Don’t Believe Everything You Hear About New York City in Songs


The next time you’re tempted to write a song about the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of,” do New Yorkers a favor: don’t. The latest pop homage to New York comes via virtual unknown Catey Shaw and “Brooklyn Girls,” an anthem for young female transplants riding the L train from their apartments in Bushwick to Williamsburg, asserting their edginess by wearing combat boots in the summer. It’s suddenly started to go viral, three days after its release — yesterday afternoon, “Brooklyn Girls” had 7,000 views on YouTube. As of press time, it has 105,000. A great deal of its rise to prominence is attributable to the instant backlash from Brooklynites intimately familiar with the world Shaw describes (i.e., many music bloggers).

The song’s video is even more of a hipster cliché than the lyrics: Shaw rocking blue ombre hair and a Brooklyn Nets fitted cap, bearded dudes drinking kombucha, unthinkably fashionable people chugging PBR in a backyard, sad girls in black lipstick, bad skateboarding, etc. It’s basically a Williamsburg version of those “Shit ______ Girls Say” parodies that unfortunately continue to make the rounds on YouTube, more than two years later.

Noisey showed their disdain for Shaw by deeming her the “Rebecca Black of Brooklyn gentrification.” But whereas Black was just a 14-year-old girl who accidentally went viral, Virginia transplant Shaw’s “Brooklyn Girls” is a calculated move — and sadly, it’s working. Nothing here is an accident: Macklemore’s go-to director Jon Jon Augustavo helmed Shaw’s video, which will be used to promote her soon-to-be-released Brooklyn EP (wow, great brand synergy). Her label is listed as “Complex/Left Hook” on iTunes and Spotify. The former is a familiar brand, but the latter is an artist development company that’s succeeded in turning this arty North Brooklyn girl into a pop troll who flirts with issues of authenticity. Hmm, sounds familiar.

“I immediately knew I wanted [the video] to be in Brooklyn and I wanted a lot of shots of where I actually lived,” Shaw told Paper Magazine. “It’s the real Brooklyn! I entertained the idea of finding fashionistas, and making it kind of Sex and the City, but it didn’t serve any kind of new meaning. I think people are thirsting for something more real that they can identify with.”

It’s not the “real Brooklyn,” of course, but the brilliance of Shaw’s trolling is that “Brooklyn Girls” sounds seemingly legitimate enough to appeal to: a) Brooklyn Basic Bitches who feel cool by seeing some version of their lifestyle echoed in art (if you can call this “art”); b) those who live in Shaw’s world, and either dislike or secretly/ironically like the song; and above all, c) people who don’t know the difference between Bed-Stuy and Greenpoint, let alone the dividing line between East Williamsburg and Bushwick.

This last group will merely enjoy “Brooklyn Girls” because it’s a catchy song, just as many, many people liked Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.” We know not all West Coast girls freaq in the Jeep and rock Daisy Dukes with bikini tops, but no one felt the need to protest Perry for spreading misinformation back in 2010 when “California Gurls” went to No. 1. There’s just something about the validity of Brooklyn stereotypes that enrages the Internet as much as, say, cultural appropriation. After all, Girls may be the most-thinkpieced show in TV history.

So, even if “Brooklyn Girls” goes as viral as “Friday,” it’s not going to change the way the average music listener thinks about the borough. To prove it, here’s a bunch of other things we’d believe to be true about New York City if pop songs were the gospel. Have you ever tried riding the subway at this time of year, Ella Fitzgerald?

– The city’s streets will make you feel brand new, and its big lights will inspire you. (“Empire State of Mind,” Jay Z feat. Alicia Keys)

– Brooklynites all wear feathers in their hair, get down to Beat poetry, and have rare jazz collections. (“Brooklyn Baby,” Lana Del Rey)

– New Yorkers dress in plastic bags. (“Shattered,” The Rolling Stones)

– Autumn in New York transforms the slums into Mayfair. (“Autumn in New York,” Billie Holiday)

– The subway charms us so, when balmy breezes blow to and fro. (“Manhattan,” Ella Fitzgerald)

– You’ll have to go all the way up to East Harlem score some dope. (“Waiting for the Man,” The Velvet Underground)

– Rose trees never grow in New York City. (“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” Elton John)

And of course…

– If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. (“Theme from New York, New York,” Frank Sinatra)