Fifth Harmony+Meghan Trainor

American girl groups are hard to come by, but Fifth Harmony are holding it down. After winning the much coveted Artist to Watch VMA—they even beat Aussie boy band heartthrobs 5 Seconds of Summer, but we’ll let that one slide—they have proven themselves the badass feminist Spice Girls of 2014. Oh, and “Miss Movin’ On” might be the most underrated pop song of 2014. All that plus “All About That Bass” up-and-comer Meghan Trainor, and you’ve got yourself a night of young, powerful female performers. There really isn’t anything better.

Tue., Sept. 23, 7 p.m., 2014


Twin Cinema

The simple act of attending a Tegan and Sara show can generate a lot of guff from judgmental acquaintances; you’d think I was effusively praising the upcoming Spice Girls reunion or—Quelle horreur!—Ani DiFranco. Despite the pitch-perfect emo-pop of their latest, The Con, hating on the Quinn twins seems to be a surprisingly popular pastime. One friend said that he couldn’t hear their name without conjuring a hit from another duo with a very different relationship to lesbianism: T.A.T.U., the Russian popsters responsible for “All the Things She Said.” And you know what? He’s sort of right—listen to the chorus of The Con‘s title track. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Relocate Tegan and Sara to the Continent and they could kick some Eurovision ass.

The line was way down the block for the duo’s Monday-night set at Webster Hall, but everyone had to suffer opening act Northern State before getting to the sweetness. The trio noted that several tracks off their latest album, Can I Keep This Pen?, were produced by Ad-Rock, as if these bratty Beastie Girls needed to remind us who they were ripping off. Their sloppily choreographed hip-hop is simplistic fodder for fans of shitty radio pop who somehow require it encased in a chic Brooklynite veneer. As for me, I’ll take “Sk8er Boi” any day.

The sold-out crowd was clearly waiting for the main attraction and their charmingly asymmetrical haircuts; the diminutive sisters didn’t disappoint. “Dark Come Soon” opened the set, with Tegan evincing a bit of a throaty growl for a minute, part smoker’s growl, part Cobain. (She soon lost it, sadly, as she warmed up.) “So Jealous” came off as the quintessential Tegan and Sara track: Live, the verse recalls a fragile Sinead O’Connor doing “Nothing Compares 2 U” before ripping into the muscular stadium pop-rock the Quinn sisters pull off so well. “Are You Ten Years Ago,” with its quasi-robotic monotone, was a feminine riff on the bleak-but-cheerful synth-pop of the Faint. And the anecdotal banter between songs unfolded in charming—albeit a bit eerie—twinspeak: We learned that the bouncy single “Back in Your Head” was written by Sara in reaction to a school shooting in Montreal (she was happy Tegan was safe, watching Dog the Bounty Hunter in the Mile End). Also, it’s a tad creepy to watch identical twins harmonize on the line “I feel like I wouldn’t like me if I met me.”

The mind-melting moment of the evening, though, came during the band’s encore cover of Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” in which the sisters scraped down to the song’s darker heart with muted guitar arpeggios. Forget distinctions between high and low, mainstream radio and indie cred—pop music can be a beautiful creature, and there isn’t anything guilty about that particular pleasure.


Notes on Girl Power

September 23, 1997

From the moment do-me feminism was coined (by a male Esquire writer) in 1994, it was inevitable that a magazine like Jane would be born. Although the term was reviled by the women it supposedly defined—attractive, prosex feminists of the Naomi Wolf genus—it did expose a growing trend among young women: a backlash against the perceived puritanism of traditional feminism, and a move toward the politics of pleasure.

But do-me feminism also described an emerging niche in the marketplace: young, free, and single 18- to 34-year-old women. Targeting this demographic, Jane—the monthly that made its debut last week—is the grown-up sister of Sassy, Jane Pratt’s legendary teen magazine of the late ’80s. Sassy had a serious agenda: to break through the sickly sweet fodder of Seventeen and its ilk, and put teenage girls in touch with the pleasure principle. Says Debbie Stoller, coeditor of the zine Bust and one of many then-twentysomething women who guiltily enjoyed reading Sassy, “The other teen magazines were about ‘just say no’ to everything, whether it was french fries or dick. Sassy was all about yes—the older you get, there’s more and more things you can say yes to, and isn’t that cool.”

