Today, I was listening to my iPod at my desk and my next-cube-neighbor overheard the song that was playing – you know: that one that goes, “it starts at my toes and it twinkles my nose”, or whatever it is she says, doesn’t really matter – and asked me what the name of that singer was. I was like, oh that’s Colbie Caillat. And she was like, oh yeah, that’s right. As if I had just reminded her of some bit of common but unimportant and therefore easily forgettable knowledge. Like, oh yeah, that’s right: Montpelier is the capital of Vermont. It’s easy to understand how her debut single “Bubbly” became a top 10 hit. It’s a sweet, easygoing song with the kind of melody the cozies up to a listener right around mid-afternoon and makes the dreary day seem not just bearable, but, y’know, kinda nice. It makes no particular demands of the listener, except to lay back and sing along if you want (that is, if your next-cube-neighbors don’t mind). It’s the audio equivalent of a back rub. Seriously, what’s not to like? And, consequently everyone seems to like it. Harder to explain is the fact that, three years later, Colbie Caillat isn’t a one-hit wonder.
Colbie Caillat “Bubbly” (2007)
In Wayne’s World, Mike Myers joked that artists who just made songs that everybody liked were the BeeGees. He could make the same joke today about Colbie Caillat. She’s really pretty (okay, she’s hot – even a gay like me can see), but in a really normal, everyday sorta way. Her album covers are as innocuously generic as senior yearbook pictures. She’s got a warm, lovely voice that also happens to be unspecial enough that only the most devoted fan could pick it out of a radio line-up. And even then, it might have as much to do with her surroundings as with her voice itself. She plays a strummy guitar in an Autotune world. Born to a record producer who worked with Fleetwood Mac in their glory years (and who also produces Caillat’s records), Colbie writes and sings unassuming 70s-style singer-songwriter country-ish pop songs in an era where producers armed with flashy Eurosynths and premium manufactured beats rule over all they survey with the help of their faithful army of sexy robot minions like Flo Rida and Ke$ha. Colbie Caillat remains fully clothed and defiantly unprovocative in the valley of the shadow of the Haus of Gaga’s ascendance. And yet, for the last three years, she’s been semi-reliably holding her own on the charts – not just the adult contemporary chart for which she’s a virtual archetype for success, but also on the general Pop charts and Billboard’s Hot 100, where her songs may not reach the heights attained by Gaga, but have a tendency to stick around two or three times as long.
Colbie Caillat “Fallin’ For You” (2009)
You’d never know it from her songs or her voice, both of which project a maturity and confidence on par with Sheryl Crow (who could’ve been her mother) the 25-year-old Colbie is younger than Britney and Xtina, and could have attended high school with Stefani Germanotta and Kesha Rose Sebert. Admittedly, she’s not the only artist in her age group currently mining this particular vein of pop. But 26-year-old Mandy Moore, who began her career as a third-tier Britney soundalike, has been transforming herself into the second coming of Carly Simon ever since the release of her shockingly tasteful covers album Coverage in 2003; and her increasing artistic legitimacy has paid off in decreasing commercial viability. And former Idol finalist Brooke White, has found the world outside the Nokia Theater to be harsh and unaccommodating of that 21st Century Carole King thing she’s got going on.
Meanwhile, Caillat’s songs are getting licensed to Brazilian soap operas, and getting picked up by Taylor Swift, a country-pop star even younger than herself. Her songs have an emotional intimacy to them, but they’re never really quirky or confessional the way, say, Sara Bareilles or Ingrid Michaelson are. They sound as good to a middle-aged commuter as they do to a teenager doing homework. You can hear them at the beach, and you can hear them at Walgreen’s. I don’t think I’ve ever really fallen in love with one of her songs. But I really, really like a lot of them. In a sense, we need a Colbie Caillat right now. She gives Lady Gaga something to be freaky in contrast to at a time when other starlets (who really should know better, Ms. Aguilera) are doing their best to challenge the Lady on her own turf. She’s a welcome respite from “edgy”. An oasis of unspectacular niceness in a landscape of computerized, militarized, vampirically sexualized pop menace. And I say: it’s all right.
Colbie Caillat “I Never Told You”