Presenting Katharine McPhee: Princess of meh.

A couple of caveats before I begin this review:

1. This album isn’t terrible. It’s sure as hell not good, and some of the tracks flat-out suck, but we’re not in K-Fed territory or anything here. They are all, however, incredibly formulaic — verse/chorus, verse/chorus, bridge, DOUBLE CHORUS! Snore.
2. It’s not good because it’s bland, inoffensive, boring, and vague. Tweens will love it.
3. If you’re looking for a completely objective review, this isn’t the place to find it. I tried to be objective (which is why you’re not getting a “omg kat sux” review), but no, I don’t like Katharine’s affected vocals, her personality, or much else about her. So if you’re going to post one of those “omg ur so biased” comments that I’m so fond of…why don’t I just save you the trouble? I’m biased, all right. It’s not a crime.

The album smartly begins with Love Story, which is quite hands-down the best song on the album. Great old-school-style production values (which, as evidenced by Christina Aguilera’s smash “Ain’t No Other Man,” are pretty popular these days) and decent lyrics, this song would make a fine summer single (assuming anyone still cares by next summer, of course). Katharine’s vocals are decent here, although not spectacular, but her high notes are shouty and strident, and her melisma has an affected, whiny, sniveling, sulking quality to it, much like JoJo in “Get Out (Leave)”…and Katharine would be well-advised to avoid JoJo comparisons at any turn, because she won’t win that battle. All in all, though, a very nice song.

The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for Over It. This is her new single, and it’s…well, where exactly is Katharine on this song? There’s no hint of above-average vocal talent, her high notes are whiny and shrieky (seriously, why does she do that? Her voice is just fine in its mid range). It’s got stupid, grammatically incorrect lyrics (“your eyes…I’m over them”), which you just know were crafted deliberately and specifically to be as vague and trite as possible in order to effect a slew of little girls writing journal entries about how OMG, the words to “Over It” are, like, totally about their life and stuff! But is it a bad song? No, it’s not a bad song. Stupid and fluffy, but not flat-out bad.

Ahh, Open Toes. What can be said about “Open Toes,” other than that there is a very special room reserved in hell for the morons who crafted this little ditty? Katharine sounds pretty good on most of it, again until she reaches for those high notes–you can actually hear the power in her voice drop, because she really is straining there, and it just sounds awful. And the music? RCA hired “Danja” (who can’t resist egotistically shouting out his own damned name in the middle of the track) for what, $250-500K at least, and the best he came up with was a backing track that sounds like it was laid down by a five-year-old with a Krazy Kazoo? Good Lord.

Up next is the sentimental ballad Home. We begin with Katharine ripping off (or paying homage to, I suppose, depending on which side of the coin you fall on) Christina Aguilera’s patented introductory melisma. Katharine sounds wonderful during the first few measures of this song–this is perfectly within her range, and it’s where her voice is its most powerful. The song itself is a bit derivative of “I Am Beautiful,” but that doesn’t really matter. The problem, though (because let’s face it, there’s always going to be a problem) is that Katharine just kind of goes through the motions on this song. She hits all the notes, sure, and the melisma is on pitch and perfectly metered, but there’s just not a hint of passion or soul here. Which has really been the problem with Katharine the entire time, hasn’t it? Oh well. If you enjoyed her balladeering on Idol, you’ll like this track, and I have to say that it’s probably her best vocal performance on the entire album.

On her next track, Katharine would like you to know that she is Not Ur Girl. No, not “Ur” as in the Biblical city and birthplace of the prophet Abraham (I know, I thought that Kat was totally making a metaphorical statement about the subpar treatment of women in ancient Mesopotamia, too!), but apparently “ur” as shorthand for “your.” Now, I’ve seen “u” for “you” and “u r” for “you are,” but “ur” for “your?” Since my impulse is to pronounce it as “er,” I don’t think it works. And VH1 apparently agrees with me, since on the streaming radio they’ve corrected the spelling to “your.” So beautiful. But anyway, right, the song. Another strange backing track, this one sounding like it belongs in an Austin Powers movie. It repeats the same lyric from “Love Story” about “we started out as friends” (lazy, lazy writers!) I guess this song is okay, but it’s kind of boring, plodding, and ultimately forgettable for me. There’s no catch, no hook, but every record needs its filler songs, you know? Thankfully, though, Katharine doesn’t shriek her way to any high notes in this song, although she does faux-giggle obnxiously at the end.

Each Other sounds like a funeral dirge.

I believe I reviewed Dangerous earlier, but hell, why not once again for posterity? This is the song of the famous lyric “never saw the missile that sank my love ship down/oh, I felt the hit, it was hard as a brick/and made me shift.” Ha! Okay, this song is an attempt at dance music, but the production isn’t fabulous, the tempo isn’t fast enough, the lyrics are gawdawful, and Katharine really doesn’t seem all too upset about this dangerous man, to be honest. It’s the vocal equivalent of an eleven-year-old wearing sunglasses and a feather boa, singing into a hairbrush, which is to say that there’s no wow factor here. You know what? She actually sounds bored. Well, Katharine, why should I care if you dont?

Ordinary World is another ballad. I like the beginning–again, perfectly in Katharine’s range. It’s a little over-melisma’d, but it’s nice, and there’s none of this “whispery is the new sexy!” bullshit. But again, she starts whining on the power notes, detracting (for me) from the effect of the song. Again, though, one of the better songs on the album, if only because it’s semi-light on the too-high power notes.

And we segue right from the lovely “Ordinary World” to the hot mess of Do What You Do, which opens with strange orgasmic grunts and Kat changing “this is sick.” Oh, something’s sick all right, but it’s not the song; it’s my stomach. The song’s just bad; it’s got these ridiculous bouncing effects, stupid local-DJ trick effects (“all the boys, all-all-all the boys”), and a sad little Gwen Stefani-reject feeling overall. And seriously, “all da boys in da club want me/and all the girls tryin’ to be like me,” juxtaposed with the cutesy, baby-voiced chanting of the “if you can’t give me what I need?” Kat, are you kidding us with this shit? Ugh. It’s also painfully obvious that when she strains to hit a high note, the volume of her voice decreases in relation to the instrumentation. Because I don’t like this song, it will be her next hit. Watch.

As much as “Home” and “Ordinary World” are very nice, Better Off Alone comes up short. Kat is just at her most soulless here, as what should be a stirring, passionate, fiery ballad (as indicated by the swelling instrumentation) comes off as the mere fulfillment of an obligation. There’s no feeling here, no drive, and certainly no connection with the lyrics. Katharine probably put more effort into filing her nails than she did in singing this song. Well, in her defense, she was probably late for a photo shoot the day this was recorded.

Neglected doesn’t even pretend that it’s pretty much just recycling the strangely gothic backing track from “Each Other.” The odd minor-key synthing of Katharine’s voice on the chorus honestly just makes listening to this song one depressing experience. I’m all for a song evoking gut-wrenching emotion, even if that emotion is sadness, but this song just makes me want to go to bed for a week and pull the covers over my head. Not one of the better songs on the album. Props for her shout-out to her on-again, off-again album title (Never Saw it Comin’), though.

The album finally (finally) closes with Everywhere I Go. It’s a nice closer, evoking lovely images, but it’s ultimately unforgettable. There’s not much bad I can say about it, but there’s not much that’s good, either.

And there you have it. Clearly, the best thing about this album are the ballads, or at least the ones that Kat’s not completely phoning in, as she does on “Better Off Alone.” What’s unusual about this album is that there is certainly no unifying theme here. It’s as if her producers pulled the names of different musical genres out of a hat and then mashed them all together on the album. The result isn’t particularly impressive, but it’ll be enough to keep her in the public eye, at least until someone younger and with bigger boobs comes along.

Moral of the story? This album is bland, inoffensive, and never takes a risk. It’s a guaranteed platinum-seller! But seriously, Katharine’s fans, who are a pretty loyal bunch, have been waiting patiently for this debut (if only so they can display their embarrassingly bad grammar and spelling skills as they gush about their love for it on the Internet), and no doubt they will love it. (Hell, they even seem to love “Open Toes.”) At the end of the day, I’m not sure what grade to give it. A C+, I guess. The cool sound of “Love Story” and the lovely work on “Home” and “Ordinary World” save it from complete drudgery. But the lack of identity and the blatant, shameless, formulaic pandering to the lowest common denominator prevent me from stepping up into the “B” range. Shit, at least Taylor took some risks. Maybe he succeeded, maybe he failed, but he tried. The only think Katharine is trying here is to offend as few people as she possibly can by being as bland and unremarkable as possible.


10 Responses to “Presenting Katharine McPhee: Princess of meh.”

  1. 1 Hill January 23, 2007 at 10:27 pm

    And, since you admit you’re “biased”, why did you even bother posting this hatchet job of a “review”? Just the fact that you’re biased guarantees that nobody is going to take it seriously—–all you’re doing , really, is guaranteeing that you’re going to look like an idiot when Grammy time rolls around next year. Do yourself a favor and head on over to Barnes and Noble. Read their review of her album, where they compare her favorably to Christina.
    I also question your musical ear—–sure, “Love Story” is a cute old-school r&b track—–but if you think it’s a better song than “Ordinary World”, which, in the opinion of more than one listener, is Grammy-nomination worthy, or for that matter, several other songs on the album, I really don’t know what to tell you.

    Maybe you can rid yourself of this “bias”, as you call it, if you headed on over to her website and became involved in her Outreach program. I’m sure thar the women and children at that Home for Battered Women don’t share your personal opinion about Katharine. When she and her boyfriend drove a van full of presents to their place this past Christmas, I think they kind of liked her. Believe me, the Katharine that her fans know from her her daily video updates on her myspace, and the Katharine that you dislike from your mere speculations about her, are two completely different people.

  2. 2 idolicious January 23, 2007 at 10:34 pm

    But Hill, isn’t that the difference between you and me? I’m fully aware that I don’t know Katharine at all. All I can offer is a critique of her public persona. You, on the other hand, believe that you actually know her. I’m not sure which one of us is more steeped in the “bias.”

    And yes, I think Katharine’s charity work is quite wonderful. But it doesn’t mean I have to like her album. As for the Grammys, we’ll just have to see, won’t we? I make no predictions either way. (Although in a Grammy grudge match between Kat and Norah Jones, my money’s on Norah.)

    But God do I love invested fans…so loyal, so faithful, so oblivious to the fact that when it comes to music, there are little things called “taste” and “opinion.” SHOCKING, isn’t it? Would you also be shocked to learn that there are more artists in the world than the twenty-five you currently hear in rotation on Top 40 radio?

  3. 3 nomis January 24, 2007 at 9:27 am

    I have a question for you, Idolicious. First of all, in the interest of full disclosure, I am indeed a Kat fan. By that I mean that I enjoy her singing and hope she is successful in her career. The flame wars about whether she is a wonderful person or the devil’s spawn don’t interest me. As you say, we are exposed to her personna, not her person. Ranting and raving about her personna does not appeal to me.

    Anyway, you bring up the notion of being “invested” in a performer. There is an element of that which has fascinated me throughout this whole post-Season 5 period and you seem to be the ideal person to ask about it. What I refer to is what I might call “negative investing”, which is sort of the fan world equivalent of selling short in the money world. You seem to be honest enough and perceptive enough to perhaps admit that you yourself are invested in Katharine McPhee, however as as negative investment. In other words, you seem to devote as much time and energy to her doings as her fans, but from the perspective of someone who doesn’t like her.

    Now don’t jump to conclusions. I am not going to start psychoanalyzing you or telling you what sort of personality disorders you have. As far as I’m concerned, this sort of anti-fanhood is your hobby and your motivations are your own and I couldn’t care less about them.

    No, my inquiry is a simpler one: do you think that this sort of thing is becoming commonplace? Perhaps I have led a sheltered life with regard to celebrities but I haven’t seen this kind of anti-fanhood before. Or is this primarily an American Idol phenomenon by which fans of Idols end up rooting against their non-favorites long after the competition. Maybe it’s just me, but I think this is much more interesting than arguing about whether my Idol is better than yours or whether the song that sounds good to me sounds like crap to you.

    Anyway, if you have anything to say about this, I’d be interested to hear it. If you think I’m just another nutty Kat fan, then sorry to invade your blog.

  4. 4 idolicious January 24, 2007 at 9:43 am

    No, nomis, I don’t think you’re “just another nutty Kat fan.” And even if you were, you’d still be welcome here, but I very much appreciate the intelligent question. Interesting that you brought this issue up, because I actually posted on it a few months ago. The New York Times did an article on Rachael Ray non-fan communities, and so I reproduced it. You can read it here (, but I’ll try to answer the question myself.

    I’ll speak from my perspective first. Honestly, this is the first season of Idol I’ve ever become “invested” in a performer, and it’s the first time in ten years I’ve become “invested” in someone in the entertainment industry, period. (I did become smitten with a particular actor when I was about 14 or so.) It’s funny; I liked Taylor from the beginning, and Katharine was a bit of a non-entity to me. Her performances left me cold, but I thought that she completely lacked any kind of star power whatsoever. Half the nights she performed, I couldn’t remember what song she’d even done. But as she began to display more of her persona, I began to like her less and less. I figured it was just that I didn’t like her because she was Taylor’s competition, and once he’d won, it wouldn’t matter…for that’s what happened with Daughtry, whose success I’m quite happy for. But that didn’t happen with Katharine, for some reason. I guess her post-show interviews really turned me off to her, and I began to develop a distate for what I perceived her persona to be. But since that’s not really relevant to your question, I won’t go into it.

    Now, obviously, if it were just a matter of “eh, she bugs me,” I wouldn’t much care and I doubt I’d be writing blog entries about her. She does fascinate me, though. Well…part of it is her, and the other part of it is how Hollywood has turned her into their current It girl. She’s a talented singer, no doubt, but she’s had some major vocal fuckups (most notably her “I Have Nothing” debacle in front of Whitney Houston). I view her rise to stardom as nothing more than Tinseltown crowning another big-breasted beauty as Queen of the Hill, deserving of all her accolades and praise because she’s pretty. (If Katharine still sang like Katharine, but looked like Chastity Bono, no one would care as much, and she wouldn’t have as many fans.) Now I realize that these are all just the realities of Hollywood and that I’m in no position to control them. I also realize that Katharine’s not the first person to have her looks elevated over her talent or her likeability factor. So as far as why I’m fascinated with HER, I can’t really offer an explanation. I’d like to know myself!

    To the second part of your question–do I think these things are becoming commonplace–well, yes and no. I think that anti-fandom has probably already existed. The problem was that before the internet age, if I told ten people that I disliked Katharine McPhee, and they all thought she was great, I’d feel very much like a fish out of water, and I’d probably say to myself, “okay, everyone thinks she’s great, what am I not getting?” With the advent of the Internet, however, I know that with just a few keystrokes, I can find people who dislike her as much as I do. Places like Vote for the Worst and Television Without Pity make it extremely easy to snark on celebrities, mainly because by sharing your distaste with others, you realize that you’re not nuts for disliking a performer.

  5. 5 nomis January 24, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I think the notion of internet community is probably right. Being an active fan is a community activity (I suppose you could just sit by yourself and be appreciative; but cheering your hero on with your fellow enthusiasts is a big part of the deal.) So I suppose that before the net, it was too difficult to find a group of like-minded anti-fans. I mean, where would you look?

    I do wonder why some people attract anti-fans and others not so much. For most of us, there are a limited number of performers we truly like (enough to buy CDs, go to concerts, etc.) On the other hand, there is an almost unlimited number of performers we don’t care for at all (just counting those we’ve at least been exposed to, obviously.) Clearly, we don’t become avidly interested in the overwhelming majority of them. We just ignore them.

    Perhaps American Idol is the ripest breeding ground for anti-fanhood because, as you follow the exploits of your favorite week after week, you get to see the ones you don’t like every week as well. Familiarity breeds contempt and all that. If your fave goes all the way (e.g. Taylor) and your anti-fav finishes high up (e.g. Kat), then you have ample opportunity to ripen your anti-fanhood. By contrast, we therefore don’t hear too much criticism of Kevin Covais at this point.

    So I guess I will agree with you. Internet communities give you a reason to continually evaluate an artist you don’t like. If they didn’t exist, I don’t think the problem would necessarily be that you would question your own judgement. The problem would be that there would be no point in expending the effort without like-minded people to share your observations.

    The fact that the reactions of the fans to many (not all) of the artist’s actions (performances, interviews, whatever) are pretty much the opposite of the anti-fans’ reactions is simply what defines them as fans and anti-fans. It sure makes for fireworks when the groups clash though! But for some folks, the clashes are the best part. To each their own…

  6. 6 talktocarllewis January 24, 2007 at 9:12 pm

    Fair review. Although I disagree with some of your opinions, I appreciate that they’re well thought out. Actually, the comparisons this album is drawing are interesting; “Love Story” sounds like Beyonce, “Over It” is strikingly reminiscent of JoJo, “Home” recalls Christina’s “Beautiful”, and “Each Other” has the same feel as Mariah’s “We Belong Together.” All this, however, isn’t a bad thing––as these are all multi-platinum artists.

    “Each Other” sounds like a funeral dirge? What the crap?

    And what’s up with all the love for “Love Story”? It’s a nice lighthearted, brisk tune, but it’s certainly not the best on the album.

    In my opinion as the indistinct Katharine fan, the best songs are, respectively, “Everywhere I Go,” “Home,” “Do What You Do,” “Better Off Alone,” and “Open Toes.”

  7. 7 idolicious January 25, 2007 at 12:17 am

    I like “Love Story,” don’t know why. As for ballads, well, in the interests of full disclosure, I’m not much for female balladeers in the first place. I can recognize that “Ordinary World” is a great vocal performance (not phenomenal, and while I know that it supposedly generated some Grammy buzz, I did some investigating, and that “buzz” seems to be generated by the man who actually produced the song…which I do believe is the very definition of “bias”), but the way my musical tastes run, I like “Love Story” more. It’s the most well-produced song on the album, even if her vocals don’t really hold up on it the way they do on “Ordinary World.”

