On the surface, singer-songwriter and producer Santigold’s new album, “99¢” is a colorful swirl of reggae-splashed electronic-based alternative dance rock equally influenced by new wave and hip-hop. Yet if you pull back the layers of synthesizers, playful hooks and vocal melodies, you realize the 39-year-old Philly native has bigger concerns than hitting the dance floor.
She addresses female empowerment, obsession with social media and the narcissism it creates, and apathy in the face of corruption and global unrest.
“It’s a scary world. I feel like the technology is going so fast, our values aren’t caught up enough to handle it,” says Santi White, aka Santigold. “(The world) is spiraling in this strange and absurd direction. Even if you look at the presidential race, we’re living this reality-TV version of our lives, which is dangerous.”
Putting that criticism and concern into a pop song could be problematic unless you’re Bruce Springsteen.
“I want people to be aware. It can be dark and heavy and there’s so many heavy things in the world now, I don’t know if people would’ve heard me if I came at it like that,” she says. “So I made it bright and fun.”
Tapping into positivity wasn’t difficult, given her home life. White, who plays the Fillmore Saturday, gave birth to a son in March 2014. She began writing the album when he was 2 months old.
“I made a very conscious effort – this being my third (album) and me knowing what is hard (the work involved) – that I wanted this to be more fun for me,” she says while promoting the album at South By Southwest festival. “Part of the lightness and brightness is there because there was such joyous energy at home. But there’s only one song where I reference being a mom, ‘Big Boss Big Time Business.’ ”
White says she felt like superwoman when she wrote it: “That’s really how the song came out – this is crazy and impossible and I’m doing it.”
She wasn’t necessarily thinking about the Internet and social media’s impact on children when she started writing about marketing people as brands and selfie-obsessed youth.
“He was so brand new, so I wasn’t (thinking about) my kid being confronted with all these things,” she says.
Still, beneath the spiral of synth, distorted dub flourishes and subversive, sometimes satirical lyrics, “99¢” is a catchy, pop album.
“My kind of pop music is all about the grit and the realism and a throwing in everything and the kitchen sink approach,” she says. “I think that’s what makes my music unique to me – the musical part that’s pushing and doing things that are unexpected, merging so many different styles in one song, and keeping true to the aesthetics that I love, like dry drum sounds and punk-rock guitars. Then to write a pop song that’s accessible on top of that?
“To me, it is pop music, but it pushes the boundaries. It doesn’t sound like the cookie-cutter that’s making the landscape super boring. Pop isn’t just that.”
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: The Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd.