Iggy Azalea Splits the Difference Between Brash Trash Talk and Pop Explorations on ‘Wicked Lips’ EP

Ever since she made history by simultaneously occupying the number one and two positions on the Billboard charts with her hits “Fancy” and “Problems,” Iggy Azalea has traveled a rocky road, navigating record label morasses, and growing steadily more steely in the process. Her last album and first independent release, “In My Defense,” brought her vivacious, unapologetic posturing to a pinnacle, with ruthless diss tracks, boldly gratuitous sex songs, and all the works. Her latest EP “Wicked Lips” eases back slightly into more overt pop avenues, while still offering plenty of the same. At just four tracks, it splits its running time between no-nonsense rap tracks and darts in different directions, and shows Azalea rehashing tired formulas, but also skirting into new territory, and revealing rare glimpses of an unseen figure behind the scenes.

Opener and lead single “Lola” teams Azalea up with UK singer Alice Chater, whose glossy, candy-coated pop stylings beg for comparison to Azalea’s 2014 breakthrough “Fancy” with Charli XCX. This holds merely on the most obvious level Azalea’s trademark affected brashness channeled into its most accessible avenues, bookmarked by readymade singalongs with Chater playing a sort of foil, an alternate voice of the same underlying camp celebration of attitude, glamor, and everything in between. Chater starts the song off with histrionic diva vocals, catchy primarily because they’re quick to clip and appropriate phrasing from various other successful refrains. It’s an act of assembling a song with the least effort possible, with the opening bars somewhat indicative of the EP as a whole. When the beat drops, the track takes up a Latin instrumentation, presumably just so Azalea can almost rhyme “Lola” with “Loca.” It’s a festive affair at large, with Azalea’s raw rasp and Chater’s sugary tones making for an effective collaboration. The song is essentially about being crazy and loving it — a topic widely relatable enough to deserve more forthright exploration like this. What’s annoying is that Azalea feels compelled to snatch a chorus from someone else’s tune yet again, as she’s done before with Wu-tang’s “C.R.E.A.M.” and Tony Basil’s “Hey Mickey.” This time, she uses Dean Martin’s rendition of Rosemary Clooney’s “Mambo Italiano.” Excavating an old melody and fitting entirely different lyrics to it can make for both provocative abstract art and a kitsch bit of fun, but when it’s done this often, it becomes a stale joke.

Azalea has always done an especially effective job balancing straight rap tracks with varied pop forays, and her new release is no exception. “Not Important” clears the clutter, and gives her space to do what she does best — talk trash like she means it. The beat sounds like a million others, although that should hardly be a surprise, and, in a sense, hardly an issue either, as Azalea has never exactly purported to be any sort of inventor. Still, the shtick has been seriously played out, and a track like this would be solid if it only weren’t such a tired, blatant rehashing. Lyrically, Azalea’s target here is the “fake rich,” to her credit, another relevant topic worth taking on. Things can get a bit confusing upon the lines “I see right through your disguise / This ain’t what you advertise,” when you consider that Azalea is an Australian blonde lady who raps like she’s from a hood in a Southern US state. Of course, what she’s decrying here is a facade of wealth, not an adopted musical persona, but it’s still enough to raise an eyebrow.  

“The Girls” strikes out of the blue with a soaring stadium chorus and blaring, distorted guitars, followed by flangers and a massive drum fills. This is rave rap, an unprecedented sonic standout. It’s a song about issues particular to “girls,” and who better to recruit for such subject matter than a drag queen? For this track, Azalea joins forces with Brazillian sensation Pabllo Vittar, whose exaggerated femininity is a perfect match for her presumably self-aware hip-hop farce. Everything is bigger and right in your face. This is high octane, mobilizing stuff that hits, at once, like both an instant hit and a bittersweet, jokey jamboree. Vittar’s melody and refrain of “Put the love in the front and the hate in the back” are immediately infectious. Along with the new sound comes a rare moment of relative vulnerability from Azalea that couldn’t be less expected. In her second verse, she reflects, “If I speak my mind I lose money… So I say I’m fine when it’s ugly.” Could it possibly be that behind all the fearless self-aggrandizement and merciless dissing lies a tragic figure merely putting on a cool face? Azalea continues in this vein, and gets deeper than we’ve seen before, going so far as to claim, “The world is sick, cold and nauseous… They sell the dream like it’s flawless,” then to conclude, “Yeah, and I bought the lies with a Lexus / Damn, I’m just as surprised as the next bitch.” Altogether, the song adds a new dimension to Azalea’s act, and hints at exciting new directions to be explored, lyrically and sonically.   

Finally, “Personal Problem” steers back to Azalea’s usual territory, placing her over a basic, brittle beat, bouncy and bare, over which she just has at it. When she raps “Winning at life, this shit feeling like a cheat code,” you have to hand it to her, as she indeed seems to have somehow stumbled upon a gift that keeps on giving. As often, her rhymes often sound like bits better suited for a freestyle than a proper song, like “You’re not lit, I’ll blow out your candle.” But then there are the simple, little strings of syllables that she has a knack for putting together, as in the chorus line “Vendetta, whatever, whenever,” which seems a perfect encapsulation of her attitude at large — scathing, feisty, happy-go-lucky, and meaning business. At under three minutes, the track brings the especially brief EP to a somewhat inconclusive end, leaving listeners likely both scratching their heads and wanting something more. This is a well-timed release in all those respects, as Azalea can hardly get much bolder than she was on “In My Defense,” and it’s about time she expanded her style and subject matter. To that end, it’s a perfect teaser, renewing Azalea’s brand of design by covering all the main, expected bases, and hinting at new directions without belaboring or fully giving them away. 

Wicked Lips” is available Dec. 2 on Apple Music.