Monday, September 10, 2012

Christeene: Waste Up Kneez Down

It has been about 6 months since I first encountered Christeene.

As you may recall, I was conflicted by Paul Soileau's new "drag" persona/performance art piece. The songs are over the top in their filth (that's really saying something coming from me, since I hero worship Peaches) often to the point of being jokey. The stage show's rape allusion really struck the wrong chord with me-- who is this guy getting onstage and mimicking being gang raped? What the hell does he know about this? Does he think it's funny or risque? Does he have the right to do it?

Christeene bothered me for six months. But, I thought about Christeene for six months.

And then I bought the album. Waste Up, Kneez Down is a parody of the nasty hip hop we all loved in high school. The album opens weak with Damn Right, but recovers quickly with the addictive and hypnotic "Fix My Dick," a Lil Kim style number that rips off a Missy Elliot beat (I forget the name of the song, but I used to call it "The Seizure Song"). It's catchy, horrifically graphic and enthusiastically sex-positive, and even more genderqueer sex positive.

Next up, the most troubling song of Christeene's ouvre for me: "Slowly/Easy," the song that often serves as an introduction to the stage show and includes a fake abduction and trick-gone-bad rape scene (at SxSW, the back up dancers literally tossed her back and forth between them, tearing her dress-- it was impossible not to watch but was also highly disturbing). The video, which can be viewed here (WARNING, NSFW!!!) addresses the situation with more subtlety-- making the "scene" feel as though it could be a bad PCP trip or something of that ilk, making it unclear as to whether Christeene jumped her john or her john was a panda bear stalking her, though as the video goes further on and the lyrics of the song proclaim slut politics (maybe in a manner more self-aware than is befitting the overgrown pre-adolescent that is Christeene's stage persona, more on that later), the video appears to jump back and forth in time, showing Christeene enjoying these encounters less and less, with more fear and less insanity in her eyes.

On stage (and in many of her songs), Christeene is a "baby-person" according to her creator/wearer/puppetmaster, Soileau's interview with Queerty magazine. She minces around, she has no concept of how ridiculous she looks or sounds and is eerily reminiscent of the scene in Thirteen when Evan Rachel Wood gets out of control and starts mocking her mother by chanting "No Bra, No Panties!" The way she addresses sexuality smacks of her creator's gender -- the filth, man, the filth! -- but his subtle misunderstanding of the meaning of sex, the artful love/hate relationship with sexuality ("I got no pride when I'm shakin' my junk from side to side," vs "I'll let you chew on my crabcake to hell with the first date just slide me the beefsteak") reads incredibly feminine in gender, and certainly, in my imagination, would be similar to a transgendered take on sexuality. I cannot truly understand the pain that must come from feeling like your body is fundamentally NOT RIGHT for you, but I can appreciate the feeling of it being embarrassing in some way that can, sometimes, require someone to simply use your body as a way for you to accept it as something that is not wrong, dirty or disgusting. I think a lot of young women are taught to view their bodies with contempt, which is pretty but Christeene's preoccupation with being pretty and keeping her chin up are somewhat admirable.

The rest of the album keeps a similar feeling, walking a line between almost comically detailed descriptions of sex acts and R&B burners in the style of Millie Jackson (seriously, "Tears From My Pussy" may be the best slow-jam R&B parody I've ever heard, and "Oprah Angelz" is less beautifully orchestrated, but still hilarious). The last and greatest highlight of the record is probably "African Mayonnaise," which starts with the bold incantation "I am your new Celebrity, I am your new America, I am the piece of filthy meat that you take home and treat to yourself." Which lampoons celebrity culture, fast food culture and brings to mind...well, you know.

So, Paul, I'm gonna give credit where credit is due. This is a genius project. The songs are catchy and funny. The videos (worth watching) are pretty great. And while I understand the statement he is trying to make with the "rape" onstage, I think it does the show and character a disservice by dragging such heavy politics into it. Christeene is clearly broken in many ways, and the audience is smart enough to know that without her get broken onstage. I won't presume that Soileau is being intentionally obtuse, but he seems intelligent enough to know that for survivors, that imagery is upsetting, off putting and could cost him record sales (I nearly left after the first song because I was really icked out).

Paul, your see-through panties, the fright wig and the carefully and strategically applied bruises are shocking enough. I promise.