Jane arrives with little of this heady idealism. With more than $5 million of Fairchild money riding on it, Pratt’s not likely to make many daring moves. At an idle glance, it looks a lot like your standard women’s magazine: beauty and fashion advice, and endless ads featuring models so skinny it’s hard to see where their internal organs might fit. Yet, within the narrow confines of the genre—one pretty much defined by its ability to stoke female anxieties and insecurities—Jane makes some subtle inroads. It avoids old chestnuts like “How to lose 15 pounds in 10 days,” or “How to trap a man,” instead continuing Sassy’s emphasis on fun and independence with first-person accounts of a nudist retreat, kickboxing, and the hazardous life of a female pirate-radio DJ. The tone is feisty and the attitude is encapsulated in the subscription card: “Ever notice how most magazines are either for teenyboppers or baby boomers—filled with lame stuff about how to get a life? Hey, you’ve got a life! You’re in your prime.”

In her debut letter from the editor, Pratt, the perpetual teenager, admits that her first choice for a magazine name was Girlie. The appeal of that word is no fluke. Girl power has come to represent a whole new school of softcore feminism for thousands of (mostly) white, hip, middle-class young women. Girl reserves the right to think about clothes and makeup, but she still expects to be taken seriously. Girl isn’t afraid to be obnoxious or snarly for fear she’ll be seen as unfeminine. Girl wants a boyfriend but values her female friendships more. Girl knows she’s as good as a guy, but she’s proud to be girlie and to wield her girl power. Independent but not adult, pursuing a career but not exactly a “career woman,” fierce but feminine, girl is a mess of contradictions and conflicts, sure. But when you get right down to it, she expects a lot from the world. As the online girlzine Minx puts it: “Can we please be smart AND want to get laid? We propose: Yes. We demand satisfaction. Meaning: Don’t waste our time. Stay true to your word. Equal pay for equal work. And make us come.”

At 34, Pratt herself is pushing the upper limits of girldom, heading toward arrested development. Yet she cannily understands that girl power is more than just a passing trend; it represents a new life stage. “It used to be that you would go from your family’s home to your husband’s home and that family,” Pratt told the Voice. “Now there’s this whole time in your twenties that gets ignored. The things you’re interested in as a teenager don’t necessarily drop off when you hit your twenties. Women in their twenties are not all dying to settle down and get married.” In fact, in Jane’s premiere issue a survey of women 18 to 34 conducted by Yankelovich reveals that “82 per cent believe a woman does not need to marry and have kids to have a full and rewarding life.” Even more remarkably, “One in five say they don’t know when they will feel like a grown-up.”

Jane is a pioneer in the impending gold rush for the girl-power dollar. Waking from a great sleep, marketers, trendspotters, and product developers are discovering that the single-female 18-to-34 demographic is dripping with disposable income. (The average 25- to-35-year-old woman makes $25,000 a year, and spends about $1000 more than her male counterpart.) Several new young women’s magazines are now in production hoping to capture this market (one of which, Siren, hit the newsstands this summer with the tagline FOR WOMEN WHO GET IT).


In the wake of Daria, the Beavis and Butthead spin-off about a supercilious teengirl, MTV is developing more female-centered programs, including a video show hosted by a Tank Girllike animated character called Cyber Cindy, and a program created by the editorial team behind Bust. Lifetime, the cable channel for women, has been working on a block of programming for twentysomething women called The Place, which they hope to spin off into a separate channel someday. Videogame creators, once fixated on the testosterone target, are struggling to create girl-friendly products such as Sega’s new Enemy Zero game, which stars Jill Cunniff of the band Luscious Jackson. As for consumer goods, according to Nick Bennett of the brand-design agency nickandpaul, “It’ll take about a year, and you’ll start to see loads of products that reflect this new idea of femaleness. That’s what everyone’s salivating to tap into.”

