Monday, June 11, 2007

Bad company

It's highly satisfying to see the Gossip meet a certain amount of success—at least in the UK, where "Standing in the Way of Control" was a bit of a club hit and frontwoman Beth Ditto was voted Coolest Person of the Year, or somesuch nonsense, by the NME. Only five years ago, around the time I interviewed them, Ditto reacted to the writers of that weekly mag calling Missy Elliott fat by stripping down to a thong during a show; of course she'd do that kind of stuff anyway, and I recall a show at the Knitting Factory where she mooned the audience.

The first time I saw the Gossip, they were opening for Sleater-Kinney at Irving Plaza. An important detail here is that the two bands were releasing or had released records on Kill Rock Stars. For many years, the Gossip's labelmates included the likes of Stereo Total, Erase Errata, Bikini Kill, Elliott Smith, Free Kitten, Comet Gain. KRS proved you could have radical politics and aesthetics, and succeed.

The Gossip left that glorious heritage to sign with Sony's new gay and lesbian imprint, Music with a Twist. This strikes me as a completely stupid step backward for two reasons. Artistically speaking, the trio shares space with a gaggle of mediocre acts that make me want to poke my eyes out on the label's introductory comp, Revolutions. According to the press release, "Revolutions gives adventurous music fans a chance to join the vanguard of some of the most exciting and expansive directions in pop culture today." To paraphrase Mary McCarthy, every word in this sentence is a lie, including "and" and "the." But of course if jejune beats and self-esteem-building banality are your idea of exciting and expansive directions, go right ahead.

The growing success of out acts as diverse as the Gossip, Darren Hayes and Tegan and Sara, and even the Tony nomination of Kiki and Herb, shows that more and more you don't need identity niches to succeed. Even Morrissey is crawling out of the closet, and that doesn't stop him from playing Madison Square Garden—but you wouldn't see him touch Music with a Twist with a ten-foot pole. The very creation of the imprint strikes me as an absurd step back for artists and listeners alike, fostering a sense of self-congratulatory fake audacity.

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