Diplo calls her “some kind of Cure/Portishead/dubstep/Lil Wayne hybrid you couldn’t make up in a magazine marketing meeting”. Santi is still in a hipster bubble for now. She’s Mark Ronson’s dog sitter, lives in Brooklyn’s newly cool neighbourhood, Bed-Stuy, helped Lily Allen with earring shopping while writing Littlest Things, and has pop-tastic designer Jeremy Scott – who calls Santi “a rare bird of paradise” – dressing her for Letterman. But she is also at ease with the music biz’s commercialism: “Someone said to me that your record is your business card – how you get your music heard. If you’re not open to that, what’s the point?”
Santi, then, is happy that Creator is on an advert (“It’s funny!”) and open about writing Out Of My Head for Ashlee Simpson (with production by Timbaland, the Gwen Stefani-ish track should send Jessica’s little sis into orbit). She’s even willing to make friends with those uber pop makers, if it can help get her sound out there. “It’s great that Pharrell and Kanye are into my stuff. These are people outside my world but they inform the mainstream. People listen to them.
“She’s going into studio with Pharrell and Julian Casablancas this coming weekend, to record a track for Converse. “I know, how weird is that?” she laughs. Maybe it won’t be so weird soon. Santi White is ready to be launched into the mainstream and even she believes the hype. “I know my sound is a lot to swallow but that’s what pioneering is. I’m not afraid,” she says, with a glint of steel in her eyes. “I get cussed on my MySpace page all the time, but at least they’ve logged on in the first place. That’s the beginning.”
It was also the last time we had real, alternative (and often female) pop stars who sold loads of records but took risks too. Debbie Harry’s Blondie took new wave to the Bronx and into hip-hop, Madonna brought club culture into the mainstream and Prince pioneered an electro-soul sound while wearing a trench coat and suspenders. Seems like a long way from the big production pop and retro eyeliner of 2008’s stars. “We are in the age of uber pop music, but these mega-producers are like factories. Pharrell is really talented, but him and Timbaland do too much. Everyone ends up with the same songs, whether you’re Madonna or some new artist,” says Santi, with a glimmer of defiance. “I’m about alternative pop music. The industry has to get used to a black girl who doesn’t sing R&B.” You can hear what that sounds like on her debut album, also called Santogold. Single Creator is the most MIA-style track, with Switch production and screeching vocals. But that’s where the comparison ends (“People need a reference point when something’s new,” she sniffs). The album Santogold is out May 12.