Originally, of course, girl power was never meant to be consumer friendly; it was supposed to stick in the mainstream’s craw. When Riot Grrrls rehabilitated the word girl in the early ’90s, they were looking back to the wild, unsocialized tomboys of prepubescence for inspiration—chiming with sociologist Carol Gilligan’s idea that adolescence is a calamity for female confidence and self-esteem. Riot Grrrls had seen firsthand, through their mothers, that being a grown woman involves making awful choices and sacrifices. Whereas girls still had all options open to them—none of life’s roads were blocked off yet.

In place of sugar ‘n’ spice ‘n’ all things nice, the new grrrl was bratty, angry, and as nasty as she wanted to be (something Courtney Love made visual by wearing frilly, sexy little-girls’ dresses that she called her “kinder-whore” look), while brandishing protofeminist slogans like “Grrrl Power” and “Revolution Grrrl Style.” These attitudes circulated over the years through bands like Bikini Kill and fanzines with names like Girl Germs, Hungry Girl, Bust, and Bitch and their more recent webzine successors like Maxi, Wench, and gURL. All share a cynical, sarcastic tone—imagine Heathers meets Valerie Solanas with a smidgen of Parker Posey thrown in—that Bust’s Stoller calls “shebonics.”

Gradually, the shebonic voice and the nasty grrrl attitude hit the mainstream, first through Love, and then, in much diluted form, with the multiplatinum-selling Alanis Morissette. Faint echoes of girl-power edginess persist in such crass post-Alanis pop product as Meredith Brooks’s “Bitch,” and the Spice Girls’ anthem “Wannabe.” The Spice Girls’ official book, Girl Power!, is plastered with slogans like “Girl power is when…you believe in yourself and control your own life.” Pushing sisterhood (“You stick with your mates and they stick with you”) and equal rights (“I expect an equal relationship where he does as much washing up as I do”), the Spice Girls have done the seemingly impossible: they have made feminism, with all its implied threat, cuddly, sexy, safe, and most importantly, sellable. As Paul Bennett admits, “All our clients are like, Find us the next Spice Girls!”

With their boisterously physical, unladylike antics in videos and a kung fu kicking member whose nickname is Sporty Spice, the Spice Girls have tapped into what looks like the next stage of girl power: a weird mix of tomboyish athleticism and coquettish seduction. Call it “rad femme”: rad as in surfer and skate-punk slang for cool, femme for the traditionally feminine trappings like lipstick and barrettes.

Gwen Stefani of No Doubt could be the poster girl for rad femme. In concert, she cuts a striking if somewhat unnerving figure: her buff body stomps boisterously around the stage, sweat dripping from her quarterback shoulders and washboard abs as she lunges and leaps, while that squeaky, Betty Boop voice emerges from her heavily made-up, almost doll-like face, complete with lacquered ’40s bob. Stefani simultaneously revels in her femininity (“I’m a girlie girl type and I like to…get all made up and do all that stuff,” she told the online zine Foxy) while mocking, in the hit song “Just a Girl,” those who would rein her in or belittle her.

Marketers seem to be betting their money on the rad femme: Both Lady Footlocker and Mountain Dew have recently run commercials that showcase feisty but feminine girls. Lady Footlocker’s ad features a menacing grunge remake of Helen Reddy’s saccharine pseudofeminist anthem of the ’70s, “I Am Woman,” while Mountain Dew’s ad relies on a punked-up version of an old standard—the condescending Maurice Chevalier ditty “Thank Heaven for Little Girls”—sung by Ruby (a/k/a Lesley Rankine, formerly the aggressive front woman of Silverfish, for whom she coined the protoRiot Grrrl slogan “Hips, Tits, Lips, Power”). Crooning the patronizing lyric “Little eyes so helpless and appealing,” Rankine tilts her shaved head sardonically and sneers, “then they flash and send you crashing through the ceiling.” All this is intercut with shots of lanky, raucous girls, and footage of wildwomen—young ski champion Picabo Street, a skydiver, a rollerblader attached to helicopter—careening off dangerous precipices. As they take the plunge, they each let loose a savage girl-holler—the kind of roar you might hear in a Hole or Bikini Kill song, but stripped of anger and transformed into purely joyous exuberance.


