Recently, I rewatched Gwen Stefani’s “What You Waiting For?” during a workday lull.
I remember when this song came out, which was her debut single as a solo artist, I was surprisingly into it. I’ve never been a huge fan of Stefani’s work. I liked that she took pride in her athletic body, though has kept her physique slim since she played Jean Harlow in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. Her music is fine and at times feminist-friendly (though she of course denies being one, even when she’s on the cover of BUST Magazine). She tends to whine about boys, though.
But hummina does she take a page from distant relative Madonna and graft racial signifiers on her somewhat de-ethnicized Italian American body. In her career, she has appropriated from South Asian and Latina cultures, and also juxtaposed her bleached blondeness against African American masculinity. I also believe that she’s directly responsible for the glamourous pan-ethnic white tomboy Black-Eyed Peas’ hook girl Fergie perpetuates. Miley Cyrus recently appropriated the chola during a performance on the Much Music Awards. With Love. Angel. Music. Baby., she brought the Harajuku Girls into her supposedly post-racial bricolage. I didn’t realize the Orientalism going on until I sang the single at a karaoke bar and discovered the seemingly celebratory line about these young Japanese women possessing amazing style. I didn’t see a problem with it until she assembled a quartet of wordless minions.
That said, I do find the music video interesting. I like how the clip seems to poke fun at the music industry’s willingness to shower its talent with millions of dollars in order to maximize their product’s market potential by showing Stefani go to a retreat to fight writer’s block that’s funded by unseen manager Jimmy (Iovine). I like how it also situates this culture in a specifically West Coast milieu, as Los Angeles has long profiteered off spiritualism from chi chi new age feelgooderies (for more on the subject of how this may dovetail into the emergence of priv-lit, I highly recommend reading Joshunda Sanders and Diana Barnes-Brown’s Bitch article on the subject).
But I wonder what it means that Stefani casts herself as the heroine of Alice In Wonderland in her unconscious in the Francis Lawrence-directed clip. Is the music industry a hallucinatory simply a place that preys upon and infantilizes female artists? I also wonder how the music video relates to Tim Burton’s recent attempt to adapt the story. Assuredly, the clip does more interesting and potentially progressive things with the source material than the misogynistic music video for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” But I wonder if there’s more going on through the looking glass.
So, after recovering from the pleasurebomb that was SXSW 2k10, I’m finally able to recap the rest of the week. Tonight, I’ll post my thoughts on Thursday and Friday. Tomorrow, I will summarize Saturday’s festivities and highlight a few of the events I attended on Sunday.
With that, Thursday.
Left work around 4. I had a staff meeting earlier that morning and very much did not want to galivant around in biz-caj attire. I went home to change and of course, by 4:30, traffic was at a stand-still. Parking was harder to come by, so I ended up leaving my car on east 12th in front of my friends’ house. Got to Club Deville around 5.
Liars – If you’ve seen them before, you’d imagine how this went down. Loud, intense, sweaty, and their new album, Sisterworld, sounds good. Not as awesome as when I saw them at the Pitchfork Festival back in 2006 when they were supporting Drum’s Not Dead, but that was one of the best, most exhausting performances I’ve ever seen. Plus, there was some cigarette and pot smoke billowing around the tent outside the venue, but not enough to compare with what was floating around on that muggy Chicago summer day nearly four years ago.
After that, my partner and I ate some Hoboken Pie on the curb out front and plotted out our itinerary. We went to the Ghost Room to catch General Elektrik at 8 p.m., running into our friend Jacqueline along the way. When we got there some pseudo-house band called Scorpio Rising came on. Ugh. The obvious wah-wah bass was surpassed by the outfit’s hippie feel-goodisms. We promptly went to the porch and I read Tracy Morgan’s interview with BUST, his first magazine cover. The upcoming issue also has a feature on sissy bounce, which is a queer hip hop movement based out of New Orleans. Check it out when it hits newsstands.
General Elektriks – White boy French funk outfit. Good energy. Reminded me a little bit of Mellow and Beck circa Midnite Vultures, an era I wouldn’t mind if he returned to at some point.
