DOWN (but also Up) WITH CUTENESS!
Sports Boyfriend’s first show, Chicago does Miami (sort of), and a queer world
by Kristina Pedersen
Previously on Friends (I don’t know if I am legally allowed to say that): My morning started out at a funeral that had no snacks and I am in the middle of briefly not speaking to my boyfriend because I am a bad person. Tonight I am going to Sports Boyfriend’s first show.
I have been working all day applying to jobs I don’t think I want or will get but I am currently in the middle of an existential crisis about greatness and significance and all that (using my hand to make an abstract circle in the air next to me) kind of bullshit. How do I define wealth and greatness and success do dreams come true do I need a job am I a genius am I the worst how important to me is dental insurance? Should I surrender to my insignificance as a lump of blood+ on this big dead rock and just find my paradise or am I obliged to contribute or am I delusional for thinking I have something important to contribute? Things like that. And sending portfolios to several-degrees-away-from-the-Dream Jobs is great therapy. It is incredibly time-consuming to be a photographer though, not because of anything cool, but because of all the files. Files to upload and download and place and link and send to your stepmom and resend to your client and wash and rinse and repeat. Sorry about this paragraph if you’ve already got your life all figured out.
After I arranged a thousand files in PDFs for six hours I had one glass of wine — a six-dollar white recommended to me that tastes like a sort of cute little wet sock that your ex-boyfriend’s unrelentingly annoying sister’s lap dog has been wearing while walking through that terribly charming black slush you know and love and then it was never washed and the dog wore the sock again on the hottest day of summer for no logical reason and then it was discovered a hundred years later still unwashed and turned into a wine flavor that pairs nicely with dirty towel and burnt Lean Cuisine cardboard and ears — and then I “called” an Uber to head to the DIY show at which Sports Boyfriend would be playing her first ever live show.
Sports Boyfriend is the musical stylings of Eileen Peltier, a petite East Coast expatriate now local to Chicago who is constantly buzzing with a nervous excitement and who is probably (she said it, not me) dating ur girlfriend. She has developed, and exercises liberally, her own wonderful kind of bravura of Weird Twitter — like your favorite new artificial sweetener — taking on the persona of what seems to be a cute freshman psych major who eats yogurt and really “gets people,” but the queer version who hates herself for it (for the cuteness not the queerness). And also sports! Sports Boyfriend, as one of the best band names ever, comes with one of the best band name stories ever. Eileen has a signature all-black varsity jacket. Once when she was wearing the jacket, her sister saw it and asked, “Did you get, like, a sports boyfriend or something?” And thus here we are today, waiting for Duvaan to arrive in 3 minutes in his Kia Rio. I’ve never been inside a Kia before, maybe I will find myself or something.
Perfect timing, my Billy Joel pump-up song finishes (“You May Be Right”) and Duvaan has arrived. I walk outside to a car playing the loudest radio EDM I have heard since Nam. I get in and say, with zero enthusiasm, “It’s a party in here,” and Duvaan says, matching my enthusiasm, “Yep.” But of course!!! It’s a Saturday night at 10:30pm, this is probably mandatory Uber state of the union for weekend nights. So there we were, riding in silence, me by myself in the backseat behind Duvaan, listening to a song about “losing control” at max Kia volume. I am just sitting in the back texting I guess, like some cute girl in an Uber on a Saturday night. I feel like I should be wearing hoop earrings. We speed away to the DIY venue in Uptown and I’m pretty sure this is the Uber I will die in and it’s perfect. After a while Duvaan asks me if I am Russian because my first name is common in Russia. I say no and that I am Armenian, which is geographically quite close. He says he has a lot of respect for the Armenian people. He tells me that he moved to the United States speaking only Russian and has learned English from driving Uber for two years. I wonder about the vocabulary of this new demographic, the Uber-Americans. This only further substantiates my theory that a brand, and not a mere single man (or she!), will be president one day: for man is only “I” but a brand is “We.” Hopefully I will be way dead by then. Duvaan is very nice to me, he tells me to be careful tonight and he pulls a U-turn for me when I fuck up the navigation (my calling card as a passenger, tied with spilling endless bowl of soup on new white shirt/car). We see some girls wearing some things smoking outside the venue and Duvaan says he doesn’t like that, when girls smoke. I thank him for the ride and roll on inside.
My first thought upon entering is “instant bad.” There is a terrible band playing. No offense, it’s really okay, who even am I? The band is composed of several young women yelling about what it is like being a girl. And even though it is not pleasant, I am seriously right there with them. It seems like most people in the venue are too which is encouraging for the sex. There is a lot going on here. And the thing I can’t get over most, among several, is the trickery with the mirrors on the walls! Very good job with that, I’m like a confused animal that doesn’t have self-awareness. The space seems really large and really packed and there is in fact a great crowd of people here, all who seem really into the scene. I get so hot immediately; I mean, come on (points to good brand on my coat).