It’s thrilling to see such female fierceness portrayed on TV, something unthinkable even a few years ago. Yet below the surface lies a very traditional kernel. The commercial ends with a bunch of dopey, awestruck skate dudes who gaze dizzily back at the gang of tough girls; one of the boys bleats, “I think I’m in love.” A crucial coda, these boys have been tacked on to reassure the target market of young women that you can be ferocious and girl-powered but also desired.

The rad femme’s composite of tomboy and hyperfemininity raises the question: Is this new Mountain Dew-approved version of girl power merely feel-good feminism, with all the struggle and critique removed; a defanged politics that’s about being active instead of activist? Probably. But it could be argued that, in this mediagenic age, being stylized and diluted is a fair price for being disseminated throughout the wider culture. Sure, these commercials leech on girl power, but in a weird way they also act as advertisements for softcore feminism as much as for a soft drink. You might even say that the Spice Girls, those sex kittens in rebel’s clothing, have given many prepubescent girls their first taste of feminism, however compromised. As Bust editor Marcelle Karp says, “Let [the Spice Girls] get up on MTV or in the movies and remarket feminism and call it girl power. Put that out there, let the girls soak it up and think about what girl power really means.”

Girl power may turn out to be fleeting, edged out by the culture’s perpetual hunger for ever more risky pursuits, but chances are that in the process, it will expand society’s ideas about what is acceptable and what’s possible for young women. So perhaps, in the end, it’s worth the price.

Additional research: Kelcey Nichols



Sleepover is basically Sixteen Candles for the new cell-phoned ‘tween set. A hot, practically mute high schooler risks his hard-earned cred to woo a suddenly desirable younger girl whose quest for cool drives the predictably picaresque plot—here, four sweet eighth-graders take on their posher peers in a law-breaking scavenger hunt whose winners get the best lunch seats freshman year. Departing from the John Hughes formula, Sleepover‘s post-Buffy heroine, Spy Kids‘s Alexa Vega, earns her popularity badges and male affections not with mopey teen disillusionment and new wave, but with gumption and skateboarding tricks (although the diabolically red dress and heels don’t hurt). Still, director Joe Nussbaum’s attempt to capture the ‘tween zeitgeist fails: The Spice Girls–infused soundtrack is dated, and the feel-good progressiveness forced (the token chubbette, likably played by Kallie Flynn Childress, gets a man). And despite repeated assertions that “we’re not talking about lunch spots here,” these self-possessed girls should have better things to do.


Guess What, America, We Love You

Having already chart-ruled 21 countries and gone pan-European No. 1, “Aserejé” will be compared relentlessly to the macarena as it’s angled for the Anglo market. But the real musical forebears of Las Ketchup, three daughters of Spanish flamenco star El Tomate, are the Spice Girls, who first brought ecstatic girl-group amateurishness to the category of Condiment Pop. And lyrically, the so-called “Ketchup Song” draws most heavily on the style of Objectivist poet Louis Zukovsky and wife Celia, who translated classical poet Catullus using whatever English words most resembled the Latin, while maintaining rhythm and syllables. “Aserejé” does the same with classical poets the Sugarhill Gang’s epochal “Rapper’s Delight.” Hijinx ensue.

Pleasure One: It’s funny and adorable to hear lovin’-every-minute Spanish women try to deal with Sugarhill’s chorus. They think they don’t get it because it’s a foreign language; how could they know it’s nonsense already? Garbage in, garbage out: Don’t waste your high school Spanish translating “Aserejé” back into English. It’s still nonsense: The meaningless title wants to be “I said a hip,” and it just gets cuter from there.

Pleasure Two: The chorus-length hook is grippy enough to climb a Billboard, but what the song shares with plenty internationalismo and old-skool hip-hop (and almost no other anglophone music) is how the vocals lead out the rhythm—cascading joyously over a neutral Spanglobeat you’ll never even notice, racing away from technique toward a good time like the crypto-dance-craze Las Ketchup demo in the video.

Pleasure Bonus: A whole cultural theory! The verse tells the story of some guy named Diego I don’t quite follow, but along the way it mentions rumba, ragatanga, rastafari afrogitano, mambo, and salsa. We got the beat, the song says. We got our own phonemes. You might have the language of Empire; we’re not gonna take it.


