Ashley Joyce – Washington, DC
Every era in pop music is indebted to a handful of avant-garde forbearers: Madonna brought drag ball culture to the mainstream with “Vogue,” and Green Day took inspiration from seminal punk acts like Stiff Little Fingers and the Buzzcocks for their three-chord, three-minute hits.
But the current batch of sexually empowered female solo artists in high-concept costuming can be traced back to David Bowie, Grace Jones, Freddie Mercury and a lesser-known artist named Peaches.
Before Lady Gaga wanted to “take a ride on your disco stick,” before Katy Perry put whipped cream canisters on her bra and before Miley Cyrus took a giant inflatable penis on tour, Peaches had done it all and more.
Peaches, born Merrill Nisker in 1968, launched her musical career in Toronto, where she taught music and drama at a local Hebrew school. After adopting her stage name and cutting her first LP, “Lovertits,” in 2000, she moved to Berlin, where she was quickly signed to a label and became a fixture in the city’s thriving art-rock scene.
Known for her absurdly sexual lyrics, a penchant for gender fluidity and her theatrical stage presence, Peaches enjoyed moderate success as a pioneer of electroclash, a genre that blends 80s synthpop and electro with punk riffs and a dash of performance art.
Her music is often discovered through its appearance in movies and TV. Her tracks can be found in “Mean Girls,”“Lost in Translation” and the less artistically ambitious “Jackass Number Two.” In one memorable episode of “30 Rock,” Liz Lemon’s ringtone is Peaches’ breakthrough single, “Fuck the Pain Away.”
Her most recent album, “I Feel Cream,” was released in 2009. In the interim, she staged a controversial one-woman performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” released a semi-autobiographical rock opera and appeared in a book of photography.
Peaches finally ended her recording hiatus with the release of a new album, “Rub,” on September 25.
“Rub” will be accompanied by an American tour (her first since 2012) and 11 music videos. The three she’s released so far have included guest appearances by some of her famous friends. “Light in Places” features Empress Stah, an aerial performance artist who has mastered the art of buttplug-based laser light shows, and legendary noise rocker Kim Gordon appears as Peaches’ reluctant wrestling coach in the video for “Close Up.”
Comedian and activist Margaret Cho joins Peaches for a NSFW romp through Los Angeles in the video “Dick in the Air,” a send-up of female objectification that includes lyrics like “We’ve been shaking our tits for years / So let’s switch positions / No inhibitions.”
With pop stars performing sanitized versions of sex-positive lyrics that characterize Peaches’ catalog, and with the challenges to conventional gender identity entering the mainstream, will Peaches still be shocking? Perhaps not, but shock was never the point – it was to show the world a new vision for female sexual freedom and queer inclusivity.