Sunday, August 30, 2020

Le Tigre - "Hot Topic" (1999)

When LCD Soundsystem started making waves in the early 00s, it was easy to hear their first single, “Losing My Edge” (2002), as a sort of mission statement. It’s got a good beat, it sounds effortlessly cool yet anxiously precise, and the lyrics are ironic to the utmost. But even knowing that they were making fun of themselves and their cohort, the list of bands recited as the song nears the end became one of those things where everyone that followed had to prove they knew all of those bands.

I don’t know what the first example is of a song that just lists other songs or bands (was it Nurse with Wound’s Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella (1979)?), but it amuses me greatly that Le Tigre beat LCD Soundsystem to the punch by three years. Le Tigre’s “Hot Topic” is even more direct and focused, although they were being sincere while LCD Soundsystem were knowingly winking while doing it. I’m aware that the latter might be a response to or a mockery of the former, but I hope it isn’t. They’re both good in their own way. But in the long run, “Hot Topic” might be better.

It’s better because it isn’t a joke, and Le Tigre weren’t just trying to prove how cool they were. Their mission was to dance, to fight the patriarchy, and to cite their influences and forebearers. Maybe that sounds awfully pretentious or self-absorbed or trivial. Sincerity in music is often viewed with skepticism according to modern tastes (see “Losing My Edge” for the case in point), but Le Tigre explicitly wanted to have a good time while transmitting their message. In that, they succeeded in full. The beat is solid, the lyrics make their point, and the list of influences is varied and contentious but yet a valuable resource. It’s certainly indicative of a time and a place, but it’s a fascinating and relatively poorly documented time and place, so it’s all the more special.

Some of the choices are obvious (Yoko Ono, Aretha Franklin). Some were just friends of the band (Tammy Rae Carland, Krystal Wakem). Many are artists, filmmakers, and writers, but there are even academics and athletes. It’s quite a list. Of course, no such list can be complete or comprehensive, but as an entry point into a world of queer and feminist icons, it’s still a great place to start learning.

For detailed annotations with portraits and even more links, check out this great article from Slate.