Mountain Man – Heard about this almost exclusively a capella Vermont-based trio thanks to my friend Will. These women sang in three part harmony only occassionally accompanied by an acoustic guitar, which members Molly Erin Sarle and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig shared at various points during their set at Buffalo Billiards. They’re still new and a bit green, as evidenced when member Amelia Meath intimated that they had never sung with microphones before. Sometimes they weren’t completely together as a group. But when they were, which they were for much of the time, they emphasized the power unaccompanied vocal ensembles have in creating symphonies of sound. I also liked the Sapphic subtext to many of their songs, one of which was about living on a female commune, and the support they gave one another. A lot of hand-holding and hugging on that stage. They’re on my radar.
Explode Into Colors – Their show at Wave was on my must-see list, especially since I missed them at the festival last year. This Portland trio were really great. As I already wrote about them, I’ll say two more things: 1) More bands should have multiple drummers and 2) if you can’t get down with a bassless ESG scoring a post-apocalyptic Western, I can’t help you like things.
After this, we kind of hit a low point. We went to Aces Lounge to check out Jean Grae and Talib Kweli, who were amazing. Unfortunately, 88-Keys and Strong Arm Steady opened for them and they were derivative and making the bill run behind schedule. 88-Keys has worked with Kanye and I could see becoming a bit of a draw, particularly on the college tour circuits like 40 Acres Fest. Unfortunately, he’s also the type of rapper to dedicate songs about his sexual prowess to the laydees and say “no homo” when introducing songs about men (specifically one-minute men, which he assured us he wasn’t). Strong Arm Steady were a West Coast crew who worked with Madlib but were not themselves particularly remarkable and actually pretty messy in terms of delivery. The only highlight of their set was when Fashawn spat a couple verses on some song whose title I didn’t catch. I was getting super-annoyed, but then . . .
Jean Grae – Ya’ll, she’s the king as far as I’m concerned. Smart, challenging, confrontational, ingenuous, and the possessor of a killer flow, she’s one of the best in the game. And I don’t mean “good for a girl.” I mean on equal footing with or better than Mr. Lif, El-P, Brother Ali, Busdriver, Mos Def, Dead Prez, Jay-Z in his prime. She’s my favorite, and a grown-ass woman to boot. And I hadn’t actually seen her in concert since she did the Okay Player tour with The Roots back in 2004. So when she sashayed down a spiral staircase to Nancy Sinatra’s version of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” in a flared cocktail dress and cardigan (somewhat atypical for her to me, as I’ve usually seen her in jeans and t-shirts), I got amped. And when she demanded that the audience “act right” and participate by dancing and singing along, I obviously complied. She’s Jean fucking Grae.
Talib Kweli – Obviously amazing and great, as well as the reason for the showcase, as he is the owner of Blacksmith Records. He and Jean also had a lot of rapport, cracking each other up as they performed together.
After that, I snuck a peak at Phantogram at Red 7 and saw The Very Best begin to play Beauty Bar‘s backyard, where our friend Barrett was working security and had met JD Samson of MEN a few hours earlier. Then home, because Friday was going to be hella busy.
I took Friday off from work so I could help out at the GRCA day show at the relocating Cafe Mundi. Totally worth it. OMG, are there ever so many women and girls ruling it out there. After set-up, Kristen at Act Your Age and I got to watch Charlie Bell and Darling New Neighbors perform. After that, we interviewed several acts who were on the bill, including some long-time heroines of mine. I’m happy to report that Exene Cervenka, Jessica Hopper, and Viv Albertine are very nice in person. Hopefully all of the footage (much of which was shot by Kristen as well as Zoe from Schmillion and I’m the Fox) will be up on the Web in the immediate future. We got a lot of interesting opinions from these ladies.
Jessica Hopper – Did a reading from her book, The Girl’s Guide to Rocking, which she also signed for people.
Exene Cervenka – Still great, still political, still rockin’ a spare set-up with acoustic guitar and back-up singer. I also appreciated that she mentioned during her set how important it is to have spaces like GRC for girls’ self-empowerment.
