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Category Archives: when i was a riot grrl

The two dominant sounds of mainstream pop in 1999 were undoubtedly the melodic perkiness of teenpop (Britney, Aguilera, Backstreet Boys, and NSync) and the shouting misogyny of mook-rock (Limp Bizkit), while the underground saw the beginnings of the short-lived robo-synth hipster fagginess of electroclash (Le Tigre, Fischerspooner, Peaches). The ungodly spawn of this threesome is now making headway onto American pop radio a decade later in the form of the horribly named bands 3OH!3 and Cobra Starship. 3OH3+30H3

Pictured above is 3OH!3, named for the area code of their native Boulder, CO. Don’t they look like they come from Boulder, CO? And they make music that sounds like it too. (Doesn’t blondie look like beardo Jesse McCartney?)

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And this is Cobra Starship, named for no reason that I can see except that they contributed a song to the Snakes on a Plane soundtrack.

3OH!3’s “Don’t Trust Me” and Cobra Starship’s “Good Girls Go Bad” have both incredulously peaked at #7 on the Hot 100, which is apropos considering they both feature synth-fueled rave-ups supporting standard issue emo boy whine-vocals which undercut the bravado both songs/bands aim to project (main goal: treating girls like shit) while also shoe-horning cheerleader chant middle eighths that are completely unnecessary.

“Don’t Trust Me” is interesting in that in seems to aim for Lady GaGa-esque metajokeness and falls as flat as GaGa in the clever sweepstakes while also lacking her natural songwriting talent, but there’s something nearly breathtaking about the song’s (and the band’s) commitment to being Completely Wrong but sounding as if they’re Having Fun doing it. Sample lyric: “Don’t trust a ho/Never trust a ho/Won’t trust a ho/’Cause the ho won’t trust me.” Charming. And why would she?

“Good Girls Go Bad” is, in contrast, a joylessly shouty piece of braggadocio featuring actress Leighton Meester, who fulfills this song’s apparent need for a female voice to repeat the protagonist’s point of view, reinforcing his awesomeness (and her complete lack of agency, so who better than a Gossip Girl star?). Look, bravado is fun and great when people like Beyonce or Courtney Love or Tupac or even Toby fucking Keith do it, but this lead singer kid named Gabe Saporta? He has negative sexual charisma, so his boasts need a little bit more color to be convincing. And he doesn’t even provide that. Sample lyric: “I make them good girls go bad.” Oh? How? “You heard that I was trouble but you couldn’t resist?” Why is that?! “I make them good girls go bad.” Classic example of tell-not-show writing.

Both songs don’t hold a candle, however, to the repugnance of 3OH!3’s current song “Starstrukk,” which flopped so bad on release that they decided to do a remix with Katy Perry (as if this wasn’t hate-worthy enough). It sounds ugly, for one, and also has the jaw-dropping lines “I think I should know how to make love to something innocent without leaving my fingerprints out now/L-O-V-E’s just another word I never learned to pronounce.” This has none of the supposed Fun of their previous hit, and instead shows that any attempt at humor or self-awareness in “Don’t Trust Me” veiled exactly how much these two were actual sociopaths.

When I first heard these songs I thought, “Popped-collar music.” But these two bands’ self-presentation indicates how far scenesterism’s American Apparel
stunted-growth appeal has drifted into mainstream culture, now becoming Cool and Edgy. Because hipster men have always been misogynists (what do you think Exile In Guyville was reacting to?), and now the mooks are wearing the same clothes and highlighting the gross anti-woman subtleties of scene culture. And making it seem “fun.” 3OH!3 is much worse though; if Cobra Starship is just some frat dude hounding you at a bar thinking he’s all that (and calling you a bitch if you turn him down), 3OH!3 is that dude using his peculiar charm to bring you back to the house to get gang-raped. In your ears especially.

The past, oh, month or so has been a complete musical regression to 1991-1995 for me. A few days of Bikini Kill followed by a few days of Hole. I blame this on PJ Harvey. I was really excited about the release of her collaboration with John Parish, but A Woman A Man Walked By was wildly disappointing, and highlighted for me a lot of the criticisms that are thrown at Harvey–criticisms, by the way, I’d never really agreed with until this record. But if there was such a thing as a paint-by-numbers PJ Harvey song, they existed in appalling frequency on this record.

Part of the disappointment of A Woman A Man Walked By is due to my appreciation of Harvey and Parish’s previous collaboration, Dance Hall at Louse Point, a record I previously described as being “a less-cacophonous (though still really noisy!) Sonic Youth record except with someone who can actually carry a tune.” And then this happened, talk about kismet! Every reaction I’ve ever had about Sonic Youth can be summed up by “Bull in the Heather,” by far my favorite SY song insofar as it sounds exactly what I want out of the band (or any rock band, for that matter) while also summing up exactly what I don’t want out of that band (or any rock band).