Nice Girls Finish Fast

The $64 million question? Why, in a post-Spice Girl world, are black girl groups still forming (and falling apart) as if the Spice Girls never happened? You have to admit that the successful game plan of five self-motivated British vixens who simply hired the right lawyer to help them sell their own (TLC-inspired!) pop group with a view toward maximum profitability (and a calculated expiration date) should have inspired legions of wannabes—girls looking for culturally specific ways to take control of their own ascendance and leave the roulette table ahead of the house. Why would young, talented black women still choose the slower, less flexible, less lucrative option of a production or “development” deal, when it might be possible to model one’s career on the 1964-to-1968 trajectory of the Beatles?

In America, most r&b hopefuls have gotten better at multimedia exploitation since the mid ’80s. They’ve been forced to read the writing on embattled music-industry walls. Now it’s virtually mandatory that TV and film deals, designer fashion shows, Broadway roles, clothing lines, and makeup sponsorships be pursued the minute any new act gains the slightest bit of national profile. Especially girl groups. Because most prefab contemporary girl groups seem born to get hot and die soon after entering their long-desired spotlight. Jade, the Cover Girls, Brownstone, Xscape, Total, the original En Vogue . . . where are they now? Unfortunately for music lovers, even without intragroup strife and ever shrinking sales, radio, and touring outlets (due to syndicate monopolies, digital bootlegging, and exorbitant ticket prices), rising recording stars are opting out of total loyalty to the music biz faster than you can say “Brandy.”

Which brings us to Isyss, four L.A.-bred teens slated to follow Destiny’s Child up the pop charts. Having entered the Arista fold after highly publicized contract restructurings won more lucrative terms for labelmates TLC and Toni Braxton, Isyss may be the first black American girl group to be launched with a hybridized approach: part strategic Spice Girl autonomy, and part benign production-deal paternalism.

Ardena Clark, LeTecia Harrison, Lamyia Good, and Quierra Davis-Martin helped devise the look and sound of Isyss together with writer-producer Billy Moss. A scrupulous Moss made sure the girls co-wrote at least four of the album’s 15 songs, and he also did what Dallas Austin used to do with TLC—let the girls decide which lyrics and themes suited their core personalities. The result is The Way We Do, an album less prone to male-bashing than Destiny’s Child, less sexually explicit than TLC.

Even though each member has been tagged with a singing style comparable to some pre-existing hit maker (e.g., Ardena is “Aaliyah-like,” and LeTecia recalls Mary J), Isyss weren’t given much copycat material. Instead producers like Kevin “She’kspere” Briggs, Tyrice Jones, and Billy Moss quote another artist’s signature beat or vocal approach as a point of improvisational departure for the Isyss quartet. So when “Hater” elicits Aaliyah’s dark, legato croon, or the vamps that open “Holla at Me” evoke Faith and Mary J Blige, Isyss push off from there to steer their traded leads and tight harmonies toward their own trademark sound.

But the most intriguing aspect of most Isyss material is the lyrical tug-of-war between love for the bling-bling lifestyle and the subconscious pull of less materialistic values. The title track name-checks trendy clubland cocktails and access to the “VIP room” as elite perks even as it celebrates the more egalitarian ritual of these Alpha Females sharing their weed with the male cronies who buy them drinks. The single “Day and Night” explores the moral ramifications of being seduced away from a poor lover by a rich one, so while guiltily enjoying her gilded affair the singer muses: “Never could understand/it ain’t like me/to up and leave for material things.” Without pounding either soapbox or pulpit, Isyss bring ethical questions to the party.

If posed with the quintessential Spice Girl query—”Tell me what you want, what you really, really want!”—Isyss remain young and sincere enough to confess they don’t really know. Like the even mix of modest and immodest clothing worn on their album cover, Isyss represent conflicting adolescent impulses. For instance, in the two tunes “Uh Uh, Uh Uh” and (less convincingly) “No Na Na” the quartet opt to withhold sex from eager suitors as a matter of self-respect and self-protection. But this is an emotionally fragile and highly conditional stance. Isyss—much like their targeted multi-culti audience—are clearly still trying to determine where positive self-interest begins and selfishness ends.

