The indie pop band's sunny music didn't translate the way it should on stage at Gasa Gasa, leaving their problematic relationship with women on display.
I discovered TV Girl last year after the release of their third album, Death of a Party Girl. It’s a breezy listen of indie pop soaked in easygoing, lo-fi dynamics. The California natives, Brad Petering, Jason Wyman, Wyatt Harmon, describe their music as “hypnotic pop.” Heavily reliant on electro-synths and cinematic samples, TV Girl’s music is a soundtrack to a lazy summer day. It’s musically eclectic as they draw on sample loops, hip-hop beats, and floating melodies that create an atmospheric sound. Frontman Petering’s satirical lyrics and deadpan delivery give the songs an offbeat punch that benefits from an ironic distance. Their unique sound, however, didn’t translate well to the stage.
TV Girl’s Sunday night show at Gasa Gasa gave the band a chance to show off their chops in an understated, intimate venue. Unfortunately, a lot got lost in translation between the album and the live performance. A key sample on “Taking What’s Not Yours” got muddled in the accompanying keyboard synths, so the song lost its catchiness altogether. The vocal parts similarly didn’t blend the way they do on the album and often sounded jagged and unpolished. Even the standout element on the album--Petering’s conversational and humorous vocal delivery--fell flat live. The band couldn’t quite synchronize the vocals in the way it sounds on the album, and the heavy instrumentation lessened the sting of the lyrics that holds the songs together. It was a reminder of the limitations of a live show in the digital production age, and also a wake-up call to artists whose effectiveness leans heavily on the success of all the parts fitting together digitally.
What was lost in atmosphere might have been compensated for if the band members were genuinely likeable. Instead, Petering seemed in over his head. He stopped at least twice between songs to rant about love and breakups and men with nice hair. Mid-show monologues can fly if you’re big enough to claim real stardom, and if you have a strong enough fan base holding onto your every word. Petering and TV Girl have neither of these. As much as he clearly wanted to be a rock star, he seemed to lack the self-awareness that he isn’t one yet. Even the most devoted fans grew disinterested by his monologues and were ready to move on with the music.
TV Girl has an affinity for nostalgia, particularly through old cinema. Several tracks layer on samples from American and French noir films, tossing in bits of dialogue (notably, always women speaking) into their musical collage. The effect seems initially to satirize old-school romance, particularly when juxtaposed with the failures of the modern relationships that Petering laments in his lyrics.
TV Girl seems to yearn for a shimmery past of Hollywood glamour that it can’t quite reach, and its evocation of Hollywood past reveals problematic gender politics behind the TV Girl project.
TV Girl obsessively fixates on women; first, as an elusive mirage that the artists can’t obtain, and secondly, as an object of scorn responsible for men’s suffering. Their branding revolves around a muse figure, a female enigma incomprehensible to men. The band’s iconic image is the face of a retro-looking pin-up girl, or perhaps the star of an old French film. Whoever this nameless woman is, she watched from the stage as a cut-out prop from behind the band.
The unhealthy obsession with women goes even farther. The album Death of a Party Girl includes such song titles as “Lonely Girls”, “Every Stupid Actress”, and the namesake “Death of a Party Girl.” Their debut album, French Exit, was even more female-focused with “Pantyhose”, “Louise”, “The Blonde”, “Daughter of a Cop”, “Her and Her Friend”, and “Anjela.” This affinity for the female enigma shouldn’t be mistaken for feminism, though. It comes off less as a show of respect for women, and more like a process of “othering” the women who made Petering bitter.
Many of TV Girl’s lyrics lament failed relationships and all the girls who broke his heart. Initially, his self-deprecation is funny until his subject matter reveals patterns. His songwriting comes together as an outlet for grumbling about the women who screwed him over, while neglecting his own responsibility in relationships.
Those songs don’t treat women as real, individual people as much as they distort them into a collective concept of womanhood, one that runs on a mysterious logic unfathomable to men. They echo a dangerous trope that has currency in Incel (“involuntary celibate”) forums online that blames women for men’s inability to maintain a long-term relationship or get laid. Those forums and ideas have radicalized young men who blame women for their loneliness. I’m not calling TV Girl members Incels, but their songs’ unhealthy fixation on--and mystifying of--women is in line with that rhetoric.
It didn’t help that Petering took the stage as a medium to flirt with his overwhelmingly young, female audience. The crowd seemed pretty smitten with him, and he was equally intent on impressing the hell out of them. He went on a rant about roses as a metaphor for life and then threw a bouquet of roses into the crowd. It was cringy to watch his overplayed efforts to win over his crowd.
His awkward attempts to seduce the girls in the audience might perhaps explain some of the bad relationships detailed in the song lyrics. As the project of three male musicians with a mostly female fan base, it was all very disappointing. Their albums show potential as an eclectic pop project, but TV Girl needs to confront the misogyny inherent in its songs and presentation. Although they may want to be rockstars, TV Girl isn’t big enough to take these leaps yet.