Akina Adderly & the Vintage Playboys – Straight-ahead funk with great vocals, fronted by GRCA vocal coach Adderly.
Chatmonchy – All-female Japanese rock band that aren’t as well-known in the states but are royalty overseas.
BO-PEEP – In my opinion, the best show of the day. Loud, theatrical, high-energy all-female punk band from Japan. They were also very nice when I interviewed them, particularly since I couldn’t speak any Japanese and they weren’t proficient with English. However, I did discover that they love The Smashing Pumpkins and that they design and make all of their costumes. If they’re playing near you, go see them.
White Mystery – A close second to BO-PEEP for best set. A brother-sister guitar-drum duo from Chicago, currently on up-and-comer indie label HoZac. Please don’t dismiss them as the next iteration of The White Stripes and please don’t reduce them to their big red manes. These kids ruled it classic rock style. Also, the Whites are super-nice people. In our interview, we discovered that their mother makes a lot of their wearable goods (including underwear), singer-guitarist Alex runs merchandise workshops for Chicago’s chapter of GRC, drummer Francis was born on Keith Moon’s birthday, and so much about gear and the importance of bands running their merch booths.
Girl in a Coma – Really excited to see this San Antonio-based power trio, who I’ve somehow missed for the past year despite the fact that members are themselves involved with GRCA. Their songs were great and they really got the crowd rockin’ with their timely cover of The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb.”
Viv Albertine – A cheeky, stylish lady with a dry sense of humor and a romanceless attitude toward love. Really enjoyed her new material and got to chat with her a little bit about acts she’s into, like Talk Normal and Grass Widow. Also has the coolest business card I’ve ever seen, though hopefully I convinced her to make them scratch and sniff.
Rosie Flores – Legendary punkabilly. Didn’t get to interview her, but enjoyed her set.
And with that, Kristen made her way home and my partner and I met up with our friend George at TerrorBird and some really nice deejays from Berkeley’s KALX. Frank was closed for a private party, so we decided to head over to El Chilito to catch our second wind.
Zs – Something tells me these guys are familiar with Big Black, Glenn Branca, and The Flying Luttenbachers. Profoundly loud, crushing, guitar-based free jazz. I can dig it. They were playing at Beauty Bar’s backyard at one of Panache’s many showcases. I hung out there for a few other bands.
The Carrots – Hadn’t seen this local indie pop outfit since SXSW 2006 and they’ve only gotten tighter. Cute, fun, and coordinated — this is the band you want playing your prom. Also, a nice sonic contrast to frontwoman Veronica Ortuño’s other band, Finally Punk.
Julianna Barwick – Man, I really like her music. Some people might find a girl singing into a loop station boring, but fuck them. Barwick’s approach to song formation is to improvise parts and feed them through her loop station until she’s built an entire choir out of her own voice. I was riveted.
Met back up with my partner, who tried to catch She & Him and John Doe to no avail. Caught the last few songs of Uffie’s set at Mohawk, which were whatever. Some people are excited about her, and I’m not sure why. Sure, she’s young and French and there’s the connection with Justice. But she endorses this “I’m young and bratty and materialistic” ethos that I wish certain feminists weren’t so quick to champion (see also the Married to the Mob clothing line, though I do want MTTM’s Lady Kier t-shirt). I think we’re better than that. And I think this shit is boring, and I bet it gets hella played at American Apparel.
Fashawn – I think this Fresno kid has star quality. Put him on your mix tapes, boys and girls.
The Entrance Band – I’m not so into psychedelic hard rock, but they’re fucking great. Caught them at Red 7, the third time I’ve seen them in as many SXSWs. Nothing really to say other than bassist Paz Lenchantin rules the planet. Melissa Auf Der Maur, who was two people to my left during their set, seems to think so too.
After that, there were a few shut-outs. I couldn’t get back in to the Mohawk to see Grass Widow, perhaps because all the people with badges were watching Mayer Hawthorne and the County. We couldn’t find the Independent to see Anti-Pop Consortium. The xx show at Central Presbyterian Church was badges only. So we ended things with Dengue Fever at Encore. Fun retro pop outfit from Los Angeles and Cambodia.
