This post has absolutely nothing to do with knitting or any of the other themes that normally dominate on this blog but I am in the clutches of an epic fan-girl phase and I feel compelled to share it with you.
Today we are going to do my current Favourite Thing and talk about Missy Elliott.
When I am not talking about Missing Elliott I am reading about Missy Elliott, watching Missy Elliott videos or – best of all – listening to Missy Elliott records.
I love to line up her first six albums and play them back to back in order – Supa Dupa Fly; Da Real World; Miss E… So Addictive; Under Construction; This Is Not a Test!; and The Cookbook.
My Missy Elliott obsession started many years ago when “I can’t stand the rain” was released. I don’t know how I found out about the release or saw the video but I recorded the track onto a favourite minidisc, and the spectacle of Missy Elliott posturing into a fish-eye lens wearing a giant black inflatable bin bag was – for me – GAME CHANGING.
This is a bit embarrassing to admit but in my late teens and early twenties I had not really found myself. I was experimenting a lot, largely chasing after boys and putting lots of energy into looking attractive to the opposite sex. I feel very far away from that former self, as though I was not yet me but a semi-formed me exploring the roles doled out to my gender in fairytales, in pink toy shop aisles and in music videos where the main message is that women are above all supposed to be beautiful and alluring like princesses in towers.
Seeing Missy Elliott looking so big and funny and POWERFUL in “I can’t stand the rain” SLAYED this nonsense. She was up there killing all the tropes: instead of dancing around in a bikini trying to draw the attention of the men, she was in a giant black outfit declaring her magnificence into a fish-eye lens.
Me I’m supa fly
Supa dupa fly
Supa dupa fly
This gave me a huge thrill. In my head it was like, if Missy Elliott can do that then I can shave my head and start inventing pirate songs on accordion. Which is what I did. I switched out chasing boys for solid friendships with amazing women, I ditched frilly dresses for fat stripy jumpers, and I began making field recordings and educating myself on recording equipment and experimental music. I painted murals to raise the cash to fly to New York City by myself, to interview my art hero, Christine Hill.
Me I’m supa fly
Supa dupa fly
Supa dupa fly
I started to feel like me and the examples set by Björk and Missy Elliott didn’t hurt a bit. I don’t do anything on the scale or in the same vein as either of these epic women and their music is wildly different. But both these artists have built significant creative legacies, and have shaped the cultural landscape of pop music. I love the playful and imaginative nature of their work, the limitless nature of the version of womanhood represented in their influential imagery and sounds. Sometimes what you need to lift up your own dreams is posters on your wall, reference points that empower your hopes and dreams; legends who inspire you.
Missy Elliott is an amazing antidote to the crap ideas that prevail about what it means to be a woman. Her music is full of ideas and different types of creativity but key themes include frequent proclamations of her own wealth, success, desirability and general amazingness. Whatever one’s moral position on self-aggrandizement and conspicuous consumption, nobody can argue that it is fresh and exciting to hear such confidence and entitlement rolling from the lips of a woman.
I’m really, really hot
Everytime my records drop
Radio says I won’t stop
Cus’ I’m killin’ em’
But Missy Elliott is also very funny… who else would swallow a Lamborghini in a music video? And who can deny the mischief and talent of her guest appearance on Gina Thompson’s “The things that you do” track? I cannot get enough of that brief interlude where Missy is dancing outside of the car, rapping “hee hee hee hee haw, hee hee hee hee haw” over the top of the vocal and then riding in the car with Puff Daddy, dropping her characteristic direct stare on us. Missy appears at around 02:20 with a ton of amazing vocal sounds and a shiny tracksuit and it’s brilliant.
I is what I is and what I am is like my mammy
and I don’t mean to sound to petty
but they used to call me fatty
till I got with puff daddy
And it would seem that I am not alone in my massive admiration for the image that Missy Elliott represents; I was super interested to read in this pitchfork interview with Björk that a photo of Missy Elliott at a mixing desk was also important for her:
When people don’t credit me for the stuff I’ve done, it’s for several reasons. I’m going to get very methodical now! [laughs] One! I learned what a lot of women have to do is make the guys in the room think it was their idea, and then you back them up. Two! I spend 80% of the writing process of my albums on my own. I write the melodies. I’m by the computer. I edit a lot. That for me is very solitary. I don’t want to be photographed when I’m doing that. I don’t invite people around. The 20% of the album process when I bring in the string orchestras, the extras, that’s documented more. That’s the side people see. When I met M.I.A., she was moaning about this, and I told her, “Just photograph yourself in front of the mixing desk in the studio, and people will go, ‘Oh, OK! A woman with a tool, like a man with a guitar.’” Not that I’ve done that much myself, but sometimes you’re better at giving people advice than doing it yourself. I remember seeing a photo of Missy Elliott at the mixing desk in the studio and being like, a-ha!
My mind was literally blown and it reinforced for me the importance of thinking about how we represent ourselves, and what it does when we reveal ourselves to be defined by what we do rather than what we look like. What is funny is that the image of Björk stamping around on the beach with an 8-track recorder was one of the images which inspired me to start recording sounds in the landscape.
The Pitchfork interview with Björk is one of the things that sparked the latest resurgence in my Missy Elliott obsession, because there was a long gap between seeing the video for “I can’t stand the rain” and the current Missy Elliott cultural binge… but I realised when I read the Pitchfork interview that while I had held up Missy Elliott as an amazing role model for years, I hadn’t put the time in to really exploring her work.
So here I am with my six Missy Elliott albums lined up, listening hard. At the moment I am basically listening to Missy Elliott, field recordings, Björk and the occasional gobby Streets track. I don’t relate to all the themes in Missy Elliott’s music but I am dancing around my house and I cannot deny the affirmative power of belting out “I’M REALLY, REALLY HOT” along with the record. And I cannot think of a better track than “Get ur freak on” for the This Girl Can campaign.
I have more to say. There’s so much more to say about collaborations, the business empire, the beats, the lyrics… but I thought before I go deep into ALL THINGS MISSY ELLIOTT I should at least give you a heads up.
This. Is. A. Missy. Elliott. Exclusive.