Sometimes, it feels like vanity on social media is a distinctly American phenomenon. Reality TV and celebrity culture is strongly rooted in the United States, where children indirectly learn from a young age that money, success, and fame are directly correlated, if not outright equivalent. What’s more, social media’s leading platforms were invented here, and the global media is dominated by American corporations.
According to Swedish pop duo I Am Karate, though, social media vanity is plentiful outside our boundaries. “News,” I Am Karate’s latest single, takes down a fictional but all-too-real character who “will do whatever it takes to shine in the spotlight on/at whatever (Instagram, work, etc.) She just wants people’s attention and it turns into a twisted self-destructive chase for her. We wanted to poke on that state of mind of our generation that has gotten so normalized by the emergence of social media and question what the hell we’re doing.”
As with all good pop songs, the point that I Am Karate—Erika Soldh Ahlström and Marta Petterson—makes on “News” unfolds slowly, over repeat listens, because the music is so immersive. The song immediately turns heads with chirping but mild vocal clatter and bubbling but subdued electronic programming in its intro and first verse. The first chorus capitalizes on this initial draw with Ahlström and Petterson’s joint, thin falsetto—which charmingly betrays their Swedish accents—suggesting something more to come. The remaining choruses make good on this promise with thicker layers of synths and brief flurries of guitar notes.
From its first chorus forward, there’s the threat that “News” might push into outright EDM, mainstream radio, major-label industry plant territory. I Am Karate’s restraint keeps “News” from boiling over into this formulaic, grating state; it remains in a blissful, exhilarating space just at the edges of this void. This toeing of the line feels intentional: I Am Karate knows that the best judgments come from those who stay close to the subject without dipping into it.