Be Bold, Part Seven: Amanda

Everyone hates Amanda Palmer.

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Even Amanda’s fans hate Amanda Palmer.

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But…everyone loves Amanda Palmer. Especially her fans.

When still signed to record label Roadrunner, and the sight of her slightly rounded belly in a music video led to the label wanting certain scenes cut, her army of devotees called for a ‘rebellyon’ and bombarded Roadrunner’s social media with pictures of their own squishy, and perfectly normal, tummies.

She one of the biggest artists on Patreon, a ground breaking new method of art patronage, and receives a donation of anything from $1 to $1000 from each of the 11’000 fans who have signed up to support her every time she releases a new ‘thing’ (be it song, album or performance art film).

Palmer is divisive in a way like no other artist. You may not have even heard of her. If you have, it may be for her TED Talk on The Art of Giving (if you have 13 minutes to spare, I highly recommend it, it’s a great watch), or it may be as “Neil Gaiman’s wife”. In some circles, the very fact that a weirdo American art-punk chick with hairy armpits had the audacity to marry handsome British million-selling author Gaiman was enough to draw vicious internet ire. To be fair, Gaiman is himself a black-wearing weirdo gothy-punk writer (with, I imagine, hairy armpits also). But men are allowed to be weird. Women are just supposed to be pretty, right?

Is she simply misunderstood, or an attention seeking narcissist? Or both?

Amanda Fucking Palmer, as she is affectionately known, former member of punk-cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls, now solo singer/songwriter and one woman Twitter storm, is a true social media pioneer. From her early DIY days, hand-pressing CDs and updating mailing lists by email and message boards, she has always been directly accessible to her fanbase. She was the first artist to break the $1 million barrier on crowdfunding website Kickstarter, and then drew widespread condemnation in the music industry for putting out a call for musicians to play on her tour for “beer and hugs”. There is no barrier, no security, no filter. She tweets back, she follows conversations in her fan groups on Facebook, she organises ‘ninja’ gigs on street corners, she takes the time to sign, hug and take selfies with the long queue of devoted fans after every live show. To celebrate her Kickstarter record, she even stood naked and let fans sign her body. Her body is something that bothers a lot of people. Her proud nakedness, her body hair (letting it grow under her armpits or shaving it off of her eyebrows), dyeing her hair whilst breastfeeding her son, Palmer has taken criticism for all of these and more. And, in typical post-modern, self-referencing style, she wrote a song about it.

I say grow that shit like a jungle

Give ’em something strong to hold onto

Let it fly in the open wind

If it get too bushy you can trim

They don’t play the song on the radio

They don’t show the tits in the video

They don’t know that we are the media

They don’t know that we start the mania

We Are The media has become a battle cry for Amanda Palmer fans (myself included). Palmer has shown that you don’t need to be part of the music machine to make music. She got her record label to drop her mid-contract, and now releases what she wants, when she wants, direct to the people who want it. Social media, crowdfunding, genuine contact with fans, these are things that she tried telling the record execs were vital to her success, but back in the early Noughties they didn’t want to listen. Website? Who needs a website?

Art is great that way, you can do anything

You can make pop music

You can paint ducks

But if you’re a pop star and you’re a woman

Then it’s much more likely that

People will say your art sucks

There is no denying that her body of work is, at times, problematic. Her “Poem For Dzhokar”, written hastily in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, was both badly-timed and ill-conceived. Her Evelyn Evelyn collaboration with Jason Webley drew condemnation from disability groups for their stereotypical circus freak show performance as conjoined twins. Often criticised for being a privileged white woman who likes to shoot her mouth off, even though plenty of white male rock stars shoot their mouths off in equal measure without drawing half the vitriol.

Prolific and ever changing, like a Madonna for the Buzzfeed generation, Palmer keeps coming back, ignoring the critics, using the media obsession with her body to nourish her art (see her supposedly NSFW video for the beautiful Pink Floyd cover ‘Mother’ where she breast feeds a Trump lookalike), refusing to conform to the traditional role of wife and mother (though she is both). Amanda Palmer is a true autonomous artist.

Her music.

Her body.

Her art.

Her way.

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Be Bold, Part Five: MIA

The daughter of a Tamil revolutionary father and a seamstress mother, MIA’s music documents the modern experience of diaspora and the global creative underground. Always a defiantly political artist she uses the imagery of violence, globalisation, war, poverty, human rights abuse, immigration and racial identity. Her neon, DIY guerrilla styling shows the direct influence of both parents, even though her father was absent for most if her life. Like The Clash before her, MIA understands how fashion, the visual representation of your identity, is a political manifestation equal to music, lyrics and videos.

The first Sri-Lankan ever to be nominated for a Grammy, the first person of Asian descent to be nominated for an Oscar and Grammy award in the same year and the only artist in history to receive nominations for an Academy Award, a Grammy, the Brits and the Mercury Prize. MIA’s commercial breakout single Paper Planes went platinum three times over in the US, and at one point it was the seventh best-selling song by a British artist in the digital era. One of the earliest MySpace stars, MIA studied film and design at St Martins College of Art and created the colourful, clashing visuals to match her dancehall/electro/hip-hop sound. Her diverse influences are a product of her life lived in London, Civil War ridden Sri-Lanka and India. MIA is as comfortable sampling bands such as Pixies and The Clash as she is referencing Bollywood or world folk music.

I put people on the map that never seen a map.

Watching MIA performing at the 2009 Grammys on the day her baby was due, a vision in pregnant polka-dots, made me think back to Neneh Cherry busting serious moves on Top Of The Pops in 1988, gold dollar sign necklace swinging proudly over her beautiful baby bump. When MIA sang ‘no-one on the corner has swagger like us’ and the curtain dropped to reveal a back-line of the biggest male starts in modern hip-hop – Jay-Z, Kanye, Lil Wayne, T.I. – it was an electric moment. A British Asian woman up there, killing it with the big-boys.

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She has collaborated with Aboriginal teens The Wilcannia Mob and the Nigerian rapper Afrikan Boy. On the flip-side, she co-wrote the song Give Me All Your Luvin’ with Madonna and Nicki Minaj and performed it at the Super Bowl Halftime Show. Instead of singing the lyric “shit” in the song, MIA gave the finger to the camera. The N.F.L. responded by filing a lawsuit suing her for millions in damages and demanding a public apology.

They’re basically saying it’s OK for me to promote being sexually exploited as a female, than to display empowerment, female empowerment, through being punk rock. That’s what it boils down to, and I’m being sued for it.

Some have said her politics are naïve and purposely provocative and that she can’t be the champion of the downtrodden and displaced from her current position of privilege. But if you can’t use your privilege to raise uncomfortable issues with those around you who are equally privileged, then it is a waste of platform. As a child whose school was bombed and whose mother was beaten by Government forces, MIA has grown into a woman who will speak her mind about everything, and isn’t afraid of the backlash.