I love the sound of Sonic Youth, and what makes me love “Bull in the Heather” is the first thirty seconds–those absolutely filthy opening notes followed by the driving riff. It is one of my favorite thirty seconds of music in the entire 1990s, and I’m sure it has a lot to do with the age I was when this song came out, but it sonically captures post-puberty adolescence: all hormonal angst and burgeoning eroticism that is mysterious and terrifying but blatantly full of desire. It’s a shame that no one in this band can sing. And any kind of aural boner I get from the music in “Bull in the Heather” is immediately shrunken by that off-key ice queen singing about thrusting. Like following the perfect ass through the crowd only to have the person turn around looking horrendous. (And that video! Thurston feeding a banana to a horse? YUCK. Though it suggests that Kim Gordon has equine features, which is correct. And teenage hero Kathleen Hanna jumping around all annoying-like! Just throw a bucket of cold water onto my groin next time, thanks)

It’s a shame about Sonic Youth’s vocals, because there aren’t too many records that sound like them in the first place, capturing that waddayacallit–art rock New York post-punk deconstruction? In a way that sounds erotic and dirty and frightening and alluring, but with someone who can carry a tune or otherwise turn their voice into a fascinating sonic component. Which is why Dance Hall at Louse Point means what it does to me, with it’s slinkily loud guitar riffs supporting Harvey’s delicious melodramatics, as well as Hole’s Pretty on the Inside. I said I was listening to a lot of Hole, right? It’s no coincidence that Kim Gordon co-produced POTI, and Courtney Love and Eric Erlandson almost perfectly capture the guitar textures and driving riffs of Sonic Youth while under the influence of grindcore before shrinking in the face of Courtney Love’s inimitable scream. I wish there was more music like this.

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A while ago I got suckered into that Fuckbook 25 Things No One Cares About You nonsense because I am a solipsistic douchebag. One of the things I wrote was this:

I don’t think men should carry tote bags or “manbags” (c’mon fellas, those are just big purses). I came to this notion while in Square Books in Oxford, MS, wondering if I should buy a tote bag (after consulting with Howorth, I ended up buying a shirt). Men should carry bags where the strap hangs at a diagonal, or backpacks, or else just use their damn pockets.

I stand by this sentiment, as awfully gender essentialist/heteronormative it may be, and give you this image as proof that I am right and you are wrong, male totebaggers:

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(via)

I had a great Thanksgiving at Stan’s place with many friends and lots of games and delicious food and booze and Ratatouille and football and it was the most fun I’ve had in a really long time. We played the video game Rock Band, which I am terrible at in every capacity except singing although you don’t really need to sing to be good at that part thank God because I’ve become a progressively worse singer since the age of, oh, let’s say twelve. The thing about Rock Band is the song selection. The first go-round there were some good cuts but it was so teenage boyhood; do people really want to play a Stone Temple Pilots song?

The new group of songs or whatever you call it (upgrade? v2.0? I dunno) excited me only because it included Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl.” YES OMG. And I found out that they also have Sleater-Kinney’s “You’re No Rock’n’Roll Fun.” Now those are some songs I’m happy to sing. And part of the reason I wanted to sing “Rebel Girl” was to re-enact their fabulously empty shouty rhetoric during the parts of the song where the game asks you to just make noise or whatever on the microphone. As an old gender studies minor, this gave me a great opportunity to spout sloganeering bullshit about patriarchy and women’s bodies and rape and lesbianism and on and on and on, though I really should’ve referenced Judith Butler or something. Not to toot my own horn, but I thought my Tobi Vail impersonation (inspired by seeing a YouTube of her ranting incoherently at a BK show about abortion, which unfortunately I can’t find anymore) was pretty spot-on.

Last week Stan told me about Rock Band introducing some country songs and how the messageboards or whatever were all aflame with angry people saying that country had no place on Rock Band (I don’t have a link or anything but it was probably referenced on one of those techgeek blogs where people have to wear tinfoil hats and type 175 wpm). Referencing whatever he read, Stan sent me this: “There was even a poll on the site asking, “Should country music be on Rock Band?” A few great songs (Johnny Cash!) would fit; We needn’t go hog-wild.”

Oh yeah, because there were all those great intricate drum parts and thrashing solos and wild vocal stylings in all those Johnny Cash songs. Mainly what bothers me about their reaction is the rockism inherent in it, as if only Rock Songs can be included in a game where people um excuse me SIMULATE playing music, and only rock = music. It’s the same thing as when people say they like all kinds of music except rap and country, which is a vaguely racist and classist statement. Also, why wouldn’t you want to have different kinds of music on your virtual band game? There’s already rap on Rock Band (the Beastie Boys, but oh they’re white okay). Do you need another Radiohead song to moon along to? I would love a Country Band game, and George and I have already thought about a Girl Group game, where you incorporate hand gestures w/ a Wii controller as well as stomping dance routines on a Dance Dance Revolution pad a la this amazing performance.

The timing of this is funny, because on Thanksgiving I said something like, “They should have some Loretta Lynn on this shit.” And now there’s going to be Miranda Lambert! And Brad Paisley! (I seriously hope it’s “Ticks”) We were speculating on which Lambert song it would be, and while I would love it to be “Famous in a Small Town” (seeing as it is just already a classic country song) but it is probably going to be “Gunpowder and Lead” because that song is just RAWWWWWKKKKK, and I’m okay with that.

Seriously, I just wish I could sing country songs for the rest of my life. I need a job that will let me do that.