"Am I clear?" demands the ad slogan for Sarah. Well, I think so. If ever an artist burst out on message, it is 16-year old Danish artist Sarah (born Sarah Skaalum Jørgensen), whose second single, "Okay," entered the Danish charts the week before last and now is at number two. Husky-voiced Scandipop star Sarah is known for being the winner of the Danish talent TV show The X Factor in March of this year; and mostly, she's known for being gay.
No valuable victory comes without conflict. In famously open-minded Denmark, though she's "teenage lesbian Sarah" in every story, her sexual orientation is not a problem. But the Danish media seem to feel that Sarah's massive support in the international gay media has given her an unfair advantage over less well-connected straights, like a member of Yale's Skull & Bones Club getting political power. That flurry of sniping soon faded into another argument: too much attention being paid to Sarah's sexuality and not enough talk about her singing. Which segued neatly into a further Sarah Scandal. She's too young to sing like that: "Sarah must be straining her vocal chords," spat the headlines. "Sarah should quit the contest!"
Before discovering these soap-operatic Sarah Issues, I was already charmed by the wistful affirmation of "Okay," a track from her new album, Hjerteskudan (Heart Shot). Eloquent synth-power-pop, it fits directly into an empowerment trend among young females' songs today. They're all doing it: Rihanna and Nicki Minaj with "Fly," Lady Gaga with "Born This Way," Katy Perry's "Firework," Beyonce's "Run The World (Girls)." Though traditional political engagement in popular music may seem to be rather flaccid right now, personal politics in the form of buck-you-up anthems and tonics to the divas' troops of exquisitely maladjusted fans are all the rage.
In Sarah's case, no woman is an island, and love is the empowerment tool that helps control her existential teenage angst:
"Someone keeps saying I could be a star
I'm never quite sure what that means
Sounds like there's something I'm missing right now
I'm not who they think I could be..."
But Sarah concludes she's actually Okay, secure in the knowledge that her object of desire, be it a close buddy, her old Dad, a torrid romance or her pet Rotweiler, is out there rooting for her.
Without understanding the lyrics, the "Okay" video touched me. Black and white verite and split-screen sequences of solitary, brooding citizens of all ages give it a 1960s feel. Styled somewhere between Michael Jackson and early L.L. Cool J, Sarah looks a lot like a white-blonde Rachel Maddow in a porkpie hat. It's not often that pop videos show people the way they so often are — kinda bummed out. Moody. Or let's just call it thoughtful. Brava! Confirming that courage is Sarah's anti-showbiz performance and delivery. Unusually serious. Singing like she's confiding just to you. Like she wants you, the listener, to feel that she IS Okay — and thus, you are Okay, too, even if you feel a bit wobbly sometimes.
That's pure pop uplift.
Sarah's bravura performance shows she's going to grow. So she'd better watch those vocal nodes!