The Battle For The Soul of Kitty Pryde
“I’m Kitty Pryde, and I’m here to prove that I’m a real life bitch, and not just the Internet!”
And with that, I finally realized that I was no longer one of the Young People of Today. All of us have moments, I suppose, where we realize our age. Mine is thirty. And, since that age is not “seventy-two,” it is probably painfully Thought Catalog to even talk about it. But there is a moment, where you realize that you are not A Young Person any more. A Point of No Youngturn. A Youngterloo, if you will. “I’m a real life bitch, and not just the Internet” was mine.
Also notable: I learned that I could still attract the creepier variety of twenty-something dude, should I wear a shirt that exposed the vast majority of my bra. “I love the color of your pants,” one gentleman said, at the bar I stopped in prior to the show, while sliding his hand along the greater portion of my ass. (They were purple. It was not that great.) Another gentleman congratulated me on “really getting in there” during the mosh section of the show, although by that point, I had been irritated, and was mostly just punching the creepy dudes in the kidneys. And, most telling of all: A man, who was friends with “a producer,” had introduced himself to me at the bar.
“Are you really into the blog rap?” I had said.
“No,” he said, grinning. “I’m just into teenage girls.”
I’m trying to establish ambiance for you here. Specifically, the ambiance of Santos, the night Kitty Pryde — whose real age has been withheld from the public; she’s clarified that she is not, as she says in one of her songs, actually thirteen, but other than that, it’s anyone’s guess — played her second New York show. It was an uncomfortable atmosphere to be in, saturated as it was with both “Barely Legal” fetishes and nostalgia for an era I was actually old enough to have lived through the first time around.
Opening act Lakutis, for example, was the trend-leader in terms of rocking the hot look for dudes (seriously: at least three guys sported it, including Kitty Pryde’s brother) which was exactly the same as it had been when I was fourteen: Long skater hair, cargo shorts, and a sweatshirt that no man who was not already associated with Das Racist could wear with a reasonable expectation of getting laid. One song consisted entirely of the phrase “Dennis Quaid, bitch, Dennis, Dennis Quaid, bitch,” repeated until he got bored with it. His stage presence veered between a stoned, sarcastic smirk and a more earnest, but also more disturbing, serial-killer glare at the ceiling. “Too ill for the law,” the whitest-looking man you have ever seen chanted, occasionally sticking his tongue out at the audience.
“You spend your whole life in the thrall of cool teenagers, and right when you get it, you’re over it,” my notes read. Also in my notes: “Thank God the guy in the Transformers mask is actually performing.” He was Lakutis’s DJ, and had been a disconcertingly theatrical presence at the bar.
Actually, it helped that Lakutis looked and behaved so exactly like every guy that I had a crush on in middle school, because by the time Kitty Pryde came on stage, I had spent a substantial amount of time working out my animus in re: those dudes. (SARCASM STOPS BEING FUNNY WHEN YOU ARE EQUALLY SARCASTIC ABOUT EVERYFUCKINGTHING, WHAT DO YOU ACTUALLY FUCKING THINK, IF I DON’T HEAR IT IN FIVE SECONDS I AM CONCLUDING THAT IT’S NOTHING: Sorry, Lakutis, that was for Tyler [Redacted], not you. Yeah, you heard me, Tyler, you smug eighth-grade bastard.) And I was therefore prepared to know exactly what she was talking about.
Here’s the thing about Kitty Pryde: When she wants to, she can be very good. She has a little, breathy voice, sort of like Kathleen Hanna, and, for quite a while, seemed as if she could not rap very fast at all; also sort of like Kathleen Hanna (and I promise to stop comparing the two, because aside from the timbre of their voices, they have nothing in common) she’s managed to turn her technical deficits into strengths. You know her when you hear her. Whether you like what you hear depends on a lot of things. The baby voice and self-conscious I’m-too-young-for-this-unwholesomeness schtick — “you apologize when I see you do a line, but like, it’s fine, I’m openminded,” in a song that also features Kitty coolly name-dropping her (eesh) Bud Light Lime — are immediately and intensely grating, for the first dozen listens. But you will still listen that first dozen times; the dreamy, pretty beats and the hypnotic detachment of her delivery pull you in. Until, at a certain point, it stops being irritating, and just gets great.