After the girls finish, a guy gets on stage who is probably in charge and tells us that his art collective wants to support local artists and also to not push each other because that’s not “cool.” It is difficult to be the authority in a place like this because you have to create the illusion that there is some other mystery person in charge who is uncool and you are cool but speaking on their behalf as a sort of ambassador of coolness to this mystery dictator that just doesn’t know better. He does a good job, he orchestrates the respect of and between crowd members and I was never pushed. Next up is a rapper who has some really great songs that would be good if they were good (you know? Like, it’s there but not all the way yet) and after him will be Sports Boyfriend. Let us briefly survey the scene.
The crowd in general is full of confidence, booze-fueled confidence probably but confidence nonetheless! They are young, they have a voluptuousness in their energy like kings at feasts with large drumsticks of meat and spilling goblets of mead and shit all over the place. It’s really festive. Jovial as hell here, and debaucherous. There are people towards the front who are really jamming, boys who are sort of dirty-but-for-a-good-cause looking, a bunch of girls with bangs and moon shaped faces, two beautiful tall people who are dancing and drinking straight from a wine bottle that keep catching me staring at them, there is that one guy that was in, like, every single crowd shot I took for Pitchfork Festival, and a lot of poor guys who keep hitting on pretty much only the gay girls by accident (i.e. someone who spent five minutes being obscenely grateful to my friend for giving him a mint, the appreciation was not unappreciated though mostly), and this is because the other girls are all flirting or making out aggressively with other boys. These girls are not joking around they are empowered and they are going to touch your hair. I sort of wonder if we are just recreating the monster but in reverse and I flippantly dismiss this thought with a “cross that bridge when we come to it” attitude.
I look around, like I always do, and wonder if this is Paris in the 20’s, if this crowd and this scene is what Woody Allen will make movies about in a hundred years. When I am in taxis I wonder if the pulsing lights of WingStop are analogous to the dim glow of candles that lit the brasseries in which Fitzgerald & Co wrote and dined and partied.
This venue is not like a brasserie at all but it could possibly serve as a Thai restaurant by day or possibly a mart that sells pillowcases and bananas and off-brand vanilla wafers.
It’s sort of hot and heavy and throbbing and blunt and awkward and then Sports Boyfriend takes the stage and wiggles her fingers as if to warm them up and hits the play button on her music machine and then instant good vibes. The whole place is carried (lifted) into this floating state. There is the sound of giant waves of beautiful I-don’t-know-what. Music, notes, harmonies, fuzz. Mostly just waves. And beats. It really is all rushing and flowing over us, literally above our heads it feels like, it is filling the room and everyone is engaged and swaying and moving. At first her voice is quiet and it gets stronger and more deliberate as the show goes on.
I can’t help but think of Kurt Vile when listening to her voice. Kurt Vile has this whole thing, I think, where he has this really untrained-sounding way of singing, like he is some guy who doesn’t really know how to sing but is just doing it and its amazing. Eileen’s voice reminds me of this: her voice is young and honest. Popping with honesty I think. We, this gross sweaty farm of twenty-somethings, are being washed in the full-ass sound accompanied by this sometimes-whisper, sometimes-defiant, always-lo-fi candid young voice.
The sound is so appropriate for the Chicago DIY scene but in a way that is only because it’s this strange version of an impression of a dream where you are hearing this music from far away and you are sitting on all-white furniture at night around a pool in Miami and there is, like, a buffet with fries and chicken wings, maybe it is a wedding maybe it is a corporate party on your mom’s business trip back when the company had money maybe it is just what you imagine expensive hotel beach clubs to sound like at night. You don’t know. But you know for sure that you are here and it’s cold as hell and this music is making you happy and sway-y.
Sports Boyfriend as a character — like her tweets betray — seems to be all about this resentment of (obviously likable) cuteness. The music industry likes cute and innocent women because it likes non-threatening women. The media industry is interested in cuteness and thinness because it keeps women, in some way, weak.
But Sports Boyfriend is about a rejection of cuteness through cuteness. It’s about queer cuteness and it is about a place that exists between an embrace of being who you are & liking what you like while rejecting the facet of those characteristics that are essentially not queer (by queer I mean “anti-hegemony,” not exclusively “gay”).
For example, you can put flax seed in your coffee and not be a douche. You can like blonde girls and be a girl. You can make innocent, honest music as a smart, deliberate, and in-no-way naïve person. Sports Boyfriend is that girl at the mall drinking her 32 ounces of Starbucks, but also not that girl because she will probably steal your girlfriend and skateboard away into the sunset with her (I don’t know if she skateboards but anything goes is my point).
The whole stereotype is completely inverted / imploded / destroyed /reborn anew which I think is exactly what a better world looks like. Before the show, Eileen was giving out these wonderful stickers that said, “My boyfriend plays sports,” which I think demonstrates well the David Lynch-ing she does to female identity: she is the boyfriend! but also…is she?
Sports Boyfriend has something really interesting and new and cathartic to contribute to the mostly male-dominated Chicago DIY scene and I don’t think it’s so terrible that it reminds me distantly of Miami.
My night ended with tacos down the street and they gave me French fries on the side instead of the rice I ordered but I ate them anyway because I pick my battles wisely.
See Kristina’s photography, art and more at http://kristinapedersen.com.
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