Slightly over a year ago, a video premiered on YouTube, that fount of talking cats and “Ow! My balls!” bloopers. Within a matter of days, pianist Regina Spektor’s “Fidelity” promo was on the minds and lips of more than a million viewers. The law of averages dictates that these numbers were a mixture of individuals with obvious good taste (naturally), the lethally bored (probably) and scores of fandom faithful (optimally). Sunny and upbeat, it’s a song about a young girl consumed by twin imperatives of trepidation and yearning, delivered in a voice suffused with sincerity like Julie Andrews spinning around on her mountain.
The video for “Fidelity,” then, stands as a testament to the quality that YouTube can deliver, and its capacity for exposing the culture’s best — even when surrounded by dreck. The freshness of Spektor’s voice — a seamless shock-of-the-new at odds with the glut of manufactured backwash — stands in stark contrast to the calculated ventriloquism of the quasi-amateurishly-presented YouTube hit “Umbrella,” by Marie Digby, which was revealed earlier this year to be a construct of the Hollywood Records publicity machine.
An émigré with her family from the former USSR during perestroika, Spektor learned her pop music from the underground tape-trading network that trafficked in Beatles dubs. Her work touches on always-relevant themes of comfort (“Samson”), healing (“Better”) and the artlessness of youth (“Fidelity”). The video for “Better,” her latest single, is a bizarrely narcissistic affair filled with black-clad Spektor doubles cavorting across the veldt. The song is a testament to the enduring reliability of the old pop practice of playing new songs on transistor radios and car stereos to see if the soul of the work — clean and unwarted — carries impact on its own, if it can transcend the crap technology of woofer-eaten tweeters and vintage 1996 computer speakers.
Licensing of her songs by everyone from JCPenney to Vodafone has ensured that at least some tantalizing wisp of her presence hovers in the public’s consciousness — and yet the quality of her music is such that it’s no problem hearing it repeated in ads both nauseam and infinitum. Spektor has that voice, cutting through the whoredom and snoredom, ceaselessly listenable and eminently watchable.
Regina Spektor plays the Wiltern on Tues., Oct. 30.
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