Pryde is capable, when she wants to, of writing songs that lay out the whole confusing territory of adolescent female desire with startling frankness: The above-quoted “Okay Cupid,” for example, which mixes drunk-dials and snorted lines with names drawn on binders and fantasy weddings, songs of innocence and experience delivered together, with no real consciousness (because real teenage girls have none) of any huge disconnect between the two. Or the whole hot-house atmosphere of “JUSTIN BIEBER!!!!!,” which has Kitty kissing posters, buying branded pens, and drawing the Biebs’ initials on her clothes, while also admitting the startling cruelty with which actual adolescent girls treat actual, non-celebrity adolescent boys: “Boys are like milk and they expire if you’re late on ‘em. It’s legal for me, man, I don’t even have to wait on ‘em,” says predatory Kitty, the moment she snaps out of her Bieber trance. “Drive ‘em to the show, and if I lose ‘em in the pit, then fuck it, let’s just go.”
The whole thing is like a blog-rap High Wind In Jamaica: It sounds authentically young, not least because it’s just as brutal, narcissistic, and awkward (Bud Light LIME!) as youth actually is in practice. Enough of this, and you begin to think that Kitty Pryde alone might be enough to deliver us from the long national nightmare of boy-centric, fake-teen-queen sweetness that is Taylor Swift. Even when Taylor wants to go for “mean,” she only ever manages to land at “petulant.” Kitty sounds like she could make your lunch period an actual living Hell. And the girl knows whereof she speaks; as far as I know, she’s still got a day job at Claire’s Accessories. For all the male creepitude on display, there were also plenty of girls at the show, who seemed convinced that Pryde was — albeit sarcastically and self-consciously — getting at something real.
And yet, for a long time, people — including Kitty herself — wondered if her audience was “in on the joke.” The “joke,” summed up by Kitty herself, goes like this: “My friends were all into real hip-hop culture, so they weren’t really taking it seriously and they’d be like, ‘Wow, you’re terrible at this, but it’s cute.’” It’s the kind of joke only a girl would play on herself — there’s no way I can really be as good or as smart as you, but aren’t I adorable for failing? — even as she makes overt jabs at the idea that, as a young female human, she can’t be expected to know anything about music. On “BIEBER,” for example: “I’m thirteen. What is lean? And what is dream-pop?” This is apparently the song that gave rise to the rumor that she was, in fact, thirteen years old. The fact that she spends the rest of it fucking and (more to the point) driving a car was dismissed; the joke went un-gotten. Her Facebook in-box filled up, she said, with unsolicited naked pictures and dirty-talk from pervs, seemingly eager to take the flipped gender-power dynamic of “BIEBER” and turn it right side up again.
I’m giving you all of this — the good, the bad, the whole landscape of female honesty and feminine self-deprecation, surrounded as it is by the glorious Sea of Pervs — because the thing is, I believe there’s a battle for the soul of Kitty Pryde going on, right now. And, based on her show, I’m afraid the pervs might be winning.
It’s the giggle. It showed up less than three seconds into her show, in her first introduction — “what up dogs;” she couldn’t get through “dogs” — and reoccurred between almost every song. You’ve heard it on her songs, where it sounds self-conscious, performative, mocking. As well it should, because that giggle — the breathy, trilling little ascenscion up a delicate scale — is the one my friends and I practiced every day from the time we were fifteen until we were twenty. It was the “I want something” giggle, the “I’m so little” giggle, the “wow, play me another record and tell me all your opinions about it, you big, manly college sophomore, you” giggle, the giggle every girl knew how to pull out of her pocket when she needed it, and we needed it until the precise moment that we stopped getting attention for being teenagers and realized that guys our own age actually liked us better if we seemed like we did know how to give blow jobs. Kitty’s mastery of the giggle is one of the most charming things about her, in the context of a song, because she gives it the degree of sarcasm it deserves.
