If it's just a publicity stunt, then it's sheer brilliance conceived by lords of evil marketing genius. If it isn't a publicity stunt, then Dresden Dolls fans are witnessing a real world enactment of every music industry cautionary tale that ends with "record labels are soul-crushing monsters."
I'm talking of course about Amanda Palmer and her fabulous belly. This chick and her velvety midriff have set fire to the part of the Internet that rails against double standards and pop culture's killing of the feminine ideal.
Here's what happened. Amanda Palmer, the sultry chanteuse who usually performs with drummer Brian Viglione as half of The Dresden Dolls, has released a solo record, Who Killed Amanda Palmer? This is her third and final release to satisfy her record deal with Roadrunner, and along with the deal came a video for the latest single, "Leeds United." It's a catchy romping sing-along rocker set to a very polished video filled with beautiful people. Stylistically, the video looks like like a scene from a David Lynch film. And some shots flash Amanda's bare tummy under an open jacket.
Amanda, as frank with her fans as she is in her song lyrics about asshole boyfriends and drunken shenanigans, blogged about what happened next. Right before departing on yet another European tour, Amanda was told by her Roadrunner A&R muckety-muck that she looks too fat in the "Leeds United" video, and that they wanted to digitally alter her body to “be more flattering."
Now, having hobbed and knobbed around the Boston music scene since the 1990s, I know Amanda Palmer. We've hung out in the back room at shows. We've slept with at least one guy in common. I've sat with her over drinks. Hell, I used to go to Dresden Dolls shows at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, capacity 105, when there were less than ten people in the room, and I kept on going to see them up through their latest CD release at the Orpheum -- sold out, thank you very much, capacity 4000 and light years from those long ago sparsely-attended shows. And ever since the early days, Amanda has a)had that little belly and b)been absolutely fucking drop-dead gorgeous. If you don't know her up close, well, remember Madonna in the 80s? Before she got all hard-bodied and manly? When she was still soft and pretty, writhing around in the low-slung belt in the "Lucky Star" video? That's exactly what Amanda's belly looks like. She has the lovely, curvy body of a healthy, beautiful and desirable woman, by any standards.
Rather, by any standards except the same kind of wrongheaded fuckers that airbrush away Beyonce's thighs, Adele's ass, Janet Jackson's waist, and only shoot Ann Wilson from the neck up.
Roadrunner officially denies that the whole thing is a publicity stunt for "Leeds, Unlimited." So does Amanda. History may never know for sure, but my Spidey sense tells me it's real.
Amanda's response to Roadrunner? "I told the label I wasn’t changing anything." Though Roadrunner backed down and the video was released un-retouched, the label owner is doing his best to make her feel like she's failed through non-compliance. "He said he thought it was a shame that someone as smart and talented as me could not make a commercial record that they could sell," she blogged, "and he thinks that someday I’ll see the light and write some better songs." She asked to be dropped from the roster. Roadrunner has until June 2009 to decide whether or not to drop her. (This is funny stuff -- if her baldly autobiographical lyrical themes are any indication, idiots don't decide when to drop Amanda. Amanda decides when to drop THEM. Except in "The Jeep Song," she got the short end of that stick.)
Amanda Palmer is not a manufactured, plasticky pop idol. It is not what she's going for, and that's key to the appeal of the Dresden Dolls for their legion of fans. And speaking of her fans, they've started a blog of their own. At last count seventy pages long, Rebellyon.com is chock-a-block with fans who've taken photos of their own bellies, most bearing "Fuck you's" to Roadrunner.
Amanda's belly has become a viral web sensation, and no doubt because it not only underlines, yet again, the role of so many women in rock (pout pretty, be skinny, dance around and let the boys play the instruments). But it also illustrates the plight of many artists with a vision, many of whom have entered some kind of bargain with the likes of Roadrunner and have encountered demands to compromise that vision. Do they cave for the sake of getting the big prizes, money and fame while being reduced to a caricature of themselves? Or do they stand fast and put their whole true selves on the line for art's sake, belly and all? "I'm a guy. I know what people like," the A&R rep said. With its overtones of subservience, it's as fascinating to us as "The Merchant of Venice" was to its scandalized Elizabethan audiences, and because the antagonist here wants to quite literally hack off a pound of flesh. Maybe two.
I can't wait to hear the song Amanda's going to write about THIS asshole.