Friday, July 27, 2007

Romania's anti-Beyoncé

Angus Batey
Friday July 27, 2007


"Who is Miss Platnum?" ponders 26-year-old Romanian-born German resident Ruth Renner, the creator of the eastern European R&B parody that has moved beyond a joke. "Well, she's a mixture between this rough Romanian lady that can be loud and that drinks a lot, that likes to eat, and is very, er, emancipated. But there's also parts of her that are very sad and dramatic. I would say she's a very emotional character, who lives everything very intensely."

If there's a sense here that Renner isn't really sure about where to draw the lines that circumscribe the anti-Beyoncé she's created, that perhaps shouldn't come as a surprise. Miss Platnum, Renner's lurid, larger-than-life R&B singing alter-ego, is something of a work in progress, and is defined almost as much by what she is not as by what she is.

"She is a part of me," Renner says, "but sometimes, it helps to exaggerate: to think of a story not just as your own story, to take parts of it but then make something up, and make a whole new thing. I think the exaggeration and the ironic thing - the humour - is very important. I'm missing that in R&B and soul music right now, so that's also why I wanted to do something almost against all the Ciaras and Beyoncés. Mariah Carey used to be such a great singer, but now she's just all plastic. Poor little lady."

Comparisons to another ironic character from the former Communist bloc are wide of the mark, Renner reckons. "People were calling me Miss Borat," she chuckles. "I think part of what he did was funny, but what I do is really different, because I don't try to offend anyone."

The contrast between Miss Platnum - gauche in feather boas, cheap bling and championing materialistic excess, singing about her love of massive portions of food and how her life will be made complete by a Mercedes-Benz - and her softly spoken, studious creator is considerable. But Renner, who moved from Romania to Berlin as a child, is as steely and focused about her music as she is in her mickey-taking.

That is the key to why Miss Platnum may soon be attracting more than the novelty attention her single, Give Me the Food might at first suggest. The remixers of the single include the ultra-credible Ghanaian-British rapper Sway and house outfit Bugz in the Attic, and Renner doesn't just hit her satirical targets, she nails her musical ones as well. Her debut album, Chefa, lures you in with the jokes and the irony, but keeps your attention with its blend of crisp, fluent R&B production and a knowing, deceptively organic absorption of Balkan musical figures. It's funny and clever, but it doesn't forget to be good.

"I love R&B, I don't wanna make fun of it," says Renner. "I just laugh about how people are: I'm pointing the finger at anyone who's imitating that kind of airbrushed perfection. I just want to make better R&B music, for myself, and find a corner where I fit in. And I've realised I don't fit in this Beyoncé/Ciara type of thing: I don't look like them, and never will do, so I just try to do my own thing. Most young ladies, when they start thinking about doing R&B or soul or hip-hop, they all look at these types and then they try to imitate them. And realising that you cannot really get there is maybe a good thing. For me it was."

· Give Me the Food is out now; the album, Chefa, follows in September

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