Santigold on Her New Album, ‘99¢,’ and its Shrink-Wrapped Artwork
Before we begin, Santigold (@santivision) needs to get something off her chest. Her name is pronounced SAHN-tee-gold. Easy, right? Not SON-tee-gold. Not Son-TA-gold. And certainly not SAN-tee (rhymes with “panty”) gold.
“I’m realizing that it’s almost universal now: the people who said it right have now shifted to saying it wrong,” the 39-year-old singer and producer ruefully admits to @music. “So I just decided today, you know what? From now on every tour announcement is going to have in parentheses ‘How to pronounce Santigold.’”
It’s a good time to set the record straight. SAHN-tee-gold is currently knee-deep in the promotional rounds for her upcoming record, 99¢, a beguiling tongue-and-cheek collection of pop and alternative tunes that explore the cross section between consumerism, corporate branding and art. Her main point: selling records in 2016 kind of sucks, so artists have to find new ways to make a living. Sometimes that means focusing on your image and not the art, or teaming up with a recognizable brand to help pay for costs.
“This whole project was about not being subtle about it, and about making that reality the art,” she says, referring to both the record’s concept and its accompanying set of infomercials (i.e. the Santigold Pez dispenser). “99 cents is a f—ing ridiculous price for all my art and hard work. It’s totally devalued. The fact is, you can really get the entire record for way less than 99 cents.”
Hammering this point home is the cover, featuring a shrink-wrapped Santigold with an assortment of her personal possessions. The artwork came to fruition after she realized how much her lyrics spoke to the idea of an artist existing in a climate of “hyperconsumption and narcissism.” To bring that message to light visually, she linked up with her creative director, Mark Jacobs (not that Marc Jacobs), who put together a mood board of sorts called the “Santibible”: a thick packet of everything and anything that fit the album’s theme. There were crazy hairstyles, images from the movie Idiocracy and a picture from Haruhiko Kawaguchi, aka “Photographer Hal.”
“It’s this Japanese photographer who had been shrink wrapping people, mostly couples,” she says. “I just kept seeing that image when I was thinking about a record cover.”
Mark and Santigold asked Hal to shoot the photo, then began gathering items that could work inside the shrink-wrap: baby toys, a novelty remote control, gold Crocs, a drone, gloves, shoes and anything else lying around the house. From there, Santigold jumped inside Hal’s human-sized plastic bag with all of her possessions, posed for the camera, then held her breath.
“[Hal] was like, ‘All right, this is how it’s going to work. You climb into the bag. I count to 10. By 10 there is air back in the bag,’” recalls Santigold. “Because, literally, he was shrink-wrapping me in the bag. You’re on the floor, you’re lying in the position, you get it right, and then you suck the air out and he takes a shot, and then you’re out.”
The new album comes almost four years after Santigold’s last record, Master of My Make-Believe. In between, she had a baby, released her own makeup line and made cameo appearances on shows like The Office. (Little-known fact: Santigold started acting when she was a kid. “I would like to mix my music with the acting,” she says. “Secretly, I’ve already written a movie. It’s a music movie.”)
We live in an era where fans now expect artists to come out with new music on a consistent basis, but the time Santigold spent in between albums helped give her perspective, allowing her to return refreshed and ready to work on new material. “If you’re really trying to grow as an artist, you do something else for a second,” she says. Part of that fan thirst is attributed to how we now consume music, via streaming services. “I think streaming is great. I think the system is flawed,” she says. “When you are not letting artists have the means to actually focus on making music, and instead scrambling to make themselves a living, then the music suffers.”
And that is the entire point of 99¢: throwing the consistent consumerism of the music industry in people’s faces, then seeing how they react. The songs and lyrics may sound tongue-and-cheek, but the message behind them is literal.
“This record is a mirror,” she says. “It’s like, ‘This is where we are, guys. Take a look.’ It’s playful, it’s fun, but it’s actually really talking about real stuff that I think needs to be looked at.”