In case you haven't noticed, The Gossip (and, in particular, lead singer Beth Ditto) is famous. In Europe, and especially in the U.K., Ditto is a bona fide celebrity. She's designing her own line of clothing for a British department store, a doll is being created in her likeness, she's been on the cover of numerous magazines (including a naked shot on the cover of NME), Alexander McQueen and Karl Lagerfeld are making clothes for her, she had an advice column in a major newspaper, and she's a staple of the tabloids. Yep, famous. However, if you live in the U.S., Ditto's celebrity, or even The Gossip's music itself -- Southern bluesy rock and R&B turned '80s disco -- might be lost on you. Not to fear: Once the band's upcoming album Music for Men is released, you'll likely be aware of their presence. The Gossip is hard to ignore. But it always has been, particularly if you've witnessed a live show.
Ditto's infamous NME cover.
Ditto on the cover of Love magazine.
The first time I saw The Gossip was in Olympia, Wash., in 1998 or '99. It was at a house party on the east side of town. I was sitting on a porch when the band started. I watched a few seconds from the window and then ran (as in, literally ran) inside. I stood in the front near the speaker with my head spinning. The singer's voice swallowed the entire room, and the riffs were dirty and warped, sultry and garage-y. Perfect, really, and revelatory.
In 2000, my band took The Gossip on its first-ever tour. The first show was in Minneapolis at First Avenue. The stage is impossibly high there; it's just you staring out at the top of the audience's heads and their fingertips on the edge of the stage. The Gossip was the first of three bands. Its members got on stage as if they'd been playing stadiums for years, as if First Avenue were just another basement to conquer. They owned it that night and for every night thereafter, and each night we had to earn it back from them, which is exactly what you want it to be like. Best opening band we've ever had.
So the other day, my friend forwards me a review of a Gossip show from The Guardian (a British newspaper, one of the biggest) by a writer named Elizabeth Day. The U.K. press covers Ditto the same way they cover everything, like a rabid stalker. But for how obsessed they are with Ditto, they aren't really talking about her music, or maybe it's that they can't. They can't, because they're always talking about her size and her weight. And, unlike here in the U.S., people in the U.K. know about Ditto and they know what she looks like, so you'd think that a single sentence describing her physique might suffice. But apparently it doesn't. Here, then, is a dissection of this incredibly silly piece of journalism.
Let's start with the title: "Voice, Physique...It's Bigness as Usual for Beth." "Bigness as usual"? Are you kidding? I'm going to give Elizabeth Day a break and assume that this pun was a poor editorial choice.
Second paragraph: "So much has been written about Beth Ditto's physical size (15 stone and a shade over 5ft) it is easy to forget that by far the largest thing about her is her voice."
Okay, fine, Ditto's weight is mentioned -- now, let's move on. But apparently avoiding any mention of Beth's size is harder than one thought. Here's this sentence from the fourth paragraph: "While her voice might be big, her physical presence is equally noticeable." Right, we get it.
And then, and this is my favorite part of the article, the writer decides that she'll avoid writing about Beth's weight, but still cleverly allude to it by using food metaphors. Witness: "The result is one of sheer exhilaration, each song so tightly packed with elements of soul, gospel, punk and joyous electropop that the musical layers pile up like an enormous club sandwich that shouldn't work but somehow does." A club sandwich?! Yum.
And then, the topper: "In an industry overrun by tweeny pop starlets manufactured like Dairylea cheese triangles, Ditto stands out like a ripe Camembert, white flesh spilling luxuriously out of her underwear."
Wow, I think this is the first time I've ever heard a singer, let alone a woman, likened to a piece of cheese. I actually think that Elizabeth Day was looking at Beth Ditto and getting hungry. Maybe Day is jealous that Beth Ditto can be herself and be famous. And the reason Ditto is famous is that she's incredibly talented, not to mention unique. Perhaps Day, like many of the other people obsessing over and writing incessantly about Ditto's weight, are experiencing the sad realization that most of us have bought in to a certain idealized version of beauty, so much so that we're willing to starve ourselves, skip meals, politely decline dessert and feel intense shame and scrutiny about our bodies. Moreover, and certainly there is truth to this, we feel like in order to be successful we need to look a certain way. And then here comes Beth Ditto, proving that the combination of talent, confidence and just not giving a s--- trumps all. So what does Day do? She looks at Beth Ditto and thinks of a club sandwich. Why? Because she probably wishes she could eat 10 of them a day and still keep her job.
The Gossip has been on fire for ten years. Beth Ditto is one of the most amazing singers and performers in contemporary music. And since I referenced eating in the title of this piece, here's some more: The Gossip is large and in charge, immense, super-sized, two scoops, pizza, milkshakes, Big Macs, movie-theater popcorn with butter flavoring, and second servings. Big f------ deal.
Thoughts about The Gossip, about Beth Ditto, about the difference between U.S. and U.K. media coverage of the band, about skinny or fat female performers? Feel free to share.