In the context of a heteronormative commercial mainstream, the duo’s outspoken singer is at the forefront of a new breed of emancipatory queer hip-hop—but is she also the epitome of gender radically being sugarcoated by the marketing of subculture?
When asked to write about the Internet’s new album Ego Death, we couldn’t help but think of a text entitled “Where Do All the Sad Girls Go?” by Alok Vaid-Menon, one half of the trans South Asian performance art duo Dark Matter. Although the question might appear romantic at first glance, to us it provides the critical entry point to thinking about the ongoing and current appropriation of the LGBTQI movement and its subcultures by a normative, if not heteronormative, commercial mainstream. It is not symbolically that we ask, “What are the places that remain for the sad girls?” in a time when the polarity remains extreme between a “normalization” and commodification of (happified) gay culture and the ongoing battle of queer and trans folks for their lives, presences and cultures.
Enter the Internet, whose charismatic singer Syd tha Kyd (recently shortened to just Syd) has slowly morphed in recent years—at least in pictures—from a sad, unhappy and insecure lesbian into a smiling, happy creature. Riding the lesbian wave in the wake of a new breed of queer RnB singers post-Frank Ocean, Syd could be seen as the epitome of cool, casual sexuality. She identifies as butch—a hot one—and is probably a refreshing character within the mainstream music industry, but in queer culture her public persona reiterates a cliché, conforming to a straight understanding of what a butch lesbian (and her feelings) look like.
One must recognize that it is important to have underground artists tumbling into the mainstream who address issues that are sensitive in this mainstream context. Syd does her part by singing very explicitly about the ups and downs of lesbian relationships, in the very personalized context of the insecurities attached to her newfound success. Nevertheless, dominant culture should not be lured of its own censorship and selection: queer public cultures and queer (hip-hop) artists have always existed, whether or not they were granted high culture or mainstream attention. Lesbian public culture has always existed, before and after it was “discovered“ by SONY. Think Planningtorock, The Gossip, Jungle Pussy, Juliana Huxtable, the whole New York-based Getto Gothik movement. Recognize also that the inclusion and marketing of subcultures, in most cases, equals a diluting of once-radical, political and emancipatory projects. The mainstream alters them, and often sucks them dry.
With Girls Like Us, we are looking for and supporting the places and spaces that sad girls (like us) can carve out for themselves today, in a time when queer cultures are commodified by straight culture as a trick to win more votes, or to provide trivial products with a “cutting” or sexy edge. We believe in outspokenness, self-identification, speaking for oneself, gender non-conforming, gender fluid self-expressions, opening a queer space and gender radicality. Underlined by daring, bold, vanguard aesthetics, explicit language and imagery, radical artistic positions; parental advisory. Obligatory.
The Internet is a Los Angeles-based soul band consisting of Odd Future members Syd the Kyd and Matt Martians. Released in June, Ego Death is their third full-length project under the Odd Future imprint, distributed in partnership with Sony / Columbia.
Jessica Gysel and Maria Guggenbichler are editors of Girls Like Us, an independent journal mapping new routes towards a feminist, post-gender future.
Illustration by Kristian Hammerstad