The other night, I watched Missy Elliott’s Behind the Music. It’s a pretty good episode. I forgot how many talented ladies Elliott worked with, including Tweet, Nelly Furtado, and Alyson Stoner. Joan Morgan champions “One Minute Man” for articulating that women can seek out sex for it’s own sake. Mary J. Blige backs Elliott’s genius regardless of her size. Elliott’s mother Patricia talks about coming forward as a domestic abuse survivor at her daughter’s behest. And Elliott speaks candidly about working through traumas related to incest and childhood molestation, living with Grave’s disease, struggling to break into the music industry as part of the girl group Fayze, and getting edited out of the video to Raven-Symoné’s “That’s What Little Girls Are Made Of” because she was fat, even though she co-wrote the song. Damn. At least Heart videos had Ann Wilson’s face, even though the camera lusted after Nancy’s guitar-slung torso.
I knew we were going to talk about protégée Aaliyah’s death, which brought back so many memories. The plane crash. The news reports. Fatima Robinson crying. The posthumous release of the video for “Rock the Boat.” Jackets with the singer’s face airbrushed on the back. DMX in the “Miss You” video. Her older brother Rashad weeping during her episode of Behind the Music. Missy and Tim’s hearts breaking. All these feelings came up again when I watched the Elliott episode, as I’m sure they do for the rapper-producer every day. They flooded back this morning when I read Leslie Pitterson’s Clutch Magazine piece, which commemorates the 10-year anniversary of her death excerpts Damon Dash’s Billboard interview about his relationship with the singer and the grief he worked through.
In a weird way, the loss of Aaliyah also came back last week when I watched an episode of Buffy that featured Ashanti as a demon. She seemed to be channeling Aaliyah in Queen of the Damned, or maybe that’s who writer Jane Espenson and the wardrobe department were trying to conjure. I knew something wicked was afoot, because there’s no way Ashanti would date a schlub like Xander. This also made me think of what a weird time the early 2000s were when Ashanti broke Billboard records but left no impression on me besides coming off as impolite to a chauffeur in an episode of Punk’d because she expressly forbid him from talking to her. Ah, Punk’d. How it played into (and often betrayed) celebrity image construction. Justin Timberlake is a stoned mama’s boy. Magic Johnson is quite level-headed when dealing with his son’s scorned lover. Katie Holmes gets pushed around. Of course, the show also presented a lot of scenarios where black celebrities had to deal with law enforcement. Call out Ashton’s racial insensitivity, Dave Chappelle!
Anyway, Ashanti wearing belly chains and wielding swords just made me miss Aaliyah. This might have worked better if it was Rihanna. I’m willing to see her an action movie, even if it’s stupid to build a film franchise on a board game. Maybe the “Hard” video was her audition for a Tank Girl reboot. Maybe Michelle Rodriguez will be in it. . . . But I digress.
I love Aaliyah’s music, as do many friends. In high school, girlfriends made up dances for her songs. Ginny created an interpretive dance for the first verse to “Are You That Somebody?” Brooke came up with a routine for “Try Again” that she performed at prom. I was introduced to Aaliyah in junior high when I saw the video for “Back & Forth” on the Box (a channel in need of more academic scholarship and a Grantland oral history). Who was this cool girl with the silky voice and why was she wearing sunglasses? It’s staggering how many amazing singles she had in her too-short career: “One In a Million,” “If Your Girl Only Knew,” “We Need a Resolution,” an amazing cover of the Isley Brothers’ “At Your Best (You Are Love),” and my all-time favorites “More Than a Woman” and “4-Page Letter.”
For me, Aaliyah represented the future. In this and other ways, she reminds me of Selena. Both women were veteran entertainers who were just about to break into the mainstream when their lives were cut tragically short, at 22 and 23 respectively. They continue to influence artists and develop fan bases across generations and borders. They also seemed to have a lot of self-respect. Both women were sexy, but refused to be degraded or turned into objects. They seemed in control of their sexuality. They knew girls were watching them, and they also knew to save some of themselves from the public eye. Like Janet Jackson before them and Beyoncé after, they made self-possession sexy. Hell, Aaliyah was secretly married to R. Kelly as a teenager and that didn’t stick to her (or him, really). She kept quiet about it. It undoubtedly changed her, but she wasn’t a victim and it wasn’t your business what transpired between them. It didn’t define her. It was never going to. The cover to Age Ain’t Nothin’ But A Number says it all. Notice which figure is blurry and out of frame and who doesn’t have to take off her shades to look directly at the camera and hold your attention. All that, and she never had to raise her voice. You were one a million, Aaliyah. You still are.
I made a girlfriend a mix CD for Galentine’s Day. This was the reasonable thing to do when said friend made you an awesome batch of vegan Linzer cookies and a homemade card with Burberry hearts. I don’t want to disclose too many of the songs, because I made the mix especially for her. However, here are a few tracks I’m willing to share with ya’ll.
For all the lahhh-vuhhhs.
