Karmin, the extremely online pop duo, has morphed into a new and terrifying form.
If you don’t remember Karmin, congratulations for all the time you spent away from the Internet in 2011 and 2012, when Karmin was Reddit’s favorite band. The quirky pop duo combined precocious theater kid mugging with American Idol-style ultra-digestible pop to the delight of people staring blankly at their computer screens the world over. In bare-bones homemade videos, the pair covered of top 40 pop and rap hits like Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now,” and attracted fans on YouTube and Reddit.
In the video, singer Amy Noonan’s face and fingers broadcast emotion and meaning like a silent movie actress as her husband and musical partner Nick Noonan provides competent musical accompaniment with the dead eyed dissociation of a regional theater musical director. You can see how bored white collar workers would watch it at around 11 a.m. on a Wednesday, feel mildly amused and distracted and forget it by Thursday.
Evidently unaware of the group’s inherent disposability, some record label gave them a deal. They made high production music videos for their original songs and performed on Saturday Night Live.
A 2012 Gawker article “The Hater’s Guide to Karmin” by the great Max Read captured the Karmin phenomenon. It’s worth quoting a particular section in full.
What is the appeal of… this thing, exactly?
I don’t want to guess at people’s motives for liking this cover, because that would require me to think about this cover, but isn’t it kind of shocking that so many people who claim to hate rap or R&B suddenly like it when it’s performed by approachable young white people playing “real instruments?” Just something weird to think about.
Are you saying that all people who like Karmin are racist?
No, not at all. Just that, you know, for some people, there may be some unspoken cultural biases at play. Like racism.
Do you think Karmin are racist?
No. I do think their existence is a crime against humanity on par with racism.
The racial dynamic mentioned in the section above is pretty critical in light of Karmin’s second act. Whiteness was at the heart of Karmin’s appeal. The white girl rapping with a twinge of blaccent was meant to be funny and cute. Noonan’s over-the-top physicality and the stripped down instrumentation of the initial Karmin videos sold the humor and cuteness. It was an “adorkable” take on rap. It was caucasian and midwestern by design; in their original song “Hello,” Noonan makes a point of saying that she’s from Nebraska, one of the whitest states in America.
Karmin’s career sputtered to a seeming halt. But Karmin never left. It just reinvented itself. Karmin v 2.0 has been hiding in plain sight for a while, but this week, writer and comedian Rachel Millman unearthed the new Karmin in a twitter thread.
does anyone remember that goofy ass embarrassing band Karmin? the girl from it is now performing as "Qveen Herby" and released a song called "Sade in the 90s" while wearing foundation that's a minimum of 5 shades too dark https://t.co/2QWPOSqXtW pic.twitter.com/ybiwH02Btz
— rachel (@rachelmillman) May 2, 2018
Noonan has rebranded as Qveen Herby, a Cardi B-like hip hop diva with gangsta attitude eager to use her body to get attention.
Her persona’s been stripped of all whiteness and replaced by an alarming attempt to seem genuinely not white.
The weirdest thing is that the songs are a lot better than Karmin. Noonan isn’t trying to inject every bit of her personality into every single note and the music has room to breathe. Their hooks and beats are better and the melodies are catchier.
But in losing her theater kid mugging, Noonan also lost the shield of irony deflecting accusations of cultural appropriation. She’s gone full unironic blaccent. Before, the joke, which the viewer was presumed to be in on, was that it was patently absurd for a midwestern white girl like Noonan to perform POC songs. Now there’s no joke. She’s just performing like Rihanna or Cardi B. She even seems to have taken pains to looks less white. Her hair is shinier and darker and more severely styled than her brown Karmin bob. It’s a hairstyle a black or latin woman might wear. And maybe it’s a change in lighting but her skin even appears darker than her Karmin days (FYI: Qveen Herby claims it’s lighting).
This is a filter effect so Nice try bitch!! pic.twitter.com/rAbf672SxM
— Karmin/Qveen Herby Stan (@HerbyStan) May 2, 2018
A singer using more bronzer and different haircare products isn’t normally a big deal, but her whiteness used to be central to her persona. Subtracting that feels like Rachel Dolezal shit. Or, at the very least, Whoa Vicky.