Monday, October 23, 2006

Americans are Foolish

No, I am not talking about Americans' refusal to endorse and fund universal heath care. Nor am I talking about Americans' complete apathy when it comes to voting. I am talking about something really, really important. Why don’t Americans clue into just how great the Scissor Sisters are as a musical act?

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 an ennabler codependent a drinking buddy, things worked out just fine. Who needs to listen to the opening band when red wine is around?

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 BeyoncĂ©.

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.


Anonymous said...

I think I like them a lot. I think I'm not a fan of guys in marabou, but then again, I'm a little wary of women in marabou too.
I think I'm going to go see if they're on ITunes. Thanks!
(Yes, it's true, I glossed over the entire point of your post, and just latched on to the catchy tunes.)

Anonymous said...

You can't be serious. Scissor Sisters have sold out nearly every (if not every) show in the U.S. adding extra dates in multiple cities. So, their album sales aren't good. That's because, well, their albums aren't good (gasp!). The only way to truly enjoy them, would be to see their stage show, during which time, Jake can't recreate his falsetto, and the band can't really pull it together a cohesive sound, so everyone resorts to showmanship--not that there's anything wrong with that.
They are a one-trick pony steeped in nostalgia and the question becomes, why don't Americans like music?
(Although "Take Your Mama Out" does play well at a lesbian wedding.)

Dorian said...

Well, I like them, and I thought they performed very well when I saw them live.

I've also noted that there seems to have been an evolution in the band with their second album. It's much more accomplished and polished, and displays a more wide-ranging sound and field of influence than the heavy electronica of their debut.

I tend to think that they haven't had better success in America out of a combination of not having an easy, marketable niche that they can be placed in, and the fact that they're so unapologetically gay.

Anonymous said...

Outstanding concert review, GayProf! I was going with the Bowie/Queen - but not quite - theme when trying to describe Scissor Sisters, too. Glad you guys had a great time.

vuboq said...

I had never heard a Scissor Sisters song until I was in London - the one about not wanting to dance. Quite catchy. I briefly considered buying the album, but decided to wait until I got home.

Now that I'm home [and broke]I think I'll need to wait until my next payday.


Anonymous said...

That's Jim McGreevey, not Dave. And to make up for that pedantic correction, can I tell you that I actually know Jake Sheers' current boyfriend/lover/spouse/husband Chris? He used to tend bar in DC before he went off to art school in London (he's a sculptor) and made us all jealous (although Del Marquis is more my type).

Anonymous said...

Umm... "sequence suits"?

Anonymous said...

My goodness, this post really brought out the nitpickers, huh? :P

Let's not get all worked up (in a bad way) over a band with a total of 2 albums under it's belt. It's all potential - meaning, they seem capable of all sorts of things. Let's wait and see how they progress and change over time.

I like them for what they are - I happen to like both their albums (for different reasons) - and yes, Jake did recreate his falsetto on stage. But sure, if they become stagnant, then people will stop paying attention. I personally think they are capable of doing much better than that.

I don't even see where the criticizing the costumes enters into it. There outfits are different than every other nutty rock band in history how?

Earl Cootie said...

Who are these kids again?

Hoho. I joke. I haven't jumped on the Scissor Sisters wagon just yet. They're okay, but that "Take your Mama Out" song just makes me want to listen to vintage Elton. I'm sure we'll be seeing some copycat (or is that redundant?) acts soon enough, and then the queer creativity will really flow, some band will win the hearts and minds of American youth, and shortly thereafter, alas, the genre will be dead.

Don't mind me. Just speculatin'.

ChristopherM said...

If feather boas, high-waisted pants, and sequined suits aren't the entire point of life, I'm not sure I know what is. But why don't Americans like them? Because programmers are uncomfortable with queeny men who aren't eunachs. Jake manages to be a big sissylala while also being quite sexual. American programmers think the American public prefers their queens de-balled.

GayProf said...

Pacalaga: Under other circumstances, I would be with you when it comes to marabou. What if they wear it with irony, though?

It's probably better to just pass over the entry and listen to the music.

Jeremy: I didn't know you had seen Scissor Sisters. Did we talk about that while you were here?

It’s true that they sell out in the U.S., but they are also playing tiny venues. Orpheum in Boston holds 3,000 people, I think (it also was not sold out). Compare that to the mega-arenas they play in the UK and there is a difference

Hey, if that one-trick is as great this, they can do it over and over in my book.

Dorian: Yes, I think their sexuality plays a big role in the U.S. market not embracing them. Of course, they are also open about partying, experimenting with drugs and sex, and hostile to the record industry. None of those really make them "safe" for the U.S. either.

Steve: Thanks!

VUBOQ: See, people? Confirmation that London knows what the U.S. can't see.

Micahel R.: Del Marquis is totally my favorite out of the band.

