Last night, Atari and I saw the Scissor Sisters perform at Boston’s Orpheum Theater. Atari, obviously, is a good amount of fun with whom to go and see such an event.
Having never been to the Orpheum myself, I liked it as a theater. I liked the fact that the Orpheum served liquor even more. Given that Atari is more than willing to be
Right – Back to the Scissor Sisters. True, the Orpheum’s dreadful sound system made them almost unintelligible. Our seats were, shall we say, a bit distant. All the same, the band exuded coolness. Come on, Americans, hundreds of thousands of Europeans can’t be wrong about this band. The Scissor Sisters self-titled album ranked as the highest selling CD in Britain for 2004. Right now, the new album's first single, “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’,” floats around number one in the UK charts.
Yeah, we aren’t going to mention that David Hasselhoff is number four on the UK charts right now. Discussing that hurts my cause. I mean, we expect that lunacy from Germans. Brits, though? Nah, man, that’s just not right.
Scissor Sisters, though, deserve more consideration. Let’s take a look at some of their genius lyrics from a few of their songs:
If lies were cats, you would be a litter.
I don't need another tube of that dime store lipstick
Well I think I'm gonna buy me a brand new shade of man
If Jesus had the power than so do I
To rise up from the dead and take up to the sky
I feel so much better
When I read your dirty letters
So, why do the Scissor Sisters rate so low in the U.S. charts? For the most part, the Scissor Sisters don’t make the play lists of the mega-radio chains. Instead, the airwaves reverberate with the unending rotation of Justin Timberlake and Beyoncé.
Critics and a few snotty queer folk have also disdained the Scissor Sisters. They call them a novelty act or just plain silly. They see no point to their feather boas, high-waisted pants, and sequin suits.
With the second album, though, I think it’s hasty to dismiss the Scissor Sisters flat out. The audience clearly adored the band during last night’s performance. Composed mostly of gay boys and seemingly straight women, the audience took every song as if an individual anthem. They enthusiastically played along with the band. This included one zealous fan close to us who enacted each song through a stunning form of dancing pantomime.
Behind all the glam rock and cheery songs about death, the Scissor Sisters offer an appealing message. They call on their audience to reject expected gender standards or heteronormative ways of viewing the world. The over-the-top costumes suggest that violating gender norms can be playful, fun, and even revolutionary. Jake Shears’ falsetto singing alone connotes a vocal form of drag.
Three of the four men in the band are openly gay. At a time when the most visible gay men are Mark Foley and James McGreevey, the Scissor Sisters offer a refreshing counter point. The band has three gay men who are, well, happy being gay and having gay sex. In fact, they even sing about it! Their bouncy tunes remind us that we can escape the shackles of mediocrity and enjoy moments of fabulousness even in the most mundane of settings.
Their songs often focus on specifically queer notions, like taking your mother to gay dance clubs or dressing in drag. They talk of being united as queer folk, demanding space, sexual freedom, and dumping losers who don’t treat us right.
Most of the band’s videos make little narrative sense. Instead, they are usually visual splurges with dazzling costume changes and Shears in various states of undress. Scissor Sisters both figuratively, and sometimes literally, call on their fans to break free, have fun, and not take any shit for doing so.
Sure, we have heard from other queer performers before the Scissor Sisters. Indeed, they pay homage to the David Bowie and Queen era of glam rock. What makes them different, though, is that their sexualities are not as obscured or veiled. Unlike Bowie or Queen, who often played with sexuality with tongue-in-cheek gestures, the Scissor Sisters put it all out there.
Nor are they like Elton John, their current producer. Despite his long-known queer sexuality, John still insists on releasing songs with opposite-sex pronouns. John’s recent music speaks more about social complacency or commercialism than a liberating message for queer folk. His songs for the past twenty years have never called on queers to enjoy being queer in the same way as Scissor Sisters. Heck, even “All the Girls Love Alice,” one of John’s early ditties about a dead lesbian, seems more queer positive than anything he has released lately.
Scissor Sisters speaks to all of our desires to try on different personas and rebel. The satin cocktail dresses and half-naked Shears just make such rebellion look fun and even sexy. Who doesn’t want to toss on the platform boots and sparkly jacket to break out of our humdrum lives? Heck, if we can also make such dressing up about fighting sexual repression, all the better.