 2006 with an electro producer, and released their self-titled debut in the U.K. earlier this year. At once austere and emotional, it recalls classic synth pop like the Human League and Heaven 17 and it became a major hit. Jackson, with her bright orange new-wave crop, became a teen icon. London streets are filled with little Ellys, skinny elbows poking out the sleeves of self-tailored boy’s blazers.
“Bulletproof,” a shimmering dance hit Stateside, projects an injured aloofness that mirrors Jackson’s own personality. As a kid she was a chubby social outcast with a thing for boy’s clothes. Now that she’s a Mercury Prize–nominated pop star who has toured with Lily Allen, that pain has morphed into defiance. “I will never get my tits out in order to sell a record,” she says, a subject she probably did not broach with Allen.
Jemina Pearl is also recovering from childhood. As the demented pixie singer for Nashville punks Be Your Own Pet, Pearl was a caricature of adolescent disdain, which made sense because she was a disdainful adolescent at the time. But she grew restless. “I was writing lyrics that didn’t seem appropriate for Be Your Own Pet,” she recalls. “Girl-groupy song ideas. So when we split, I had the freedom to write things that the other guys wouldn’t have been into.” Pearl’s solo debut, Break It Up, out October 6, is not exactly a Miley Cyrus album. It features a duet with Iggy Pop called “I Hate People.” Think the Crystals on Adderall: fast, frilly, and effortlessly catchy.
I Love You
Downtown. Aug. 4.
Cherrytree. Sept. 29.
Break It Up
Ecstatic Peace. Oct. 6.