Not sure where I got David instead of James. I'll fix that.

Chris: As for the other typos in this post, there are two important things to remember about poor GayProf:

1) I can't spell worth a darn. If it weren't for computers, most people would think that I am functionally illiterate. Instead of learning to spell in grade school, I mastered the Bewitched nose twitch.

2) I am suffering a cold right now. This has left me a bit spacey.

Atari: I agree that Jake still had the falsetto on stage.

Also, I think it's true that waiting and seeing what happens from them will be good. Hey, though, even if they fizzle out and die after these two albums, there were still a lot of fun while it lasted. They still had a moment to play with gender and sexuality in the [limited] public eye. That's cool, no?

Earl: If you think "Take Your Mama" sounds like Elton John, you will largely mistake the entire second album for Honky Chateau. John's influence as producer is very, very evident.

GayProf said...

Christopher: Good point -- I think the fact that Shears is young, attractive, and has a nice body doesn't jive well with what the mainstream media wants out of its queer representations.

Anonymous said...

Given the state the United States music industry and culture are in, I'd take their low sales here as a positive point.

Anonymous said...

I seldom pay attention to lyrics, and hadn't heard much about them, so I honestly didn't know they were gay until they'd been around for awhile. I just like the music.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, GayProf, I'm not subtle enough to catch on to ironic marabou. :-)

Elizabeth McClung said...

The Brits, for all thier homophobic population seem to be able to produce and LOVE the queerest camp coming down the line - Scissor Sister's skips down the lane hand in hand with The Darkness which won the Top Chrismas Album (twice?), with Christmas Time, which exudes more camp and falsetto than Queen (either the band or the monarch, whichever!). A follow up music video had the lead male singer imitating Britney Spears with her unbelievable low jeans on a rock singing about she just a girl, not yet a woman - is it mockery or just fawning?

Glad you like the concert.

brett said...

they had to cancel their chicago show...

which made me a very, very sad boy.

glad you liked the show!

Alan Bennett Ilagan said...

I'm totally with you - the Scissor Sisters rock. The fact that most of America misses this just confirms that this country lacks taste in just about everything...

dykewife said...

being as i'm not up on new music, until recently i'd not heard of the scissor sisters. however, some of the people at the centre of many initials are mad on them right now. they have catchy music, but it's a bit more lively than i tend to listen to.

tornwordo said...

Is my card revoked since I have only heard of this band, but know none of their work?

GayProf said...

Chad: Yeah, there is some cool that comes with being "outsider" status in the U.S.

JPDC: Lyrics are the key -- the KEY -- to music, IMHO.

Elizabeth: Don't forget about all the Brit love given to Graham Norton as well.

Brett: You can blame Paddy Boom for your missed show -- the only hetero man in the band. Yeah, it figures. Sure, he had some serious back problem, but, whatever...

Alan: Thanks for stopping by -- Americans are tasteless, at least since Jackie O died. Sigh.

Joe: Well, New York is their home town. Heck, even Michael Dukakis can still fill the seats in Boston.

Dykewife: They have some quiet songs too.

Torn: It's not when you hear of them, but how you react when you do. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Why have you Americans not caught on with the Scissor Sisters yet whilst we Brits have?
It's because you're filthy and we're gorgeous.

Oso Raro said...

I like SS too, but I'm not sure the measurement of their popularity in the US market is sufficient to draw conclusions about the American aptitude, when there are so many other compelling reasons to declare "Americans" (whoever that is) foolish.

You could also argue that SS are just the latest trend down the pike, picked up by LGBT folks because we're so cutting edge, avant-garde, and ultimately shallow. A little glitter eyeshadow and our eyes light up like Cartier. Just a thought...

GayProf said...

Gunn: You win serious points for being clever in my book.

Oso: Such a grim view of our relationship with popular culture! I don't tend to think that people are shallow nor am I inclined to dismiss people's tastes as "silly." People make active choices.

Scissor Sisters might just be a piece of fun, but other things are always at play as well.

Guy Barry: Yes, Americans do have minds of their own. Their increasingly slavish devotion to evangelical Protestantism, however, suggests that they don't tend to like to exercise their minds much. Rather, they like to take the easy way out of most situations and maintain status quo.

Conor Karrel said...

Jake, Jake, Jake, that's all I'm hearing from you GayProf! What about BabyDaddy?

"Won't you just tell Baby Daddy I'm gonna need his love, why don't he give me hi' love.."

*sigh*... Baby Daddy!

Not only have I been listening to the the first album like a rabid hyena on crack I'm getting the Deluxe edition (with 5 more songs) of Ta'Dah! today! WOOOHOOO!!!

Anonymous said...

All I have to say is "poo cock."

nickwallacesmith said...

hey there, i think that's one of the points of 'hamlet' - talking but being unable to act.