Cindy Sherman and Tori Amos: Strange Little Girls

Having read Anna’s report from our trip to museum of art Louisiana last week, I thought I’d just do a post of my own, following up on Anna’s observations on Cindy Sherman.

Because seeing the Sherman exhibtion reminded me of the Tori Amos-album Stange Little Girls (2001) which I bought recently and like very much. It occured to me at Louisiana that Tori Amos is obviously very inspired by Sherman in this album, which features 12 cover tracks, covering songs by artists as diverse as Eminem and Lennon/McCartney.

Strange Little Girls - front cover

On the album, Amos presents an interesting new take on the concept of musical covering as she uses each track to present a different side of Woman as an expressive individual – and perhaps even different sides of herself as a woman artist. The songs are all centered around women and they are all originally written by male artists, and thus Amos uses the album as a way of exploring different male visions of women, and she does so playfully and freely, as if trying on different outfits in a fitting room. The homage to Cindy Sherman’s work  (whose artistic project of portraying women may be said to be similar) is quite evident, as Amos poses on the album booklet in a series of photos that recall Sherman’s staged photography:

Tori Amos - Strange Little Girls

From Tori Amos: Strange Little Girls

If the pictures stood by themselves, I would be tempted to dismiss them as sheer Sherman plagiatism, but appearing as they do as part of the album cover art, they merely serve to emphasize Strange Little Girls as Amos’s musical exploration of the artistic project that Sherman started, and I think that’s a very sympathetic idea.

Amos’s talent as a musician is indisputable, I think, and the tracks are all very interesting musically, ranging in genre from quite piano ballads to loud rock songs, much like Sherman’s photography which ranges from the fragmentary contemplative to the grotesque and shrill. My favourite tracks on the album are probably the beautiful, understated cover version of Tom Waits’s “Time”, which gains a whole new perspective with Amos’s delicate vocal replacing Waits’s hoarse one, and the almost deliriously rambling, disharmonic and multivoiced schizophrenic version of Neil Young’s otherwise very by-the-book ballad “Heart of Gold”. And her chillingly laid-back version of “I don’t like Mondays” haunted me for weeks after the Virginia Tech massacre and comes to my mind whenever I see Cho’s angry face on the news, the Elektra-like unquenchable thirst for revenge shining from his eyes.

A minor problem with Amos’s album is, however, that she does not achieve the diversity of expression that Sherman masters. While the genre of her cover tracks ranges, Amos’s women portraying gets a little monotonous, as the majority of the portraits present in some form a deranged and dangerous woman. She no doubt wishes to underline the tendency towards vagina-dentata-ish male fear of women, and while I think this is an important issue within our patriachal society, surely it does not reflect the attitude of the entire male population? Here, I think Sherman’s take on the male optics is more subtle and leaves more room for interpretation.

But the album’s spark and energy and Tori Amos’s fitting-room mentality towards a male-dominated society’s view on femininity, definitely makes Tori Amos’s music recommendable to anyone with an interest in Sherman’s project, and I think it is great, and much too rare, to see contemporary women musicians seriously exploring gender issues within their music. A much-needed break from Gwen Stefani’s scantily clad Hollaback Girls and Shakira’s allegedly truth-speaking hips. I haven’t yet heard Amos’s latest album American Doll Posse (which was released last month), but I understand that Amos continues her theme of women portraits, this time specifically criticising traditinal American sex roles; so it would seem that Sherman is indeed still very much alive and kicking. Good for her. And for all of us.

/marie

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May 23, 2007. Art, Music, Reviews, Staged photos.

10 Comments

  1. confidentialattachees replied:

    Hmm, gotta check out that Amos girl. Sounds very interesting…
    /anna

  2. D replied:

    I love Tori Amos! I have all but a couple albums…

  3. Who am i, really? « Chester Fields replied:

    […] played by Sherman.  Here’s a bio for Sherman at cindysherman.com Here’s an entry at The Confidential Attachées that talks about Sherman’s influence on the Tori Amos album Strange Little […]

  4. mariel replied:

    Dear Marie,

    I am a writer born and living in Buenos Aires (southernmost corner of the world). For the last year I have been writing a book of poetry at night, listening to Tori Amos’ records. At the same time, images by Cindy Sherman kept coming to my head.

    Starting to think about the cover of the book, I felt it necessarily had to convey an Amos/Sherman atmosphere.

    You are the first person I find making that connection. And in a very precise and lucid manner.

    Would be glad to be in contact with you.

    Anyway, thanks for your words (so close to my work and way of thinking).

    Mariel

  5. Aimee replied:

    LOVIN THE PIC’S GOT ANY MORE

  6. Jonathan replied:

    I am a huge Tori Amos fan, and I must say that her other albums explore gender issues in a much more in-depth way than “Strange Little Girls” does. While the album is certainly interesting to anyone into feminist re-interpretations, I agree that it is somewhat of a Cindy Sherman rip-off. Tori’s original compositions are way more challenging to the patriarchy than this collection of covers.

    So if you were impressed by this album, you should definitely check out “Under the Pink”, which deals with the fractured female psyche, or “Boys for Pele” which traces a journey toward female empowerment and love, or “the Beekeeper” a spiritual hymnal based on traditionally feminine values.

    I should add that Tori Amos’ themes often fall outside of mainstream feminism, (she has a real affinity for Demeter, Inanna, and Mary Magdalene). Her explorations of gender are always metaphorical and rarely constitute a definative “statement”, but leave ample room for diverse interpretation. This is perhaps why her music has remained relatively undetected by the academic world so far.

  7. Sun Kyoung replied:

    I love Tori Amos and her voice is amazing

  8. Good cover versions: Just my soul responding to another man’s song « Feminist Music Geek replied:

    […] and Eminem.” Also, I might need to get around to unpacking the cover art for Amos’s Strange Little Girls at some […]

  9. Carmven replied:

    Lovely postt! Tori Amos’ work has been a HUGE huge part of my life, and about three years ago, I discovered Cindy Sherman’s work and the connection was instantly perceived through my eyes. It’s great to see other peopel can also build bridges between the two and appreciate the way one art form might influence another, thus deepening their meaning. Will take the time to read more entries of your blog and appreciate more pics on your flickr:) Greetings from Brazil – C

  10. ratu replied:

    very strange little girl!! but cool.. 🙂

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