Sunday, July 23, 2017

The THOT That Counts: Willa Ford's "Willa Was Here"

The THOT That Counts takes a look at stripper-pop musical efforts and wonders how they ended up the way the are through a standard review and analysis of the pop culture lens of their time of release.

The year is 2001; the teen pop diva had been reintroduced 2 years prior thanks to Britney Spears playing a classic sex trope of "naughty Catholic schoolgirl" in the "...Baby One More Time" video. Why is Britney mentioned yet again? Oh it adds up, specifically with this installment.

This time, The THOT That Counts is the debut and sole release of sentient edition of Maxim magazine Willa Ford's Willa Was Here. The album in all good 00s pop was a revolving door of producers around a surprisingly game to write her own lyrics teen pop sensation [for a hot minute mind you].

The procedure is the same as before; a standard review of the album with an analysis of the pop culture at the time to see why the album ended up the way it did. Yes, there's an Australian bonus track in "All The Right Moves", but it's only one more to consider in giving a full analysis.

1. "I Wanna Be Bad" (featuring Royce da 5'9") - An occurring pattern of this series is that the album in question is obviously built around the single that managed to find success [Paris notwithstanding because it was something of a cohesive fluke] with this song being a Top 25 hit on the Hot 100. That being said, this is Willa's best song. Her vocals for all of the vocoder/processing are actually pleasant.
Because this was 2001 and this was the beginning of "urban" influenced pop, a nameless rapper just "cool" enough to exist on a track is featured. Royce da 5'9'' is fine on this but still a hit or miss non-descript addition overall. 

2. "Did Ya' Understand That" - The album's 2nd single that failed to chart. This is the beginning of Willa's ambition being a bit unrealized with how fast she delivers the lyrics [especially for a bad girl bubblegum pop act]. The album version and video edit are radically different in that there's a really dumb, half-assed attempt at a rock remix of this song or is some randomly placed nonsense.
The thing is, Ford shows deep vocal potential even if it's not obvious but more on that later.

3. "Ooh Ooh" - A promotional single from the album that failed to gain any momentum. One problem of Willa Was Here is that all the intended singles are at the front of the album. In this case, once the listener gets their kicks with the other songs, they might not get to the other tracks. It's playing the strongest hand right out of the gate.
As for the song itself, it's a great showcase of the registers Ford is able to hit [and the whistle/opera moment that is indeed her doing it. Look up an interview Ford has with VH1 and she does the opera moment.]

4. "Tired" - This track actually has a history that can help explain why the album is why it is. For now, all I'll say is that history does not look kind on Willa's delivery of "Tired of the pop that should flop, that should never be on TV and in your teen magazines." Also, her delivery is so rushed/overwrought. BREATHE. Learn to BREATHE.

5. "Joke's on You" - Keeping in mind, this is 2001; so this is 2 years before blatant skank culture found its "urban" counterpart. So instead, we're treated to pop with an attempt at sexy guitar lick sounding rock treatments. Again, Ford is the strongest vocalist covered in the series thus far so she's a breath of fresh air compared to the others.
To an untrained listener of pop in general, the tail end/money note of this song will have them think she missed the note. In actuality, she hit the note but the vocals used here don't match the beat used for the song.

6. "Tender" - Ugh, another stripper-pop by way of bad girl bubblegum pop ballad. Ford is surprisingly adept especially considering her limited skillset, but this ballad is indeed tender...because it's limp.

7. "Don't You Wish" - Again, this isn't "urban" per se, but this is like if Britney could get more airplay on R&B stations. Yeah, this song is all "leave her for me" but without the misguided charm Taylor Swift had for "You Belong with Me".

8. "Prince Charming" - The most 00s sounding pop beat imaginable...like the four chords of pop but only this beat was used for Britney, Christina, N*SYNC, Dream...pretty much, this beat is like the spirit stick from Bring it On. Thankfully, this doesn't Torrance it, but the lyrics are so syrupy and saccharine.

9. "Somebody Take the Pain Away" - If I told you this clocks in at under 3 minutes, will that take some pain away? Something I hadn't addressed yet is how in the weirdest way, the albums thus far could pass as soundtracks to ABC family movies with the most generic titles imaginable.
This cut while not the title of said ABC family movie, would definitely serve as fodder as its half-baked process of emotional turmoil is sad but theatrical enough for bad acting to thrive.

10. "Haunted Heart" - Ugh, the cadence and pacing issues are beyond insufferable now. That and the title and song lack any cohesive sense. Nothing about this other half-baked Max Martin wannabe beat mixed with a Mad TV impersonation of Christina Aguilera says "haunted heart".

11. "Dare" - For the U.S. market, this is the closing track of the album. Nobody is really going to emerge from this unscathed. Willa's album is at least the most consistent of the bad girl bubblegum pop side of stripper-pop. This song however, is a poor closer track. Stick this in the middle of the album with the other half-baked syrupy productions.