Phew! That’s enough for now. I’ll wrap up my thoughts tomorrow. Thanks for reading.
I read two books from the 33 1/3 book series last weekend, in an on-going effort to think about its approach to canon formation. Since reading the two titles in question, I’ve been sitting on my hands thinking about how to write a post about them. They were two interesting, disparate pieces written by Gillian Gaar and Daphne Brooks on albums that somehow seem linked. Gaar documents the recording process of a band’s follow-up to an album that resulted in their meteoric rise. Brooks weaves her personal history as an African American woman growing up as a member of Generation X, who was a graduate student when another artist’s only proper full-length was released.
Too bad dudes made ’em, right? Dudes who died young and didn’t release any more albums. Dudes who were dreamy, sensitive alternative pin-ups. They probably showed up on some teenage bedroom walls. I never harbored a crush on Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain, but I get the appeal. However, in the 7th grade I taped a picture of Jeff Buckley in my notebook. The crush continues.
The heartthrob factor has been what has kept me from writing a post. I consider this blog to be a space where issues of gender, among a multitude of oft-intersecting identity categories, are critical to how we understand music culture. As a feminist, I wanted that space to focus on female contributions. I made this decision not because I’m a misandrist but because, so often, our work is denounced or ignored. Plus, I find the efforts some feminist publications take toward acknowledging the good guys is really a way to affirm that “feminism” isn’t a euphemism for “She-Woman Man-Haters Club.” This perception is misinformed and antiquated, and I feel like we enervate feminism when magazines like Bust run a cisgender “Men We Love” issue. Do we really need to give guys the focus in our own feminist projects just to prove that we aren’t all man-haters, lesbians, or man-hating lesbians? Can’t we have anything to ourselves?
That said, I wondered if by thinking about how women view these particular male artists and considering how these men complicated issues of gender and sexuality in their own work, I could write a thoughtful entry.
I’ll address Gaar’s book first. Though her entry came out a year after Brooks’s, she’s discussing an album that predates Grace‘s arrival in the market by several months, and a band who effectively dissolved a few months after its release. We know why Nirvana disbanded, though opinion differs as to how Cobain died at 27 (most abide by his death being a suicide; there’s a faction of people, Kim Gordon among them, who believe he was murdered). Refreshingly, Gaar takes all of this as a given and decides not to dwell on the band’s superstardom or the lead singer’s untimely end. She also doesn’t comb In Utero for clues as to the lead singer’s mental state, acknowledging that a number of fans and critics have already done the forensic work to determine for themselves whether or not Nirvana’s last album is its lead singer’s suicide note.
Instead, Gaar primarily focuses on the recording and mixing of the album, and a bit of the aftermath. I really appreciate this approach. She walks the reader through the players, the jargon, and the studio process with a journalist’s eye for detail and uncluttered prose. She also weaves first-person accounts from bassist Krist Novoselic, drummer Dave Grohl, recording engineer Steve Albini, and others. In doing so, she stresses Albini’s reticence toward working with a band of such commercial stature, his dismissal of the credit “producer,” Cobain’s deliberate pace as a lyric writer, how quickly the band worked in the studio, the struggle the band faced in attempting to distance themselves from the radio-ready slickness of the Butch Vig-produced Nevermind, song selection, album art, video production, and how much of the album ended up being remixed so as to be more commercially palatable.
BTW, Albini also recorded PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me and Electrelane’s Axes. The latter will get further consideration in a future “Records That Made Me a Feminist” entry. Albini will probably record your band for a nominal fee. I looked into it when I thought I was going to Northwestern. All you need is a way to Chicago, a little bit of money, and a thick skin.
But Gaar doesn’t just talk about gear. One of In Utero‘s major themes is gestation, and Cobain’s preoccupation with pregnancy, abortion, umbilical cords, and the abject pleasures and terrors of motherhood and womanhood is of critical importance to both Gaar and myself. This was the man who wished he could be a seahorse because its the only species where male members can carry its progeny to term, even as he mocked the co-dependent relationship he had with his wife.
