Peaches' pro-sex feminist views may have gone mainstream, but she's still breaking more boundaries than any pop star out there
I found Peaches on iTunes nine years ago and got attached after the first 30 seconds. I don’t remember what I thought of her at the time, but I probably liked her for the same reasons I like her now—she’s a non-chalant weirdo with hypnotizing blood-sizzling beats. In high school, most of my friends listened to her too. When her 2009 album I Feel Cream came out, we circled around a computer and laughed in shock and approval at her vulnerable yet hilarious “Lose You” video. Besides Mika she was the only artist we unanimously fangirled over. Which is why now, as a ~wise~ post-grad, it boggles my mind that my friends and I never consciously picked up on the subversive gender politics that fuels her entire oeuvre. The press concerning her appearance at the Voodoo Music + Art Experience Saturday, 5:15 p.m., Carnival) and her new album Rub has done a good job explaining Peaches’ 15 year career of patriarchy demolition, but newer fans may not understand how her work differs from that of more well-known feminist artists like Beyoncé or Meghan Trainor. Here's the lowdown:
1. She makes significant use of the human body in a non-sexual way. Artists like Adele or Taylor Swift stay pretty covered up, and Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj use their bodies in mostly titillating ways, whether in lyrics ("Sun-kissed skin / So hot / We'll melt your popsicle," Perry, "I'm feelin' myself / jack off / he be thinking about me when he whacks off, whacks on? / wax off," Minaj) or videos ("Anaconda," "Only," Minaj). Their message is that in an equal society, women can use their sexuality however they want.
Peaches, on the other hand, bombards fans with body parts both real and imagined, "private" and not. She is famed for vomiting fake blood on audience members at shows and for wearing a handmade suit with several boobs, complete with Barbie-head nipples. In her video for "Talk to Me," hair, typically desirable (on the head) and undesirable (on the body) runs amok. Maybe it gets you going or maybe it doesn't. But by stripping body parts of their usual contexts, she questions sexual categories and tropes and why we let them run our lives. Taking control of her body on a fundamental level shows the rest of us how afraid we are to acknowledge and engage with our own bodies.
2. She leads by example. Most mainstream feminist anthems boast verses that either explicitly tell the listener to disregard the patriarchy's views on women ("Try," Colbie Caillat, "All About that Bass," Trainor), or outright say that women are powerful ("Run the World (Girls)", Beyoncé). Peaches unselfconsciously casts aside the male gaze altogether and starts flexing. When she raps "another male in the middle so come on let's spray / I'm feeling good no incredible / I'm out just to see if it's gettable" on Rub's title track, she offers a concrete example of how an individual woman can own her gender and sexuality. More instructional songs are great, but they can feel moot if the artists hesitate to practice what they preach.
3. She's silly. I don't know of a single self-proclaimed feminist artist who uses humor so often to prove their point. In the "Dick in the Air" video with Margaret Cho, Peaches and Cho find onesies with penises attached and spend a glorious afternoon swinging around a gym, flashing passerby, and dancing freely onstage with other women in the same onesies.