Yet where career is concerned they have no confusion as to where that particular line is drawn. Aware that no black girl group has ever made a film that renders their distinct personalities as unforgettable as those of the Beatles were in A Hard Day’s Night, Isyss have high hopes for a script now in the hands of Lamyia’s mother, which might let them go one better than Spice World. Currently doing the radio promo circuit and guaranteed a second album because their production company stayed underbudget, this group indulges no illusions about lasting “forever.” Forever is such a 20th-century concept. No, these very nice, modern, morally agnostic girls grok ephemerality. Which is why they’re prepared to deploy whichever 21st-century scheme will put them first at the finish line for a big payday.


Get With My Comrades

Nineteen ninety-seven witnessed the peak of the Girl Power movement, which, building on the momentum of the pithy manifesto “Wannabe,” briefly succeeded in seizing the mass media for dissemination of its postsocialist, postfeminist agenda. Controversial commune the Spice Girls argued that a collectivist spirit was not mutually exclusive with the assertion of strong individual personalities (Ginger Spice, the most energetic proselytizer of the cause, was its Karl Marx; Posh Spice, the child of privilege writ radical, its Friedrich Engels). Nor was gender equality incommensurable with ladies’ apparel largely contrived from narrow bands of vinyl and double-sided tape.

The predictable backlash against GP was exacerbated by Ginger’s breach of faith and, soon after, the ascent of younger, buffer divas who could sing and dance better (Posh, Baby, and Ginger could never do much of either, but their cheerful attempts evoked a prole gal’s workaday fantasies blossoming into karaoke dream-so-real, cf. Dancer in the Dark). What’s more, where the strenuously averred virginity of Britney is kinky, the slumber-party kamaraderie of her elders seemingly limits their amorous pursuits to giddy leafing through British Esquire or the Daily Worker personals.

So the uncharacteristic promises of loud dominatrix sex in the first single off Forever, “Holler,” sadly evince a discomfort with what Ginger—I mean Karl—called “sensuous human activity.” Actually, Marx was talking about labor there, and the Girls are alienated from it indeed, adrift on the means of production: Rodney Jerkins’s blips, burbles, ominous keyboards, and sharp, brittle rhythmic angles; Jam and Lewis’s plump-bassed janet. retreads. Sporty’s phlegmatic yowl is still the only distinctive voice of protest, though occasionally on Forever a new fellow laborer grunts “Uh!” and “Yeah!” and “Spice Girls!” and other consciousness-raisers into some faraway mic. He’s the last of the party faithful, the cheering section at the concession speech.


Platypussy Galore

Tall poppy syndrome (noun): A desire to diminish in stature those people who have attained excellence . . . continues to reign in Australia.

—The Macquarie Dictionary

An exceptionally tall poppy myself, I vowed some time ago to never fall prey to TPS—to never look upon any high Aussie achiever with anything less than positive-flowing vibes. My heart-sworn duty, then, is to uncynically present to you fresh produce blooming in my home country. I introduce Bardot—the down-under answer to the Spice Girls, comprising three longhaired brunettes, a saucy blond surfie babe named Sophie Monk, and cropped/dyed redhead Tiffany—whose sportiest secret is losing a toenail from going off hard (um, dancing a lot) on New Year’s Eve. The five hot chicks were plucked from 2000 applicants for Channel 7’s new “docu-soap” Popstars: an intimate insight into the creation and manicure of a commercial pop group.

Bardot’s EP and self-titled album are full of rocking goodies like their chart-topping Australian hit “Poison,” wherein their, yes, womanly voices shake fingers at burly blokes amid a drum-machine arrangement tricky enough to assert any budding young flower’s hips and emotion. The even dancier B side, “Empty Room,” sets electric wind chimes atop hit-me-baby-one-more-time beats sure to inspire schoolgirls surrounded by unattainable males to choreograph jumps and turns and thigh slaps in their knee-high socks.