A young father to Frances Bean, Cobain often dressed in women’s clothing, was a supporter of riot grrrl, counted Gordon and Kathleen Hanna as close friends, believed in his wife Courtney Love’s artistic capabilities, felt empathy for troubled women like Frances Farmer, and was responsible for DGC reissuing The Raincoats’ first two albums. He also identified as bisexual at a time when grunge proved to be just another guise for rock’s machismo. If only he had lived to see his daughter grow up. I think they could have learned a lot from each other. But at least he never saw Fred Durst’s chest tattoo. In tribute, my ass. I’ll leave you to Google. I can’t in good conscience put up so grody an image. Instead, let’s look at the cover photo Cobain and Love took for Sassy.
I’ll admit that save for In Utero, Unplugged In New York, and portions of Incesticide, I was never a Nirvana devotee. Nirvana’s sound was just a bit too of its time for me: sludgy guitar, shredded vocals, marked dynamics. It also sounded too traditionally masculine to me, though songs like “Very Ape” and music videos like “In Bloom” call this reading into question.
I enjoyed Nirvana more when they alienated people with noise. Give me “Scentless Apprentice” or “tourette’s” any day. The band also worked for me when they went acoustic, as on “Something In the Way,” “All Apologies,” and the Unplugged performance of “Pennyroyal Tea.” That said, I know what the band meant and continues to mean for people. I hope Cobain’s belief in gender and sexual fluidity is an essential component to some folks’ fandom.
As Cobain left behind a wife and child, Buckley probably understood his father’s legacy from a vantage point akin to Frances Bean’s. Raised by a single mother after his singer-songwriter father Tim ran out and later died of an overdose, Buckley stressed throughout his brief career that he had no real connection to the man whose familial and musical lineage he inherited. I get what he meant, but always questioned the argument. While Tim had more of a conventionally masculine vocal register, both dudes had an affinity for atonal blends of jazz, folk, and rock music and shared a spectral falsetto. And high cheekbones.
You might gather that I have a deeper investment for one artist over the other. Cobain died before I turned 11, so I was just slightly behind the curve with Nirvana. But somehow I was right with Buckley. It helped that I had cable at the time. MTV started playing the music video for “Last Goodbye” as Houston’s alternative station put the single in rotation. The hours I spent thinking about sucking his bottom lip red and raw must have been considerable.
But imagine my surprise when I spent my allowance on Grace and discovered that instead of eight other versions of “Last Goodbye,” the album was far more complex. I devoted hours to understanding the elliptical song structures, the ornate production quality, and the vocalist’s operatic singing style. I was particularly struck by how similar our vocal ranges were.
After a little research, I noticed that Buckley covered many female artists. People can and should continue to talk about his readings of Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. But Nina Simone’s “Lilac Wine” and Janet Baker’s interpretation of Benjamin Britten’s “Corpus Christi Carol” are my favorite covers on Grace. In addition, Mahalia Jackson’s “A Satisfied Mind” and Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” were in his repertoire. I also found out about Édith Piaf after reading somewhere that he covered “Je n’en connais pas la fin,” whereupon I asked my mother who this French lady was. He had a deep admiration for women like Björk and Elizabeth Fraser from The Cocteau Twins. The latter recorded a duet with him called “All Flowers In Time Bend Towards the Sun” and wrote “Rilkean Heart” for him and their relationship.
Buckley also valued the work of women like Simone de Beauvoir, Germaine Greer, and Penny Arcade. He carried these feelings into his relationships with his mother Mary Guibert and partners like musicians Rebecca Moore and Joan Wasser. And while a lot of white boys, mysterious or otherwise, appropriate the work of other artists, I never felt like I was listening to someone trying something on, whether it be another person’s race, gender, or both. With Buckley, it always sounded like his voice was guiding him into a process, however brief, of personal transformation because of his musical heroes, many of whom were heroines. It never felt like thievery so much as tribute.
