Culture

Music

‘I’m with the Band: Nasty Cherry’

By Anwen Crawford
This Netflix series pays lip service to female empowerment in the music industry, but ultimately reinforces its limits

Nasty Cherry. Source

I’m pretty sure it was Courtney Love who once said, back in the ’90s, that in order to be a rock star you must first hate your parents, bone-deep resentment and implacable rage being more or less essential if you wish to spend adulthood screaming your head off in front of a paying crowd. By that measure, the members of Nasty Cherry are doomed to fail. By any measure, I suspect, but we might as well start with the basics.

The four young, Instagram-ready women who comprise Nasty Cherry were chosen by the English singer Charli XCX, and the group’s creation is the subject of a new Netflix documentary series, I’m with the Band. For the sake of filming, the band members are made to live in the same Los Angeles house, reality-television style, while Charli and her team try sculpting them into the “badass” girl group of Charli’s dreams.

Gabi, the vocalist, who has never sung before, promptly invites her mum around for a visit to the band’s share house, and the two of them later go shopping together for Gabi’s stage clothes. Debbie, the drummer, chats on the phone with her mum back home in London, which is also where Georgia, the bassist – and another musical neophyte – hails from. (The two Brits are personal friends of Charli’s, which only adds to the show’s chummy, slumber party atmosphere – a slumber party with cameras.) Chloe, meanwhile, the group’s guitarist, jams with her dad in the band’s rehearsal room. “My parents,” she tells us, “from day one, were like, ‘You are an Olympic gymnast. You are a rock star.’” Lucky Chloe!

Still, if I were a record company executive, I’d lean back in my boardroom chair about now and say to this lot, “Nasty Cherry? I’m not seeing much nasty here.” Surely the second rule of music stardom – it comes right after hating your parents – is to behave badly, and therefore appear much cooler than you actually are. Sipping mimosas in the backyard swimming pool? Mild, ladies, it’s very mild.

What’s objectionable here is not the band members, who, to their credit, appear to understand that they’re being gifted an easy path. Everything from gigs to producers is put in front of Nasty Cherry, and they’re hardly the first manufactured group that has landed in a recording studio before they barely know each other’s names, let alone how to play music together. No, what leaves an unpleasant aftertaste is the way in which this carefully planned operation is framed by Charli and her pals – including band manager Emmie, described by Charli as her “best friend” – as some sort of feminist gesture, a “girls rock” incursion upon the male hierarchies of the music industry. “I feel like now, more than ever, is such a great time to see women in control,” declares Charli, at the show’s outset. And there’s certainly a woman in control, here: Charli, who shepherds her charges as closely as any Berry Gordy or Simon Fuller before her.

And for what? At least Berry Gordy employed the greatest pop songwriters in America in order to make his stars shine. At least Malcolm McLaren, when he pulled the Sex Pistols together, had enough contempt for the music industry to want to leave it wrecked and smoking. Lip service is paid in I’m with the Band to punk attitude – the supposed “purity” of non-musicians, for instance, who might approach making music in fresh and untutored ways. But really, everyone here – especially management – is in thrall to the most superficial conventions of good ol’-fashioned showbiz: red carpets, launch parties, press photographs. “Get those Getty Images, get that watermark,” hustles Emmie. “I wish when I was 14, there was a band like Nasty Cherry,” says Charli, but I really can’t see any nascent 14-year-old rebel declaring her allegiance to a group whose highest aims, on the evidence here, are a red-carpet snap and a slot on Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist. It’s hardly pissing on stage or scandalising a US president, is it.

As for Nasty Cherry’s music, well, there’s not much of it in I’m with the Band to go by. Snippets of their debut single, “Win”, released in April, can be heard intermittently throughout the episodes, as they rehearse, record and then shoot a slick clip for it. Judge for yourself, but all I hear is perfunctory indie pop; a weak demo that should have remained a demo, polished up to try and make it sound like an anthem. I don’t envy Nasty Cherry at all: who wants their very first efforts at songwriting released for the whole world to weigh in on? If this were really about putting women in control of their music, the group should have been left alone for a year – at least – to figure out just what they wanted to sound like.

In fact, there comes a moment, about midway through the series, where the band members do try to exert some autonomy over their creative process – and to no avail. They’ve been jamming together for just two days, sketching out song ideas, but no sooner have they hit a shared and private groove than they’re packed off to a recording studio. In the car, on the way there, they begin to question why they can’t just stay at home and write together, and why it is that Charli keeps pairing them up with male producers when, perhaps – upon reflection – they’d prefer to work with other women instead, or even record themselves. A phone call is placed to Emmie, to ask if they can beg off the studio session. “It would be cool to find some females to collaborate with,” Debbie tells her.

And then all hell breaks loose. Charli, clearly tipped off by Emmie, returns the call when the group are at the studio, and she’s fuming. “I was, like, extremely personally offended when I heard it was about working with men,” she tells them. “Because, let me fucking tell you, I work with a lot of men, and that does not make me a less empowered woman. I’m empowered because I’m empowered.” Hard to argue with a tautology. It’s at this point that I wished the four women of Nasty Cherry had told Charli to fuck right off, before jumping back into their car and driving together into a camera-free dawn, there to write the kind of songs that might have shown up this hollow “empowerment” talk for what it is. That’s the badass girl group I dreamt of, when I was 14.

Anwen Crawford

Anwen Crawford is The Monthly’s music critic.

Nasty Cherry. Source

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