12. "All The Right Moves" - To get the clearest picture of the album as a whole, this iteration ends on the Australian bonus track which from the title alone says this would be the ABC family movie starring Willa Ford.
Ford has this personal vendetta against being labeled "Britney" and that's coming up very soon, but for all that personal umbrage with her...this is like a rough draft of a Britney track from her first album. Down to the production being actually closer to Britney's commercials for Pepsi than even knockoff ...Baby One More Time era Britney.

Now with the album out of the way, it's now time to see how Willa Was Here ended up the way it did through contextual analysis of pop culture at the time of its release.
AfterTHOTS: 2001 was a time when pop music and in turn pop divadom was just about to feel its bad girl self and plant the seeds to the blatant skank culture that ruled from 2003-2009. As slinky drumbeats or anything labeled "rhythmic" was meant to be a moneymaking competitor to anything labeled "melodic", pop or at least teen pop was still bubblegum/innocent...looking. As it was said, Britney reignited interest in a female pop act starting off innocent and then playing into the Madonna effect of being sexual by ways of the liberation aspect of pop culture feminism.

On Willa Ford's end, she ended up playing all her cards too early. If Paris was the result of overexposure by way of reality TV fame during the oversaturation point of blatant skank culture, Willa Was Here is the result of too much, too soon and weirdly being ahead of her time. The album also suffers from the artist having confronted her identity in music on her debut. If you're asking "who?" when you see "Willa Was Here", then you already have an idea as to what I'm talking about. Time for a bit of back story.

Willa Ford started off in the industry all incognito as Mandah [like her real name Amanda Lee Williford, but all...doofy sounding.] Originally signed to who cares MCA Records, she's dropped, ends up on Atlantic records and has something of a break when she gets a song on the soundtrack to Pok√©mon: The First Movie [track 10, "Lullaby".] Other famed pop acts almost exclusive to the 1999-2001s like N*SYNC, B*Witched, 98 Degrees, Aaron Carter and Vitamin C were on the album as well.

Two names that also appeared on it were Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears. This is the seed planted for Willa's bad taste in her mouth about pop music in general, let alone Spears.
After the soundtrack album, she ends up signing a deal with the Atlantic Records imprint, Lava Records and changes her name from Mandah to Willa Ford. However, the reason for her name change was to avoid confusion with another blonde pop-tart named Mandy Moore. See where the identity crisis comes in?
That brings us to the track "Tired" which on the surface is a thinly veiled diss track against Britney from someone who wishes they could be as big as her in 2001.

See, that's just the face value interpretation. What "Tired" ends up doing is giving an unusually transparent look into a budding talent that's already had enough of the pop music machine and pretty much risked their career telling the listener "hey, here's the skinny". There's two major problems with that: 1. This is coming from someone who despite having experience on one album before this one, is on her debut. How much know how did you really manage to get to where you feel to enlighten us on the fact that the pop machine is a hellhole where individuality mostly goes to die? 2. This is underestimating the public's perception of the music industry as a whole. Even if Ford really did gain so much perspective, it's kind of an open secret; we know Britney lipsyncs and that pop as a whole is really not the best place to get artistic merit on the first try in 2001.

As for the "crap" she took "each day", that mostly comes from the fallout from her failed relationship with Backstreet Boys member Nick Carter. Hmm, a pretty blonde girl with a bad streak having gone out with a blonde boybander who was non-descript and had a messy breakup in the early 00s...sound familiar? In Willa's case, word is she was once an opening act for Backstreet Boys but was booed to hell [this is after the messy breakup between her and Nick or right around it.] For proof of this, I suggest looking up a Willa Ford red carpet moment for her more successful hosting career where she's interviewing the big stars of the 2001 VMAs; at one point the Backstreet Boys pass by her where all but Nick acknowledge her at all.

It isn't to say Ford was the worst thing ever to happen to pop. In a weird way, she was ahead of her time being open about her bad girl image [because VH1 junkie moment, she actually was a bad girl type from the VH1 mini-series, My Coolest Years and the bad girl episode where even the voice behind most of VH1's promo material Rachel Perry was featured as a "bad girl".] She missed the blatant skank culture bandwagon by a small window and Lava Records lost faith in her right as the legendarily tacky "F*ck The Men (A Toast to Men" from her scrapped sophomore effort, SexySexObsessive, was released as a standalone single.

This is also not to say playing sex on the first try is inherently a limiting move; for instance, Lady Gaga played up levels of sex on her debut, but she has the material to back it up and she's a weirdo; meaning there's something to play off of and keep people interested. Willa Was Here showed Willa's true self but neither that nor her intended second album, SexySexObsessive, was really going to build anything off of that. Hell, even the Pussycat Dolls struggled to maintain a true pop identity even though their image was branded in a burlesque troop kind of sex.

The point is that Willa Was Here is ultimately the result of an overambitious pop tart in the 00s trying to make a statement of being a bad girl even though she had no idea how the hell it should sound. Not entirely a Britney but more of a further misguided Stripped by Christina Aguilera.

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