Many have singled Buckley out as a diva. He wanted to be considered as a chanteuse. Shana Goldin-Perschbacher scribed an argument for his transgendered vocal quality in her essay for the anthology Oh Boy!: Masculinities and Popular Music. And while he has since been lauded by rocker dudes like Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach, many people were put off by the musician’s histrionics and how they offended traditional notions of rock’s paradigmatic heterosexual masculinity. I’ve even heard an acquaintance unfavorably compare him to Mariah Carey. But upon reflection, I’m faced with a startling realization: I might celebrate Buckley’s alignment with the feminine for reasons similar to why I’ve dismissed Patti Smith’s kinship with the masculine.
Thus with Buckley, there’s a lot of contradictions. This is something that Brooks confronts in understanding her fandom and what it might suggest of her status as a black woman in the academy, growing up during the 70s and 80s and completing her graduate studies during the first half of the 1990s — a time marked by hybridization, multiculturalism, political correctness, and third-wave feminism’s embrace of conflicting gender, sexual, and racial politics. Brooks constantly dialogues her own interest with Buckley around an exhaustively researched narrative of the artist’s trajectory, spending most of her time unpacking the one album he completed before drowning at the age of 30 in the Wolf River while working on his follow-up in Memphis.
Of course, we’d do well not to overpraise musicians like Cobain and Buckley, who were imperfect and mortal despite their musical legacies. Cobain constantly had to battle stomach ailments, heroin addiction, and record executives. Buckley may have sung many women’s songs, but the argument could be made that he did it to fuck women through their own music. Of course, doing so risks presumption that women are passive and dominated in the act of fucking, which I take issue with. But unlike Patti Smith, Buckley made sure his pronouns suggested he was the man in a heterosexual relationship. Buckley may sound a bit like fellow Simone fan (and Wasser colleague) Antony Hegarty, but Hegarty kept the pronouns pure when covering “Be My Husband.” Also, Buckley’s heterosexual masculinity allowed him to hover betwixt gender’s poles in song. Hegarty lives there.
But both Cobain and Buckley also suffered loss, confusion, and mental duress. Sometimes, they put those feelings, and many others, into their music. That they identified with women is important, though in greater need of complication. It doesn’t always make them men we love, but it does make their contention with gender and sexuality worthy of feminist inquiry.
I’m assembling my thoughts on Anna Sui’s Gossip Girl-inspired clothing line for Target. Since I might bitch about synergy, normalizing skinny, gendered body types for young consumers, and the great malling of America at some point in that post, I thought I’d post a wonderful alternative to these at-this-point rote grievances by highlighting Gossip’s “Dimestore Diamond,” a new song off their soon-to-be-released Songs For Men. You can listen to it here (oh, and should you choose to click on the NPR link, maybe say hi to Lightning Bolt, Dead Man’s Bones, Thao Nguyen and the Get Down Stay Down, La Loup, and BlakRoc).
In this very sexy, rocking song that does a great job bridging the band’s bluesy origins with its more recent new wave leanings, a woman (who may or may not be engaged in the world’s oldest profession) is praised for her ability to maximize the fashionable potential out of thrift store togs, cut her own hair, and make her own clothes. Who says you have to rely on high-end fashion or commercial retailers to put together a fly outfit? Here here!
Also, given that “everybody knows” the things this diamond does to please, I can’t help but wonder if she lives in a small town. Perhaps I’m projecting Searcy, Arkansas — the band’s hometown origins — onto the song, but it’s hard for me not to read the song’s narrative as being informed by issues of class and place. This brings a few things to mind for me.
1. In a Bust interview, lead singer Beth Ditto talks about growing up a working class, closeted Southern girl and how, if she hadn’t left her hometown, she may have stayed in the closet, gotten pregnant, gotten married, and lived a lie.
2. As a tangent, Ditto’s interview also makes me think about Kurt from Glee, FOX’s new dramedy that is starting to get really good. In last night’s episode, Kurt finds himself as a place kicker for his school’s football team, as well as coming out to his butch, widowed father — all because of the power of Beyoncé (and man, talk about a text that plays with lip syncing, dis/embodiment, trying on identities, and drag — put your hands up, Winona Ryder). These are two brave acts from a young man who (at least for now) finds himself stuck in Lima, Ohio.
