We're still trying to get our head around the cover of this week's NME (NSFW, just to be on the safe side) and what it all means - unfortunately we didn't have time to go to our local WH Smith at lunchtime today to see how the public reaction of the gaggle of Nuts readers thereabout were reacting. It certainly looks airbrushed enough for the less salubrious weeklies - look at the unnatural for the size skin tone, and compare the dimensions to the recent beunderweared live photos.
While it's easy to go "OMG THE FAT BIRD!!!!1111", and indeed many a message board is, we've long been flagging with the whole Beth Ditto thing in general. When the Gossip were on Tonight With Jonathan Ross it seemed like a bolt from the blue, an injection completely from left field into your comfy Friday night viewing. But it was later a hit off the back of a Channel 4 programming trailer. You don't build a pop career off that sort of thing, especially in the way that Ditto has seemingly grabbed every potential outlet with both hands. What is the point of that Guardian column? We suspect it's meant to be homespun leftfield philosophy, but a) why would you ask Beth Ditto? and b) doesn't this just pigeonhole her as Offbeat Wacky Overweight Pop Star Writes Just For You? It reinforces this idea that the band is just her and she's the great one - Nathan and Hannah seem to have been written completely out of this story, the footage of Standing In The Way Of Control from the Radio 1 One Big Weekend on BBC2 not featuring a single shot of them apart from a very wide shot from the back of the tent.
As for the other party, the NME has a surprising recent history of missing the initial shots in the hype war on various acts - they missed the Arctic Monkeys right up until Fake Tales Of San Francisco by which time everyone knew the words - and making up for it later both in promoting anyone they set eyes on for a few weeks at a time and in going big on those it didn't initally see coming. They did run a piece on the band last summer, but it didn't feel like much beyond their usual passing acquaintance. As surprising as her Cool List elevation was, if overshadowed by, ironically, the debate about the cover of that issue, it was still a phoney war of a Cool List and at a stroke debased the Kill Rock Stars post-riot grrrl icon in waiting that she's always looked on the verge of becoming into the sort of cartoon the British music press specialise in, that of Fifteen Stone Former Squirrel Devouring Lesbian From The Deep South Beth Ditto. (We find it helps to read that in the voice of Gordon Burns announcing the current leader at the end of a round in the Krypton Factor.)
So, the cover. We suspect this will lose a lot of you. It's brave, we'll give them that, in a "we're so good at publishing" sense, but we're not sure what it proves about anyone. As against the NME grain as it is, Conor McNicholas would probably argue the case for it being in the same ballpark as the famous PJ Harvey topless back cover in 1992, as some sort of 'feminist reclamation', which ignores that Harvey did the cover...well, partly because they'd just done the same with Morrissey, but also because it was directly meant to cut her away from being lauded as a feminism espousing singer, a cause she's been quoted since as seperating her style from. Steve Albini, although he's expressed sympathy with the movement was hardly regarded for his credentials in the area at the time, having come from Big Black and Rapeman. Ditto would probably argue it proves she's "comfortable with my body" and is a strike against "societal norms" (which of course reinforces those norms) - indeed she's done this before, a couple of years ago for an American gay magazine - which is fair enough in context but not, say, using your body to sell yourself by, I dunno, putting it on the cover of a top selling magazine. What is the point actually being made? That this is not an unclean state? Because it veers dangerously close, also given Ditto's stage presence, to showing off - who else in the paper's catchment area would do it? Can you see it from Karen O, Lily Allen, Kate Jackson, Lovefoxxx? We can't, regardless of size, and that the paper would be accused of sexist imagery (and no, we wouldn't feel much better about it if they did - you should have experienced our inner torment when Cerys Matthews was on the cover of FHM, and that was just a sliver of breast shot) whereas at least here they can try and claim it as living art or somesuch. Is it really being the oft-quoted 'positive role model' to aid a photographer and publication in being indiepop's own fat-related sideshow? Isn't the whole fuss just trading off her looks as much, in the opposite direction, as when Kate Moss won Sexiest Female at their awards anyway? (Her first words in a recent Vogue interview: "This is probably the first time a chunky person has made it into Vogue, right?" Well, who can say?)
Oh, and if anyone says it's striking a blow against size zero culture we'll be striking a blow against their temple. Perhaps really we just miss the days of Godspeed You! Black Emperor covers.