Live, she means it. Live, she commands her audience to “jump up and down, you know, bounce,” which last word she proceeds to adorably demonstrate, while doing the giggle, as if there is a single female member of her audience who has not for some reason found it necessary to physically demonstrate her understanding of the word “bounce” while attempting to get attention. (For me, it was when a guy called his beer “hoppy.” I’m not proud.) This isn’t a cranky, second-wave feminist point about Pryde objectifying herself; when a girl shows someone she knows what “bounce” means, she does it for damn good, highly selfish reasons, which I respect. It’s a bullshit-detector point. On record, and in interviews, Pryde has a finely honed bullshit detector. On record, that’s why she’s great, especially if you are or have been a teenage girl. She gets that the “adorable little girl” act is always just that: An act, a cover for messy, bloody, meaty adolescent desires and emotions that are just as rambunctious and anarchic as any boy’s.
Live, however, her bullshit detector falters. Live, she’ll pull out tricks so old that any woman in the audience can smell them for miles.
And this is especially disappointing because her songs are getting better and better. For one thing: She does, actually, know how to rap. Her flow is getting faster, more varied; she’s relying less on the dreamy ambience and jokes, and more on skill. The “it’s cute that I’m terrible” gag is apparently losing its charm for her; she’s actually working for it now. She covered songs by her idols, Danny Brown (the name on her binder in the “Okay Cupid” video; he was in the audience) and Tyler the Creator (“he won’t talk about me onliiiine”) and she did a good job of it. Even the little-girl voice can be discarded, apparently: During one song, she screamed “FUCK” on the regular, in full-on Cookie Monster bass.
And even in the midst of the giggling and bouncing, there were moments to remind you of why you like her: Her DJ played gunshot noises, incessantly enough to irritate (“Kitty Pryde has never heard a gunshot” — my notes, which are maybe presumptuous, but by the eighteenth gunshot noise in a row, I was willing to make a bet). But when she paused for a moment, between songs, to fulminate against a boy who “won’t return my Facebook friend requests,” and the DJ played a gunshot or two, just to underline the massive Facebook-related injustice Kitty had suffered, my notes read “for some reason the best thing I have ever seen on stage.” Which is an overstatement, sure, but it was a jolt of honest adolescent selfishness, immaturity, and cruelty, which for some reason is still thrilling coming from a girl, and which is why I listen to Kitty Pryde. And when she commanded that we bow our heads in a moment of prayer to BIEBER!!!!, I was reverent as all Hell.
And yet the “barely legal” thing is gaining steam, and in the context of her live show, it doesn’t always seem mocking. One new song’s hook goes “I’m just a little girl and you’re a grown-ups man,” the plural on “ups” alone being irritating enough to take it into “bwain huwty undewstandy Cwismas” territory. (Note, in that video, a demonstration of both The Giggle and The Bounce; these are old tricks, is what I’m saying.) She’s smarter than that, and she hopefully knows that she’s smarter than that, and it’s all the more frustrating for occurring in one of the songs where she’s demonstrating her steadily improving skills. Pryde is growing up; very soon, she’s not going to be a teenager any more (that is, assuming that she’s still a teenager now). And she’s going to have to reach for something besides the sexy-baby schtick, or else she’s going to hit a point of dimininuh bwuhwhuuhhh.
That is, if we even let her get that far.
“If you give her a few years, she’s going to be amazing,” I said to the guy who liked teenage girls — he was actually quite nice, it turned out — after the show.
“She won’t be around in a few years,” he said. “She’s a flash in the pan.”
Which is the real problem with liking teenage girls, it turns out. It may be true, as my partner pointed out, that “Internet rap has become like high school for about eight people.” But — and correct me if I’m wrong — I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone suggest that Kitty’s male compatriots won’t be allowed to grow up, and learn their craft. Tyler the Creator won’t always have to be an enfant terrible. Lakutis will be allowed to stick his tongue out at “the law” for as long as he’s interested. But at least some of the men who are buying tickets to Kitty Pryde shows have no interest in seeing what happens when she gets past the little-girl thing and becomes a woman. Those men can be young, and they can do what young men do: Struggle, grow up, develop, get better. But Kitty Pryde, and her youth, can only ever be a gag. A joke. She can’t grow up, or get better, because if and when she does, the joke won’t be funny any more. She’ll stop being a little girl who likes rapping — yet another girl displaying gifts that, as Samuel Johnson notoriously said, are “like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all” — and she’ll start being a woman trying to make her own music. And who cares about those, really?
Which is why I left the show let down, and irritated. And wondering what would happen if Kitty dropped the giggle from her live shows. My bet is, the people who want to see her keep making music would still be there.
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