    Her fans keep talking about “positive buzz” and “good reviews,” but so far, all I’ve seen are two puff pieces in glossy tabloids, a couple of blog entries of the “these songs are HAWT!” variety, and heaping praise from board posters who still employ photoshopped pictures of Britney Spears in their sig lines. If the album gets overwhelming love from the mainstream press (I think the results will be kind of mixed), more power to her, but so far I’m not holding my breath…

  8. 8 modester January 29, 2007 at 9:29 am

    Ok, so I was looking forward to this album as I really liked Katharine McPhee’s performances on American Idol (I actually thought she had it clinched at her first audition). I’m also hoping that she goes on to do great things and wish her the best.

    THAT said, after listening to the album I have to generally agree with idolicious. The tracks are quite boring and contain nothing to set them apart from all of the other (IMHO) dreck littering the Top 40 charts. Admittedly, what appeals to me musically is quite different from the current vibe on the charts but I was kind of disappointed that NONE of the tracks seem to have any sort of a hook to them.

    Just bland, boring rhythms and melodies and melisma. As was said before, it will probably be a platinum-seller.

  9. 9 ol'timer February 14, 2007 at 3:39 am

    Well….as I am a dirty ol ballad kind of guy, the yellow dress certainly makes it difficult to be objective, but after listening to the CD once, two songs really stood out “Home” and “Ordinary World”, I hated the rest. I predict top ten for Home and #1 + Grammy for Ordinary World. Mark my words! that’s from my generation and I’m two ahead of you. So after listening to the CD ten times, I agree with Idolicious, production and that old school feel of “Love Story” makes it big winner as well. “Over it” is silly and makes me ill but realistically it will hit big (top ten)simply because its the first single release and idol fans will come through for her, plus its sorta catchy pop-teen thing.. I suppose. BTW, the streaming and the downloads on average quality PC sound system makes her high notes and trills all hidious screeches and the percussion tracks sound like something I did on $30 drum machine in jr high, but the point here is that you need the CD on a good sound system to appreciate the quality her high voice, especially on “Ordinary World”. So, the rest of the album is pop crap but I must admit “Not UR girl” is growing on me. So to borrow a “OMG” from your generation….thats…errr 1..2..3…..maybe 4 top-ten’s and maybe two #1’s ..and at least one guaranteed Grammy. In perspective, it took Clarkson a couple of try’s to get it right. Once the stations start playing these songs over and over and over, its a whole different game. These “bland boring rhythms and melodies” and ” copycat” songs will take on a life of their own ..bust nuts!…everyone from 4 yr olds to little ol granny’s is going to go nuts about these songs..mark my words, you will see and hear KM for another twenty years while the other grey haired groovy guy …what’s his name? Did he release an album yet? He will be gone and forgotten in two, maybe three years. Hate her or love her, negative or positive energy, its nothing but bright…oh yes.. that yellow dress…BTW, what did Andrea Bocelli (whatever) find so fascinating about her…”she’s beautiful…yada yada” for christ sakes he’s blind as a bat.. and she toured Europe with him ! Ok I won’t go there but Im thinking she she’s got what it takes to make it in the business..

  10. 10 idolicious February 14, 2007 at 8:21 am

    ol’timer (Ray….?): “OMG” is NOT from my generation. It’s from the one that sits on the rung right below me. ;-)

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January 2007
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What the kids are sayin’

"I hate them all. The judges, TPTB, the blatant manipulation, the songs, the contestants, everything. I'm a die-hard Cook fan, but for the love of god, at least try to look like you're enjoying yourself up there! Please? Syesha was awesome but she ruined it by being completely shameless and disgusting. Yes, being on American Idol is exactly like the civil rights movement, except for the part where you're fighting to make the world a better place."

"All I can say after the disgusting display tonight of favoritism towards the mediocrity that is David A. - good luck trying to market and make money off of that kid, American Idol. (Not to mention good luck dealing with his father.) All the teeny boppers may buy up his American Idol coronation single, but they will quickly forget about him before the album comes out. And I shudder to think of a David A. album - song after song of unrelenting sameness and heavy breathing. Why they are pimping him for the win is beyond me."

"This show was simply a hot buttered mess tonight. And Jason "needs to be arrested for what he did to I Shot the Sheriff. But I hope he stays. He amuses me. "

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