Pop Song Review: Iggy Azalea ft. Rita Ora – “Black Widow”

Fancy another pop song review? Sure you do. Speaking of “fancy”, today it’s “Black Widow” by Iggy Azalea featuring Rita Ora. Quite the stretch, that, wasn’t it? I’m very sorry.

Note: skip ahead to about 1:42 for the actual song.

First impressions: Wait, was that it? Er, all right then. Given the buzz this song’s been getting I expected more, honestly.

The music: Oh, I suppose there is music here, isn’t there? Well, the minimalist beat is obviously trying to convey a creepy, sinister vibe, because that’s what people associate with venomous spiders; but the creepiness wears off pretty quickly because the beat is so repetitive. It’s just not very interesting or catchy for a pop single. What am I supposed to do with this music? I can’t dance to it – there’s not enough groove or swing for that. Am I supposed to sit and wait for this black widow to come and attack me? Am I a fly now? Is that what the music industry thinks of me? Charming.

The chorus doesn’t really do much and isn’t particularly memorable to my ears, but I could see why someone would like it: Ora’s a good singer and she handles what semblance of a melody is here well enough. Unfortunately it feels like it’s building to something much better that it can’t deliver on – which, as it turns out, it doesn’t, because instead of rising and exploding it just drops back to that beat. The bridge is decent – I quite like that – but overall the whole thing is just a bit flat and dull.

That’s about it for the music, to be honest: mostly that lifeless beat bubbling under a simple verse-chorus-verse structure, simmering on until it ends without ceremony. What else? Should I comment on Azalea’s flow here? Okay, well, if you like Azalea’s flow you should like what she does here, because it’s the same attitude-inflected rap style she used on “Fancy”. You know, those rising inflections, that weird accent, all those, er, rhymes… look, I don’t know much about hip hop, all right? Meet me halfway here.

The lyrics: A relationship has gone seriously sour, with both parties – once madly in love with each other – now finding themselves unable to stand each other anymore: “it’s like I loved you so much and now I just hate you / Feeling stupid for all the time that I gave you.” She doesn’t really have much to say about it except for “my word, how you suck,” but this sort of thing is still fertile ground for a pop song, provided you can take an original look at it. So how do killer spiders figure into all this?

Good question – they don’t. Then the second verse arrives and the song dramatically shifts from one about a failing relationship to another about some weird dominatrix fantasy. Why? Search me. “I’m gonna love you till it hurts / Just to get you, I’m doing whatever works.” Apparently you’re gonna really enjoy it, too, because if you didn’t know by now, flies only writhe and struggle about in those webs out of anticipation – they’re just having a great time waiting to die. Why, you’ll even praise Jesus Himself for all the… all those thing’s she’s gonna…

Well, Azalea isn’t exactly specific about what she’s going to do, actually. Bite you? I don’t know, maybe. Tie you up? Something else a spider might do with its victim? There’s a thing in that verse about you “gasping for air,” which would be kinda clever if asphyxiation was a symptom of black widow venom, but it isn’t. She could, however, have included “local swelling […] spasmodic pain […] nausea and profuse perspiration,” all of which are symptoms of a black widow bite – but that might have put the song in danger of having anything to do with actual black widows.

EDIT: Apparently “breathing problems” are in fact a noted symptom of black widow bites, although only a few of the sources I checked seem to mention it. What they all seem to agree on, however, is that black widow venom is not really as harmful as you’d think to humans – you’ll get a bit sick but you won’t die – and is only really deadly to children, the elderly and the infirm. Doesn’t that put a new twist on the lyrics?

There’s also a web reference in there somewhere, but the main allusion comes with the chorus line “gonna love you like a black widow, baby.” You might have noticed that doesn’t make any sense, because black widows are not renowned for being great at romance in any branch of any mythology. Also, I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but if you have the choice between using a simile or a metaphor, always go with the metaphor: saying you are a black widow is a much stronger image than saying you’re like one. Try this interchange:

“I’m gonna love you – I’m a black widow, baby.”

“Oh, boy, this is going to be good.”

Now compare it with:

“I’m gonna love you like a black widow, baby.”

“Huh… so you’re, er, gonna bite me? You know, I bruise easily…”

See what I mean? The simile automatically invites comparison, whereas the metaphor puts the image right there in your mind. It doesn’t even matter what those comparisons are with the metaphor – you just know that spiders are deadly and that you should keep away (or, apparently, that they’re kinda kinky). If the songwriters had even given some solid comparisons to work with, the simile might have worked, but they don’t – the chorus ends on that line and we’re left to fill in the blanks.

As it turns out, when you do fill in the blanks it’s pretty dumb – so strong, independent women (such as the miffed Azalea in the video above) are like black widows: if you approach them they’ll ensnare, poison and eat you. I don’t think that’s the message this song is trying to convey, but the only other one I can unscramble is that when black widow spiders attack and devour trapped insects, they’re actually showing them some real good lovin’. Is it me, or was not much thought put into these lyrics? No, that can’t be it, surely…

Verdict: This gets a 2 out of 5 from me. The chorus has potential but the beat is boring and repetitive, which sabotages the atmosphere it was trying to create, and the lyrics are just dumb and weird. I honestly don’t know what I’m supposed to do with this: it’s not sexy, it’s not menacing, it’s not danceable, it’s just… there. You know, like a black widow, or whatever.

Today’s double-up is Alice Cooper’s “The Black Widow,” because how could it not be?


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