3. And finally, taking points 1 and 2 together, I wanna give a hug to all the closeted kids I knew in high school who didn’t feel safe with who they really were then (and maybe some still don’t). I hope wherever you are, you’re shining like the real thing.
So, Beth Ditto is a style icon. No two ways about it. If you know this, then you probably also know that Beth Ditto just launched a clothing line for Evans in the UK. You may have already read SparkleBliss’s rad, insightful post about it on her blog (which, if you haven’t, you should — go here). And, if you follow SparkleBliss on Twitter, you may already know that she just bought herself a cute outfit from the collection.
Now, women in music dabbling in fashion is nothing new. Indeed, women in popular culture writ large dabbling in fashion is almost de rigueur — another way to circulate your brand, add more hyphenates after your name, and give your fan base more tactile, tangible access to “you”. Everyone seems to be have at least attempted at designing a clothing line (Gwen Stefani, Victoria Beckham, Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Lopez, Eve, Kate Moss, Rachel Bilson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Chloë Sevigny, an assortment of women on The Hills . . .) or work as a spokesmodel (M.I.A. for Marc Jacobs most immediately comes to mind).
But you’ll notice that a lot of the women I mentioned are presumably straight and all of them slender. Thus, the majority of female celebrity clothing lines align with normative identities of what women and girls should be. This indeed makes Ditto’s entrance into the world of fashion and retail (which she intimated in Bust as “dancing with the devil”) “a queer, fat cultural moment” as Charlotte Cooper at Obesity Timebomb purports it to be (and that SparkleBliss reprinted and linked in her post — seriously, go read it). It’s too bad that Margaret Cho’s High Class Cho line didn’t take off (complete with non-numerical sizes named for bombshells like Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe) — if so, we could add “woman of color” to the list of signifiers.
Also, looking at Ditto’s body and orientation is important when contextualizing her within pop music’s landscape. Slender pop stars like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga are also interested in fashion and with putting together their own clothing lines, but while Perry and Gaga flirt with queerness, Ditto is out. And while Perry’s look most clearly aligns with vintage, pin-up Hollywood glamor (albeit to a heightened, campy degree) and Gaga’s look is definitely severe couture (perhaps even a bit fascistic in ways reminiscent of Siouxsie Sioux, but let’s give this issue its own entry), Ditto’s collection is at once hip, wearable, distinctively Ditto, and specifically for plus-sized women and girls, perhaps more closely aligning Ditto with her fan base than Perry or Gaga could.
But we’d be doing a disservice to sing the praises of Ditto’s collection without (as SparkleBliss and Obesity Timebomb point out) a) acknowledging the inherent adherence to capitalism and b) being conscious of the (often cheap, exploitative) modes of production and labor responsible for putting this collection out into the market along with potential class issues and limitations among various consumer groups. Even the ways in which the unnatural, weird, non-human look of the mannequins wearing her clothes suggest we have a ways to go as a culture before a large female body becomes a natural body.
Alongside this, we can’t extol the virtues of Ditto’s collection without acknowledging that Ditto launched her line in the UK, where she is actually popular, instead of in the United States, where she’s slightly less than obscure.
I still feel like there’s something really important in having a space in the market for full-figured women and girls to have a cool clothing made explicitly for them, just like I thought it was rad for there to be Tracy Turnblad dolls to coincide with the release of the remake of Hairspray. Of course, I can’t exalt these instances without acknowledging the ickiness of capital, using niche groups supposedly under the guise of serving them while in actuality creating greater gains for the corporations and retail chains that create and disseminate the brand, and clogging our homes with stuff . . .
Yet, I do think these cultural moments are not to be overlooked, even if these moments are dependent on consumerism. It’s important for women and girls to have access to clothes that include them in the world of fashion that look good and make them feel good. Likewise, it is important that queer women and girls (perhaps more pointedly femme women and girls) have a spokeswoman creating an inclusive space for them in popular culture. Because there’s a lot of joy to be had in finding an item that was made for you.