Kat Graham, right now, is a name only familiar to two slivers of the population: those who watch The Vampire Diaries, where she plays Bonnie, or those who trawl about the outer reaches of the pop blogs. We’re part of the latter. (I mean, it’s plausible that someone in this room right now has seen an episode or so of vampires doing whatever vampires get up to on TV, but me, I’ve just seen ads on the subway, and those came down months ago.)
Part of this is because she’s never had a proper major-label release before “Put Your Graffiti On Me,” her first single on A&M/Octone Records. That’s Maroon 5′s label. Maroon 5 is in the sort of career resurgence that lets them name an album Overexposed and not have it be a laughathon. In other words: much like The Vampire Diaries, this single comes with stakes.
“Put Your Graffiti On Me,” to its immense credit, sounds a lot fresher than it could be. It’s not the lyrics, exactly; half of them are essentially Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake” without the sex or scandal, and the rest are standard image-development (the first line, “denim jean jacket, pink Chucks and a miniskirt,” is nearly a casting description) and swagger-and-shove. Nor are the sounds themselves different; the track’s a bit like something by Diplo if he lowered the Major Lazer a tad, or perhaps a bit like “Say It Right” without the wistfulness, the synths swoop and the snares stutter as radio does nowadays, and Graham clips her lines, shifts her pitches and spits her catchphrases (i.e. “tag me”) enough to exceed radio’s swag requirement.
All this works for two reasons. First, producers Twice as Nice were wise to emulate Diplo instead of, say, RedOne, and for every trendy production choice are three more tired ones avoided. But more so, it works because Kat Graham. Her voice’s always had a certain push to it, and that’s a huge advantage when pop demands vocals go into full attack mode. “Now that Ciara’s career is kaput, Rihanna’s run off the rails, Beyonce’s bogged down with a baby, and Nicki Minaj is Nicki Minaj, the urban-pop scene is in desperate need of some fresh meat,” writes The Prophet Blog, and they’re onto something. These are probably the best possible conditions for Kat to break out, and judging by “Put Your Graffiti On Me,” she could be working toward her best possible song.