In true TPS style, certain sad editors across Oz have spent recent months pathetically paying these tall poppies out—splattering headlines such as “Just Add Instant Celebrity” and “Popstars or Puppets?” and so subtly revealing info about Bardot’s favorite pastime being “this stupid game . . . They say, ‘Have you seen my keys?’ . . . and you turn around and the keys will be hanging off their ears or something.” Hardly justice for sassy wonders who’ve proved resilient and spicy through hard times, such as when one now-former member was asked to quietly nick off after she allegedly nicked money from the other girls’ luggage. The “shocked” band were “devastated,” crappy mag New Idea reported. “After weeks of nail-biting television . . . it was a major disaster.”


NY Mirror

The votes are in, the tongues are out, and the 1999 Felix Awards go to . . . The Year in Queer: jerry falwell’s ‘National Liberty Journal’ outed Tinky Winky as a gay menace, Falwell railed against Anheuser-Busch for a same-sex ad in a St. Louis gay mag, ‘The Jenny Jones Show’ was told to cough up $25 million for supposedly humiliating a guy into killing his gay admirer, Columbine High teen murderers were generally dismissed by the media as gayish geeks and losers (echoing their schoolmates’ sentiments), and Abner Louima was derided by his abuser’s lawyer as a gay sex freak with a propensity for kinky self-punishment. I give up—get me a beard.

Oh, One More Big Sex Scandal: Calvin Klein‘s ads of kids frolicking in their underwear were instantly pulled, thanks to the righteous response of pissed-off Puritans. But the kids weren’t even that hunky!

Myth Thing: Kevin Spacey came out as hetero in Playboy, setting the record straight and continuing to loudly do so. (He made out with women in public and flirted with one on a talk show.) How depressing! That means that all the people I know who’ve told me about guys Spacey’s dated, done, or come on to are utter, complete liars with a reckless disregard for real life! I must stop hanging out with such disreputable, cowardly worms!

No More, Please: “You go, girl!” (for the fourth year in a row), people making visual quote marks as they speak, musical Gap ads, “diva” (for the 40th year in a row), Giuliani being offended by everything except real offense, media hype about the casting of the Charlie’s Angels movie (Gone With the Wind this ain’t), Kathie Lee Gifford getting Sondheim to change his lyrics (effin’ works better for her than goddamn? Well, how about the fact that the whole effin’ song—and show—is about a marriage wrecked by disinterest and infidelity?), Celine Dion duetting with dead people, Celine Dion duetting with live people, Celine Dion doing solos, Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines.

The Year’s Most Engaging and/or Powerful Movies: (in alphabetical order) Austin Powers—The Spy Who Shagged Me, Being John Malkovich, The Blair Witch Project, Boys Don’t Cry, Edge of Seventeen, Election, Man on the Moon ( but only for Jim Carrey‘s performance), South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut—though they all paled next to the large schlong in Any Given Sunday.

Rottenest Movies: Anna and the King, Eyes Wide Shut, The Haunting, Jakob the Liar (a/k/a Life Is Maudlin), Magnolia, The Other Sister, Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace, Stigmata, and The Straight Story. Then again, I didn’t see Baby Geniuses.

Lousiest Actors: Juliette Lewis in The Other Sister (a little too convincing for my taste), Patricia Arquette in Stigmata (bleed, bitch, bleed!), the kid in Big Daddy (actually played by twins, both irritating beyond belief).

Worst Anything of the Year: (tie) Jar Jar Binks, encephalitis.

Most Chilling Quote: “I hope this doesn’t ruin your trading day”—Mark Barton’s sardonic remark as he opened fire in a stock brokerage office. It did.

Most Memorable Quote: Monica Lewinsky, when asked by Barbara Walters on 20/20 what she’ll tell her kids one day, replied, “Mommy made a big mistake!”

Barbara Walters Made a Big Mistake: The pursed-lipped interviewer claimed, during the very same chitchat, that she didn’t know what phone sex is, and also later found herself unable to say orgasm. Honey, I bet she knows what a monster dick is, as well as how to pronounce the words “Plow me all night, macho warrior!” (Note to Barbara: See Any Given Sunday.)

Huh?: O.J. Simpson called 911, supposedly desperate to save his lady friend from going on a drug binge with some other guy. O.J. Simpson doing an intervention? Compassionately trying to reach out to a troubled young woman and get her some much needed help? Puhleeeeze! If this guy was Pinocchio, he’d be well hung.