For promising introductions.
For the soldiers of love.
For those who know the best love is the kind you give yourself.
Alyx, seriously? Today’s post is about an album cover that features the women of Ladytron in bathing suits? Pin-ups for folks who wear cardigans, make library puns, and like skinny girls? Great. I’ll go back to poring over my Tegan and Sarah albums. They look similarly gamine and like streaky make-up but aren’t scantily clad in repose on the grass being shot from above like an American Apparel ad. You keep fighting that fight.
I bring up the cover of Ladytron’s 2003 mix CD entitled Softcore Jukebox for these reasons:
1) The cover is eye-catching, though obviously in a problematic way. It objectifies vocalists Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo, respectively wearing a sky blue tank and shiny black skull string bikini that I hope came from their own closets (but probably didn’t — do people swim in Liverpool?). In addition, it doesn’t even show the rest of the band, which is also comprised of dudes Reuben Wu and Daniel Hunt.
2) The title seems leering and provocative, but is also jibberish. What the eff is a “softcore jukebox”? Is it different from a “hardcore jukebox” in that it works with a crotch patch and doesn’t do penetration? Or would a cadre of queercore jukeboxes have to create a scene for themselves in response to the homophobic, homoerotic hardcore jukebox scene?
3) The cover is a modest revision of Roxy Music’s Country Life cover, which features Amazonian models in see-through underwear boasting serious 70s ladygarden. Country Life was so controversial upon its release that a revised cover had to be printed with the women taken out of the image.
4) Apparently a German artist named Pia Dehne reconfigured Country Life to address the gendered aspects of camouflage and mimicry.
5) Softcore Jukebox came out during a wave of mix CDs that featured dance songs with electronic instrumentation alongside rockier fare. Critics like citing Kings of Convenience leader Erlend Øye‘s DJ-Kicks compilation, but he was hardly the first to do this, as compilations like the Back to Mine series suggest. Hell, he wasn’t even the first person to make a DJ-Kicks compilation. I’d also like to put in a plug for Annie’s DJ-Kicks compilation, which features ESG’s “My Love For You.” Hot Chip’s gets my approval as well, along with any mix that has songs from both New Order and Positive K.
6) A cover that references an iconic album cover seems relevant, especially because the women in the band are the cover subjects and said band created a mix CD of pre-existing dance songs. Seems camouflage and mimicry may apply here, along with reference. This might be characteristic of the band. After all, Ladytron didn’t just swipe the cover of Country Life for their mix CD. They took their name from a Roxy Music song.
Much of my interest in Ladytron is in Marnie and Aroyo. I like how they try to sound like robots (or ladytrons), mimicking their coldness and just-out-of-date technological make-up while singing songs about the inherent datedness and fickleness of fashion, beauty, and youth (see: “Seventeen,” “Blue Jeans,” and “Beauty No. 2”). This juxtaposes nicely with the band’s reliance on electronic instrumentation.
In their later work — particularly the brooding Witching Hour — more traditionally rock instrumentation like electric guitars spike up their sound on songs like “amTV,” suggesting that Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees were as much of an influence on the band as Kraftwerk. Also, I can’t help but point out that TV on the Radio’s “Wolf Like Me” features a fuzzed-out bass line very similar to Ladytron’s “International Dateline,” though my hunch is that both bands probably got it from Bauhaus.
This brings me to the mix CD itself, which smashes dance music and rock music against one another, suggesting the band’s influences and approaches. It also unearths a long-obscured truth: dance music has always co-mingled with rock and, later, hip hop. And I’m not talking about The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” as their interrelation has a much deeper, storied history. I always hate it when detractors say things like “not another synth pop track” or “I hate disco,” as if rock music and its studied authenticity doesn’t rely on rhythm sections and repetitive passages of catchy melodies too. As if rock is about the truth and dance music is just piffle. C’mon now.
As for the album’s content? Meh. Some songs work better than others, and some of it is fairly forgettable. Oddly enough, the most effective offerings for me are the rock songs that I didn’t know you could dance to. I’ll stand by The Fall, Wire, Shocking Blue, and Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra’s classic “Some Velvet Morning,” which is the compilation’s haunting closer. I already knew you could dance to !!!, Fannypack, and Cristina, so they get a pass. You can kind of jig to My Bloody Valentine’s “Soon,” the intro from which Garbage stole for “My Lover’s Box.” I liked that I also like Ladytron’s cover of Tweet’s “Oops (Oh My)” — an ode to masturbation, a premonition for me that Tweet and producer Missy Elliott might be more than friends, Missy’s first “ping!” on my gaydar, and a cherished memory as the “poem” one of my classmates read aloud with deadpan faux seriousness in a college English class. I like the original much more, but I appreciate the band’s effort to suggest that hip hop and R&B influence them. Let’s listen and compare, shall we?
Thus the cover, like song selection and reinterpretation, becomes a messy process for both band and listener that is guaranteed to leave grass stains.