Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Tale of Two Divas.

To put this post in its proper context, I think it will help to relay an anecdote from my recent past: A few weeks ago, bogged down by weather & month & school & brain, I moped over to a friend's room, in search of Southern comfort. After a good few minutes of rant & rehash, he & I decided that the best cure for my woes would most certainly be a viewing of our favorite show, RuPaul's Drag Race—a reality competition that combines the hands-on construction of Project Runway with the self-presentation of America's Next Top Model, all seasoned with the delectably acidic sass that only a gaggle of drag queens could muster. In short, it's brilliant, & its third season is now well underway, so we clicked over to Logo Online—where, upon beholding the title of the latest episode, we began laughing, in earnest & profound joy, for a solid five minutes: it was called "Queens in Space."

One more time: Queens in Space.

Really now. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a description that encompasses everything I hold dear more apt than "Queens in Space." It's Bowie to Bolan & back againsilvery 80s sparseness with gaudy beehive dos—a decade-spanning, pulpish amalgamation of all that is good & true. (In fact, it has since entered our canon of personalized & snappy slang terms: a mantra to remind us that, when life gets you down, it's ok: there will always be Queens in Space.)

The point of this introductory digression is, of course, partially to inform you of the beauty that is my new catchphrase, but more so to highlight the rather ridiculous extent to which I love queer-bent pop culture. I know: it's the oldest (& most gratingly annoying) line in the book: a girl claiming to "actually just be a gay man, LOL"—but I can assure you that, from top to toe, when it comes to (majoritarian) taste in pop ephemera, I pretty well fit the bill. I swoon for anything Camp—brashness, glitter, big hair—that gloriously whisper-thin line between self-parody & sheer, unadulterated fabulousness—&, most importantly, divas.

I love a good diva.


Early last year, this love was both electrified—&, honestly, tested—when I attended the sheer explosion of capital-E-Excess that was the latest Kylie Minogue tour. Flanked by a sincere & fanatical squadron of greying V-neck chest hair—&, clung elbow-close, the friend who had convinced me to accompany him in the first place—I did my very best to bop & jive sincerely, fighting to keep my eyeballs from overflowing with Glitter & Feathers & 60-Foot Projections of Muscle-Hunks Showering—my ears from cracking under such a persistent & glorious Disco Beat-Down.

In short, the show was nothing short of Spectacle, catered cannily to its predominant audience—&, while it was certainly a night to remember, it did disorient me somewhat: I began to doubt, in earnest, my penchant for the Truly Fabulous. What kind of a diva-lover could I be, when I couldn't even make it through a night of Kylie without a desperate desire to sit down, cool off, & chug Nirvana until my pores seeped plaid testosterone? I mean, it's true: my railings against Gaga certainly certainly don't fit my contemporaries' typical pop paradigm—nor does my intense & equal (or, often, exceeding) love of Grungy Guitar Boys.

Of course, all hope is far from lost: living, as we do, in a postmodern world of ever-blending lines, there are plenty of outlets for my cross-genre adoration. Semi Precious Weapons, for example, are tops at combining a gender-bending aesthetic with driving garage rock:

Equally on-the-nose are Hunx & His Punx, whose (utterly excellent, previously posted) single calls out this very demographic, referencing Joey Ramone & John Waters in turn:

It was in this vein that I found myself thinking several Saturdays ago, when I was treated to another live Diva sighting: again in the company of an enthusiastic friend, I trucked along to a concert of longstanding Swedish pop icon Robyn, whose three-part album Body Talk has garnered recent worldwide success. The audience was, as predicted, predominantly flamboyant gentlemen—glitter-bedecked & skinny-jeaned, with the occasional be-bloused female compatriot, & her occasional sulky baseball hat boyfriend.

Though I had sincerely braced myself for another Eleganza Overload—dieting down to only one viewing of Guy Pearce's "I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine" per day for weeks beforehand, just in case—it was ultimately all for naught. The curtain opened on a sparse stage, just band & mic stand, & even the singer herself was refreshingly unadorned: patterned leggings, hiking boots, & a cropped blonde mop-top—stylish but functional, comfortable, performance-ready. As the concert surged on, my friend & I couldn't but squeal back & forth, "She's just so cute!"—& it's true: with her smaller stature, squeaky accent, & unabashed enthusiasm, she almost can't not come off as adorable. But more than that, Robyn's performance just feels earnest—gimmickless but never artless, uncomplicated without being braindead, only after what it's after: fun, feel-good pop.

In this fan interview, for example, she just seems so lovely & sincere, without any of the intentional stupefying or egoistic pretense that's come to dominate her peers. Just to drop a cherry on my already overflowing praise sundae, she actually opines: "For me, pop music & integrity never contradicted each other," citing acts like Kate Bush & the Talking Heads, then reasserting, ever-sage, "I don't think of what I do as art. I make pop music." (Ah! Yes! Swoon! I'm about ready to kiss her on the mouth.)

I walked away from that concert buzzing with reinvigoration & revelation: Robyn is the diva for us pseudo-glitterati, an act toned down in glitz & budget, perhaps, but never lacking in pizazz. There are no back-up dancers—there is no disco ball: what there is, is a supremely dedicated performer, quite literally running up multiple flights of stairs to reach her faraway audience, singing ceaselessly through a stumble over her platform Timberlands. Her lyrics may not be brain-knottingly eloquent, but they're more than sufficient—even admirable, when you consider that she's writing in her second language & still manages to outmaneuver most American Top 40 Pop. (I'm looking at you, Ms. Perry...)

In short & in sweet, Robyn has clearly made music that, quite simply, she would like to dance to—so dance she does, constantly, with sharp akimbo arms & tectoniqueish fluid jaunts. &, transported, I couldn't help but follow.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

Dancing On My Own—Robyn.

Heart-wrenching, limb-shaking—a perfectly poignant but never sentimentalized (&, indeed, crazy-catchy) personification of Unrequited Love.

This choice was a difficult one, of course, so I'll feature some runner-ups: un-un-danceable "Fembot"; bopping & jiving "Cry When You Get Older"; brain-invading, minor-keyed "Time Machine"; &, most (second) favorite of all, "None of Dem": Platonic disaffected acerbia, with a driving backbeat to boot.

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