Quadruple Huh?: The father of Monica Lewinsky—yeah, her again—complained that Law & Order: Special Victims Unit used Lewinsky as a verb connoting oral sex. Said he, choosing his words poorly, “It’s not right that she be dragged down to the floor again!”

The Year’s Grossest Gross-Out Humor: The steaming stool sample in Austin Powers, the Satan-fucking in the South Park movie, the toilet incident in American Pie, the Siamese twins throwing up in the john in Twin Falls Idaho, the Iraqi with the map up his ass in Three Kings, Brad Pitt peeing in the soup in Fight Club, Tom Hanks‘s urination pains in The Green Mile, Jerry Falwell trying to make up with the gay community.

Most Bizarre Slide Shown Before a Movie I Saw: “Become an egg donor!” Come on, is that really the kind of life-changing decision you want to contemplate while sitting waiting for Deuce Bigalow—or any diversionary trifle—to start? A recommendation for a brick-oven pizza restaurant is about all I could handle. (And my eggs are all gone anyway.)

And Furthermore, Here’s a Hot Flash: Valerie Harper, Cybill Shepherd, and Diana Ross all lined up to announce that they’re in the throes of menopause. Suddenly the traumatic drying up of all menstruation became a glamorous career move!

Cutest Guy in the Whole Wide World by Far: The one who nabbed the million dollars on that Regis show. I want to Lewinsky him!

Carol Burnett’s Most Fun Revelations in Her Talk at the 92nd Street Y the Other Night: She made the Putting It Together folks drop the song “Who’s That Woman?” because it just wasn’t working (better than changing the lyrics); despite that omission, the show has had “some audiences where it’s an oil painting”; and halfway through the movie of Annie, you can tell that she got a new chin.

told Cosmopolitan that she simply had to get nose jobs in order to nab work. “I don’t think I would have landed Wind with my first nose,” she said. “I don’t think you find many Jewish girls on yachts in kind of Ralph Lauren-y settings.” Yeah, especially since he changed his name from Lifshitz.

Predictions for the Future: Madonna will become an amusement park. Ricky Martin‘s hips will get stuck. Lucy Liu, who plays Ling on Ally McBeal, will be joined by Lisa Ling, playing Liu. There’ll be only one Spice Girl left, but she’ll still say, “Hello, everybody, we’re the Spice Girls!” Jerry Falwell will get mad again.


Lester Bowie

The most radical conflagration that Free Jazz Pioneer Lester Bowie has ever perpetrated: his Brass Fantasy of the Spice Girls’ “Two Become One.” The Spicies’ own softcore brass is peeled away to reveal a literally lame melody, reducing even tuba hero Bob Stewart to stereotypical fart-waddling. Trombones steer surviving listeners into the boodwah, where trumpet strumpets issue a bootycall to arms (legs, etc.). Eventually, BF sonorities insinuate themselves so warmly, deeply, that I notice bum notes only in passing, and fondly, as if they were butt my lover’s cellulite. Mondo Beyondo!

Wannabe-endless “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” gets stopped, quickly but calmly, and shouldered aboard a tuba train, the better to pass through warm shadows of bolero and tango, before vanishing mysteriously. “Beeyutifull Pee-pull!” take back their title from Evita and all her escorts, rolling into and out of a shockingly loud parade drum— Manson as Masons, in freewheeling ceremony.

Biggie’s “Notorious Thugs” gets stripped of Bone’s graffiti harmonies (or complicities), revealing a lone hero-outlaw, bound to fall. Dean Bowman sings eloquently, stoically, fades out (an ancient story, still “in progress”). “Nessum Dorma” (Aretha pinch-hit for Pavarotti with it at the Grammys) features a trumpet in lonely contemplation of assured triumph (a male privilege thing). Then Bowie’s horn buddies remind him he’s winning the Maximum Babe, Turandot, and does he hosanna! Still, it’s kind of a . . . blues victory. Always was, really. (Lester’s got me checking out opera.)

“In the Still of the Night” revels in ’50s Rn’B’n’R’s glorious joke, which anyone with ears could get in on, even Beyondo mature regrets and loss of (some) innocence. To find out all the rest? Hey, buy the disc.