Fefe Dobson – an outsider in brand territory



It is a phenomenon. The minute a promising newcomer makes it big, the people who put out the word in the first place about that special in-location, label, or song; the ones who applauded the hardest move on quickly. The cognoscenti do not enjoy suddenly rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi, and their interest in their protégé soon fades. With a slight moue of disdain, the trend spotters turn away and start looking for the next hidden talent that, for one reason or another, has not yet been discovered by the masses. Because, make no mistake, mainstream is for the others.

Canadian singer Fefe Dobson really does bring all the necessary ingredients for an excellent mainstream brand with her. She is talented, wild, ambitious, and blessed with a great deal of charisma. She shows up for our rendezvous wearing enormous shades that almost obscure her charming face and a faux leopard coat. With glittering gold nail polish on some fingers and huge, sparkling somethings on others, she definitely exudes star appeal, and not just from the outside. For the shooting, Fefe shakes her tousled hair, jumps up and down, and poses like a pro. She follows every cue despite having suffered a dairy allergy outbreak because the soup she had for lunch unfortunately contained some milk. Fefe is managed by Chris Smith, the man who handles the careers of celebrities like Nelly Furtado. Despite this nearness to established names, Fefe Dobson considers herself more of an outsider than a brand.

I’d say Kurt Cobain was a brand. A brand for the misunderstood – and flannel shirts.

Music as an escape

Felicia Lynn Dobson grew up with her mother and sister in a very musical household in Ontario. Her mother was forever playing music ranging from Bob Marley, Prince, and Lisa Lisa to Michael Jackson. Born to a Jamaican father and a Canadian mother, Dobson’s exotic appearance meant that she did not always have it easy. At school she was bullied, and later, when she started making music, not a few found it odd that a dark-skinned girl would want to play the same music as Avril Lavigne or Michelle Branch. But right from the start, Fefe has known exactly what kind of music she wants to make.

When you believe in something, and it’s the only thing that makes you feel whole, it’s just what you have to do.

A free spirit

From early on, music was Fefe’s way out of the difficulties of everyday life. As a child she used music to escape from arguments at home, and all through her teen years – during that period when you would prefer to be able to walk away from yourself most of the time – she would settle herself between the loudspeakers and surrender to the soothing, insulating effect of the music. It also gave her the strength to cope with being pushed around, with prejudices, and later helped her develop a professional detachment to what others think. Not just a few people, she says, advised her and her manager to make different music because “a black girl and rock ’n’ roll just don’t go together.” But that did not bother Fefe overly much, even when the rock ’n’ roll faction started kicking up a fuss because she also plays pop. Stereotypical expectations? Her response can be heard in her latest release called “Joy” which features a bit of both genres.

We’re just born the way we are. There shouldn’t be chains on us because of the skin color we have or the things we do and like.

Insouciant as Fefe is, her choice of role models does not come as a big surprise. Be it fashion designer Betsey Johnson with her signature cartwheel at the end of the runway, Joan Jett as pioneering female punk rocker, or Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, Fefe especially admires strong women and mavericks just like she herself. Unfazed by outside opinions, she creates an eclectic mix of rock and pop, Canada and Jamaica, and eschews neither eccentricism nor mainstream, all the while keeping her sight set on the ultimate target.

I want to get this album and my music out into the world, spread it to the masses and grow.

She pauses for a moment, tugs at her eyebrow piercing and starts laughing her infectious laugh that straightens her normally curved upper lip revealing a glimpse of her small, pointy eyeteeth. Fefe Dobson is an utterly authentic personality with a refreshingly honest approach who manages to stand out amongst all the trend-savvy who – in collectively rejecting mainstream tastes – unwittingly react according to the same dictates of mass phenomenon that apply to the despised mainstream.

Öllerer – Handmade Musical Mastery

MuseumsQuartier Wien


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